The 2018 U.S. Soccer presidential election has been nothing if not murky and tumultuous. But after four months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, instability and uncertainty, the final 48 hours of an unprecedented campaign appear to be spurring some definitive movement.
It’s therefore a good thing we waited until the eve of the vote to handicap the race.
We still have nothing resembling certainty as to who will vote for whom and who will win. But now, with around 24 hours to go, the dynamics are as clear as ever. There are two establishment candidates, and six challengers. Those six – minus Paul Caligiuri, apparently – met Thursday night in an Orlando hotel to draft a statement of solidarity that was never released, but was leaked to media. “There are only 6 of 8 candidates who would deliver real change,” it read.
[More election coverage: Meet the 8 candidates]
The two insider candidates are Kathy Carter and Carlos Cordeiro. Carter is widely considered both the establishment candidate and the frontrunner. Cordeiro has attempted to distance himself from the establishment, and to frame his candidacy as a compromise between stability and change. There is reportedly worry among the other six that his efforts have been successful.
Their unreleased statement pushed back on the idea that Cordeiro is a significant departure from Carter and the status quo. “The establishment is backing two candidates,” it read. “Despite what you might hear, the establishment would be comfortable with either. Neither will bring about the change that is needed.”
Reports suggest Eric Wynalda and Michael Winograd had reservations about the agreement, and that Winograd ultimately backed out. Regardless, the landscape is coming into focus. The statement could almost be interpreted as a last-ditch effort to keep the prospect of change alive. It, along with other recent rumblings, give us a decent idea of where things stand heading into Saturday.
The first ballot
Carter is the favorite, and if there is to be a winner on the first ballot, it will almost certainly be her. The on-leave Soccer United Marketing president, via support from MLS and NWSL, has 19.4 percent of the vote secure, and likely has 24.2 percent (via USL). If she gets another 20 percent from the Athletes’ Council, whose goal is reportedly to vote as a bloc, she would have 44.2 percent. She would therefore need just 10.7 of the remaining vote – from Youth and Adult Council representatives and other individual voters – to win. She almost certainly has that.
[More election coverage: Who votes, and how it works]
A significant portion of the Athletes’ Council vote will be necessary to get to the required 50 percent (plus one) on the first ballot. The council is seemingly focusing its discussions on three candidates: Carter, Cordeiro and Kyle Martino. If the athletes do choose to vote as a bloc, their support will likely swing the election. But if their support isn’t for Carter, it might not swing it on the first ballot; instead, it will likely take us to a second ballot.
If the athletes don’t vote as a bloc – and unless something changes at a Friday afternoon meeting, they reportedly won’t – and if their votes are dispersed among four or five candidates, we will almost certainly head to a second ballot.
The second ballot
If Carter fails to win on the first ballot, her odds take a hit. The thought is that Carter is the first choice of many, but the second or third choice of very few. She does not represent a compromise, and only would represent the “lesser of two evils” with Cordeiro out of the picture.
The first round, if it does not yield a majority, will guide the later rounds. Respective levels of support for the six “change” candidates will likely determine whether they congregate behind one of their six or continue to fight for votes among themselves. If they do all champion one, Martino appears to be the top candidate.
Wynalda, similar to Carter, is not a compromise choice, and only the “lesser of two evils” if Martino is out of the picture. He will therefore probably need to be within reach of 50 percent on the first ballot to have a chance, unless he somehow corners the race to him against Carter. But that seems unlikely. His willingness to wholeheartedly back Martino could be a key factor.
It’s useless to project specifics beyond the second round, with hypotheticals based on hypotheticals. So let’s handicap the race – albeit extremely unscientifically:
Kathy Carter: 35 percent — If recent U.S. Soccer presidential history tells us anything, it’s that it is very, very difficult to usurp an incumbent or establishment candidate.
Carlos Cordeiro: 32 percent — Cordeiro, unlike Carter, has done an excellent job of positioning himself as a potential second choice for some voters. If he can cut into the “change” vote, he could actually be the favorite.
Kyle Martino: 20 percent — Less polarizing than Wynalda, so the favorite among the “change” candidates.
Eric Wynalda: 8 percent — He’s going to have to convince a lot of voters who flew to Orlando having not yet made up their minds.
Steve Gans: 4 percent — He has expressed confidence, even saying at one point that he was in the top three. But others don’t believe he’s in the mix.
Michael Winograd: 1 percent — Impressive on the campaign trail, but seemingly hasn’t gained enough traction as an outsider.
Hope Solo: <1 percent — Virtually no chance.
Paul Caligiuri: <1 percent — No chance.
[More election coverage: 23 FAQs ahead of Saturday’s vote]
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