After U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Eric Wynalda and Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson traded subtweets on New Years Day, some light has been shed on the relationship between Eric Wynalda and who is funding his campaign.
Things heated up when Paulson responded to a question about Wynalda getting trips paid for by an NASL owner for his campaign:
I have heard from many extremely connected soccer sources a candidate is funded by a nasl owner, being flown on his plane etc. nothing to do w one trip. This is old info. But apparently uninteresting as its not mls related...— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) January 1, 2018
As far as why Paulson cares, as a part owner of Soccer United Marketing through his ownership of the Portland Timbers, he has an interest in protecting the current structure of MLS and the relationship SUM has with the USSF. Wynalda, or perhaps the person backing him, is a potential threat to that. Paulson would ultimately be redeemed, but until Wednesday this looked like a rumor more than substantiated information.
Back of the bus Merritt -back of the bus pic.twitter.com/G39yfABAVD— Eric Wynalda (@EricWynalda) January 2, 2018
Finally after two days of silence about the issue during which Wynalda, who is usually pretty prolific on Twitter, being less active than usual on social media, Grant Wahl published comments from Wynalda about his funding. He told the publication:
“I have received funding from several sources, one of which is an NASL owner,” said Wynalda, who confirmed that owner was Silva. “I am not receiving funding from Mr. Commisso, nor am I being bankrolled or flown around the country in a private jet. But I would say this: I value my friendship with Mr. Commisso, and I do reserve the right to work with anyone in the future who I believe has the best interests of soccer in this country in their heart.”
In the article Commisso also denies giving Wynalda funding but said he may do so in the future. Wahl also mentioned that the candidate’s two other largest donors are family members and that he would be asking the other candidates for their funding sources in upcoming articles.
In response to the twitter exchange and subtweets of Paulson, Wynalda retweeted a statement from one of his followers that it isn’t a conflict of interest for him to be getting funding from an NASL owner. This is despite the fact that the league is suing the organization that he seeks to run and that him being in charge of it may presumably alter the course of the federation’s stance in the lawsuit and benefit the person backing his campaign.
This revelation comes not long after it was reported that Kathy Carter was getting support in her campaign from Sunil Gulati and Don Garber. The two USSF officials were said to be rounding up votes for her in the USSF presidential election. While this episode looks similar, the best that Carter could muster in response was a vague statement that didn’t deny or admit she was getting support from Garber and Gulati. In contrast, Wynalda admitted to who was funding his campaign, thus at least living up to his promises to be transparent.
However, it is troubling that he can’t identify Riccardo Silva backing him as a conflict of interest. It isn’t merely the lawsuit filed by NASL against USSF that would have the billionaire wanting Wynalda running the federation. Silva owns his own sports media company MP & Silva. The company recently offered to buy the media rights to MLS for $4 billion, a deal that would require the league to institute promotion and relegation. Presumably, Silva may also be interested in future soccer marketing rights that the federation could grant his company. The potential for corruption with Silva, MP & Silva, and Wynalda and Garber, SUM, and Kathy Carter is there in nearly equal measure, the main difference being that Garber is currently a USSF board member. Still, Wynalda failing to see this as a conflict of interest and potential source of corruption is a serious concern for how he would potentially run the federation.
Wynalda’s campaign has also had some other contradictions. In addition to his taking a hostile stance against USSF, saying “I completely hated my experience with USSF from 1989 until now” in an interview with Four-Four-Two, he, and most definitely some of his supporters, has also taken a more critical stance on MLS than other candidates. While the league needs reform, appealing to the anti-MLS crowd with what passes for “soccer populism” seems like it is only going to further divide soccer fans in the U.S., a point that would work against Wynalda’s goals of uniting a fragmented soccer culture.
So far, as has been detailed by Adam Snavely, none of the candidates have put forward anything resembling a specific plan for how they would change USSF, they’ve mostly expressed principles and goals. This may be a strategic move on the part of the candidates. Not having an open platform in an election that is voted on by so few people ensures that opposing candidates can’t directly attack their plans and sway voters that way.
While he isn’t revealing his specific plans, Wynalda has been traveling the country and beyond, even going to Dubai to speak at Silva’s event there, to show that he can at least present the image of a federation president and not a TV soccer pundit. The issue of receiving funds from Silva and ensuing pointless twitter outburst with Paulson undermines Wynalda’s campagin. If Wynalda is going to issue platitudes, vague thumbnail sketches of his plans, and fire off salty tweets at MLS owners, while asserting that there isn’t a conflict of interest with who is funding his campaign when there clearly is one, he isn’t going to change his image and isn’t going to demonstrate that he is the person that can reform and unify the federation.