Is It Time to Get The Soccer People out of US Soccer?

Perhaps that's going a bit too far, but the insistence on domestic soccer "experts" is a big part of our current problem with nepotism, cronyism, and people trying to do jobs they are not qualified for.

The current brouhaha on what is being called "Gio-gate" has laid bare a big problem with US Soccer, the non-profit agency tasked with running the game in this country, and the sport's governing body in tandem with both FIFA and the US and International Olympic Committees: It is, in its current incantation, a HIGHLY insular body, with multiple people involved at high places that either:

* Have played for the US National Team at some point, particularly the editions of the US men's squads of 1994, 1998, and 2002.

* Are alumni of the University of North Carolina soccer program (both men and women), which has, for a very long time, been the pre-eminent NCAA soccer program in the United States, for both genders.

In many cases, key personalities have BOTH connections. Current US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone. Recent USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter, who may still be re-hired pending the outcome of Gio-gate. And although Claudio Reyna is not currently employed by US Soccer (he's instead employed by MLS club Austin FC), he's also a joint UNC/USMNT alum.

US Sporting Director Earnie Stewart isn't a Tarheel, but he was a teammate of Berhalter's. Gregg Berhalter, of course, was hired while his brother Jay was a key exec with US Soccer (the elder Berhalter has since departed the organization). US General Manager Brian McBride, also a former teammate of both Berhalter and the elder Reyna.

There are obviously two problems with this:

* When you have a group of people managing a large, national-in-scope organization that all hail from a tight community, keeping the professional and the personal apart can be hard. Gio-gate, at it's core, appears to be a case of someone (in their professional capacity as a soccer coach) delivering bad news to someone else's kid, and the parents of said player reacting poorly and viewing this as a personal betrayal. And unlike the words of Michael Corleone, it isn't all just business.

* Some of these people may be serving in professional capacities that are outside their wheelhouse, especially when you get away from the soccer-specific roles (coach, technical director) and into the "business" roles (president, CEO, etc.).

Four years ago, after the failure in Couva, there was a big push to oust longstanding US Soccer president Sunil Gulati from the role, largely on grounds that he wasn't a "soccer person". And he wasn't--although he had become a fan of the game, he was a professor of economics who had no connections to the sport at a high level, not as a player, or as a coach, or as an executive. And his head was ultimately served up on a platter.

But.. I will let commentor "Sometimes Maybe Good, Sometimes Maybe Shit" sum it up, because this comment (on the "nepotism" post) really does it better than anything else I've seen:

It really isn't. People might not have loved Sunil Gulati, but he did just fine. Probably took the US as far as he could. And he was an economics profession (sic). Dan Flynn worked for Anheuser Busch before talking on the role of CEO of US Soccer.

Garber was an NFL guy and whether you love him or hate him, he has done more for the growth of soccer in this country than anyone else.

And now that we have nothing but soccer people in charge, US Soccer is the biggest fucking shit show it has ever been.

You need competent people who know how to run large organizations. That is the priority. If they happen to know a little bit about soccer, then that is a bonus.

Your CEO and President just needs to know how to run a large professional organization. You don't need deep seeded soccer knowledge to do a competent job.

The GM position's job description is to literally build the culture, hire staff, develop relationships, and maintain the player pool. Again, absolutely no need for that person to have deep seeded soccer knowledge. You need someone who knows how to run a large sports organization. Any college AD would be more than qualified for that role. And a good AD would hire scouts to manage the player pool aspect.

The only place you need a soccer guy is in a sporting director/technical director capacity. And for that, once you have the other guys in place, going outside of the inner circle becomes pretty easy. There are dozens of people qualified for the role. I already threw out Ivan Gazidis as a name I would consider for that role.

Your narrow minded way of thinking is exactly why the same handful of people are running the show now. They have everyone fooled that you need some deep knowledge of soccer and the US in order to succeed in their roles. Its bullshit.

I might quibble on the role of "president"--as the role is currently defined, it's an unpaid part-time job that seems to involve herding cats and being a figurehead more than anything else. That in itself may be a problem--is the president of US Soccer actually supposed to do stuff on their own? Or to merely cheerlead and leave the actual work to others? My guess is the expectations of the role don't align well with the resources and powers accorded to the position, which is an issue.

And I would add that obviously you want "soccer guys" in the position of coach, and pretty much any other role that involves supervising or working with players, though the comment above mainly concerns higher-level management roles.

But if you impose the requirements that everyone involved must a) be a high-level "soccer person", b) be an American (this seems to be less of a requirement, but the only position that seems to ever get staffed with foreigners is head coach, with both Bora Mulitenovic and Jurgen Klinsmann previously serving in that role), and c) not have MLS cooties--there still remains a large portion of the USMNT fanbase that views the domestic league as a resume stain, and as proof positive that someone isn't good enough to hold a similar position in Europe--then you essentially limit yourself to what we have here: people who made their names in amateur soccer (mainly college and international), which means you are dealing with a small gene pool.

And the amateur soccer scene in this country, stinks.

Academic soccer (NCAA and high school) is fine for what it is--an adjunct, supposedly, to the educational mission of the hosting schools. Our secondary schools and universities should put learning first and sports second; indeed, we're one of the few countries in the world where major interscholastic sports is even a thing. That said, the reluctance of both high school and college soccer to abandon their silly custom rulesets and simply adopt the Laws of the Game, like MLS has done and the club scene has done, is frustrating. But we shouldn't expect the core of player development to happen in schools, it's not the mission of schools to produce soccer talent.

On the other hand, our pay-to-play youth system, especially at the highest levels, where players are competing to be noticed by professional and college scouts, is a cesspool of corruption, grift, and avarice. Where players (and their parents) are shaken down by an ever-changing cast of gatekeepers and thieves peddling "access" to the top levels of the sport, in exchange for said parents being willing to spend thousands of dollars on useless travel, private training, league-exclusive showcases, and other devices designed to ensure that players who don't play for the "right" clubs, get left behind. Where the academies previously run by the Federation, and now run by MLS, are routinely viewed as a competitive threat, "poaching" talent that rightfully belongs to the youth clubs that recruited the players as young children. (Or poached them in turn from a smaller club that stays out of this rat-race; my comments do not apply to the country's recreational leagues). Where we have a whole rat's nest of competing leagues and sanctioning organizations, including one newer one that seems to mainly exist because its members were chafing at the middling attempts by the older one to impose some minimal regulations on the conduct of clubs and coaches, and which to this day are trying to shank each other and claim the dominant role on the youth soccer pyramid.

And these are the guys (and gals) we want running the national federation?

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