Around the MLS: New US Soccer President, player reflects on World Cup failure and looks to the future

By Andrew Chaput

This past week over here in the States has seen a previous Wall Street banker take charge of the US game, beating a multi-honoured, progressive minded former player to the top gong. Elsewhere, one of USA’s recent stalwarts has been reflecting on their failure to qualify for Russia 2018.

Carlos Cordeiro Elected US Soccer President
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New US Soccer president, Carlos Cordeiro. Image: @CACSoccer

A former Goldman Sachs executive, Carlos Cordeiro, has been elected as the next US Soccer President – replacing Sunil Gulati. Gulati had been serving since 2006, and shortly after the US Men’s National Team had failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, decided it was time to step down. Carlos Cordeiro has been part of the US Soccer Federation since 2007, and won this election against seven other candidates.

There comes a lot of controversy with this election, as contesting candidate and USWNT acclaimed goalkeeper, Hope Solo, is not happy.

Solo was running on the campaign of (youth) soccer for all. In the US today, it is very much a pay to play game (in the elite divisions). Growing up, to play against the best and to get the best training, you must pay to be a part of that traveling club. In Europe and in other parts of the globe, kids are hand picked wherever they are from to come and develop through these youth academies. In these youth academies, they are trained in soccer and in school (without having to pay) – really investing in the future of their professional sport leagues. In the US, unless you know someone, or have money, you will have to go through extensive lengths to get opportunities to be a part of these better teams.

Instead of the most deserving players being on the best youth clubs, it is the players who family’s come from money, or who’s parent knows someone in the system. This handicaps the players who have neither. The election parties were divided into two parts, those who are involved in the MLS and US Soccer in order to make money, and those who actually want to develop the sport and invest in the youth – that way we don’t have historical collapses professionally when it comes to the likes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Hope Solo was a part of the soccer for all side, and wanted to see more dollars invested in youth soccer, as opposed to seeing executives and heads of US Soccer continue to earn their buck. The voting went final, and Cordeiro was the ultimate winner. In his post election moments, he told Solo that he and the rest of the Federation, “Need to do better” – and she plans on holding them to that.

Solo still has a lot to fight for. She is one of the main advocates in working towards getting equal pay between men and women of the national team standard in the US, and she has opened many eyes as to the true problems of US soccer. She has shown that the decisions that are made at the very top of the food chain, can influence 10 year olds kids (from suburbs to inner cities) who love to play the game of soccer.

Geoff Cameron Says US Soccer Needs to Change – NOW
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Geoff Cameron in action for USMNT. Image: Wikimedia

Geoff Cameron and the rest of the US Men’s National team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. With time to let the wounds really seep in (public criticism, national embarrassment, and individually thinking “I could have done more”), Cameron had time to reflect on what happened on the day they officially were eliminated.

Geoff Cameron told The Players’ Tribune: “It’s hard for me to talk about what happened without feeling anger. It has been almost four months since we crashed out in Trinidad, and I can’t stop thinking about what needs to be changed at the heart of U.S. Soccer.”

He continued: “There are things that still stick with me from that night. The feeling of sitting helplessly on the bench, watching the final minutes tick down. The feeling of one of our communications guys telling us that Honduras and Panama had both won. The feeling of sitting in the dressing room after the match, and seeing Christian Pulisic, a kid who had given absolutely everything he had for his country, a kid who wanted so badly to go to his first World Cup, crying at his locker.

But what will stick with me for the rest of my life is how I felt sitting on the plane back home. I turned on my phone and all the texts from friends and teammates came through. That’s when it truly sank in that — holy shit — we’re really not going to Russia this summer. We’re not going to be a part of it.

It was almost incomprehensible, you know? It was pure embarrassment and shame. It was the most depressing moment I’ve had in my entire career.”

Cameron continues to reflect on how the team atmosphere completely changed when Jürgen Klinsmann was removed as their manager. Bruce Arena was named head coach (for the second time) after Klinsmann continued to struggle getting results, and showing overall improvement to the team. Outside of the national team, he was working on getting his players to go overseas for club football. However most of his players (Dempsey, Altidore, Bradley) were actually returning from overseas to come home and play in the MLS. The MLS isn’t the place where the best US soccer players should be playing.

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Jurgen Klinsmann during his time as head coach. Image: Wikimedia

Geoff Cameron added: “I had my differences with Jürgen over the years, but the one thing you cannot deny is that Jürgen and his staff brought a sense of true professional competitiveness and ambition to the national team. Under Jürgen, your spot was never guaranteed. Forget the nutrition programs, strict parameters on how the team engaged with media and social media and training sessions and all that stuff. He definitely cracked down and made progress in those areas, but the real difference was that Jürgen challenged guys to push themselves to the absolute limits. He encouraged them to go play abroad in the top leagues, even if they didn’t speak the language, or were going to have to scratch and claw to get minutes. That was the whole point, actually. He created a mindset of never letting yourself get too comfortable. He held us to a higher standard.”

“If you were 18 to 24 years old, and you were one of the best and brightest players in the United States of America, and you were still playing in MLS, Jürgen saw that as a wasted opportunity. Not just for yourself and your career, but also for your country.”

With maybe a handful of exceptions, most superstars, who are also the leaders, and some captains of their home team, play overseas. Messi, Suarez, and Ronaldo play in Spain, Neymar plays in France. Aguero, Hazard, and Pogba play in the Premier League. Something also to note about these players, they have played in multiple leagues prior to where they are today. Ronaldo and Suarez played in the Premier League years ago, Pogba used to play in Serie A.

The point is, for players to improve, they need to be put in uncomfortable situations. If you stay local and remain the big fish in the small pond, there is no one pushing you to become better. There isn’t new competition to learn and understand and study. US players need to move far and far away. Pulisic is in Germany, and is arguably the best current US Soccer player. He is still so young, and has other world class teams inquiring about potential transfers.

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Christian Pulisic is arguably the biggest talent to come from the States. Image: Wikimedia

The MLS will never be competitive with the top five European leagues, and it doesn’t make sense to try. What needs to be understood, is that the MLS could become a hub to produce young players and put them in situations where they can go out and grow. This in turn will help the national team as their players will improve and become more diverse in their daily lifestyle. They need to think of the league in terms of developing players; like Ajax, Partizan Belgrade, Dinamo Zagreb, and Shakhtar Donetsk.

Geoff Cameron got it right, giving his personal experience from his highs and lows, to show what needs to change in US Soccer.

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