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Progress? Cordeiro’s U.S. Soccer presidency will hinge on his ability to unite the disenchanted

ISI Photos-Roy K. Miller

U.S. Soccer's newly elected president has spoken about his platform. Executing it will be a different challenge.

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The good will pledged by many parties at the U.S. Soccer presidential election Saturday in Orlando lasted about 50 minutes.

The third and final ballot was cast around 11:30 a.m ET. Around 12:20 p.m., Hope Solo walked into the media room and offered a gracious answer when asked about the result. Then she was asked about the Athlete Council and its pivotal bloc-vote support for Carlos Cordeiro.

“I am very disappointed in the Athlete Council,” Solo said. “I think all of us are, especially the four former athletes. Especially someone like Paul Caligiuri, who sat on the Athlete Council. But I’m not surprised, because they’re under a lot of pressure, and I see athletes time and time and time again crack under pressure.”

Those words, along with a few of Solo’s comments over the week and various accusations that outside forces were manipulating the athletes, didn’t sit well with Athlete Council co-chair Carlos Bocanegra.

“It’s ridiculous to me,” Bocanegra said. “I don’t know what to say to that besides, ‘no.’ ”

Fellow Council member Stuart Holden, commenting to a group of reporters and rebroadcast later on SiriusXM, concurred.

“I take massive offense to that, that someone would question our integrity,” Holden said.

That’s just one of the many conflicts Cordeiro will have to navigate after winning the presidency. He also has to deal with state youth and adult associations who have diverse concerns and took a principled, quixotic stand on registration fees at Friday’s board meeting and Saturday’s National Council meeting.

Outside Orlando, the atmosphere can be downright nasty. Gulati made several references at the board meeting and in the weeks prior about misinformation and character attacks on social media that were retweeted from the fringe into the mainstream by some candidates and other stakeholders with legitimate power.

But if Soccer Twitter has gained the attention of the powers that be, its pet issues have not. Bocanegra said promotion and relegation, the pet topic of a boisterous group on social media for 10-15 years, was not a topic of discussion in the Athlete Council’s several hours of meetings on Friday.

Not that they talked too much about any particular issue. All of the candidates, Bocanegra said, had similar ideas on some of the questions facing U.S. Soccer. They were looking for someone who had the experience to execute.

“It was more about the general consensus of who’s going to do the best overall for us going forward and not leave people behind,” Bocanegra said. “For the greater good of the game, we thought this was the best way to go forward and help with the change that was needed and the improvement going forward.”

And Cordeiro, a longtime independent director of the board who convincingly won the vice presidency two years ago, was indeed the only candidate who was looking to take a small step up within U.S. Soccer rather than a giant leap into U.S. Soccer. When Gulati asked first-time meeting attendees to stand up on Saturday, something the National Council usually does each year as a standard means of welcoming newbies, he quipped that the category included several of the eight presidential candidates. (Caligiuri was an exception, having served on the board in the past as an Athletes’ Council representative.)

So Bocanegra and others made a convincing case that the Athlete Council did its due diligence. But that might not be enough to reassure the other Councils that their voices are being heard. The issue came up in 2003, when several delegates rose from the floor at the National Council meeting to complain that their ideas were being trampled by the Pro Council and the athletes. One predicted “anarchy and revolution” if no change was made.

At least the issues have changed. Many of the state associations’ ideas at the time were governance changes that eventually went through – and Cordeiro has taken a particular interest in building on them. In his press conference after being elected, Cordeiro stressed “inclusion and collaboration” when asked about bringing together a fractured landscape.

“For those who didn’t vote for me, I’m going to have to work even harder to convince them that I am the right president,” he said.

But unless Cordeiro is able to overcome his “status quo” image, the “reform” movement will be without a leader. The six candidates aside from Cordeiro and Soccer United Marketing’s Kathy Carter made an effort to band together before the vote, but they couldn’t work things out. It might not have mattered anyway, given the vote totals on the first ballot, where Cordeiro drew 36.3 percent and Carter drew 34.6.

The effort to unite, though, exposed some conflicts. Among other fallout: Daniel Workman, who worked on the Eric Wynalda campaign, took to Twitter to blame Kyle Martino.

Perhaps, though, a single leader isn’t what the “reform” movement needs right now. State associations urged all the losing candidates to stay involved in the game. And Dave Laraba, the ebullient executive director of West Virginia Youth Soccer, said anyone interested in building up the game should come in and fill some vacancies in his state.

“We’ll put you to work!” Laraba said from the meeting floor.

And Solo, though disappointed, thinks progress has been made.

“A lot of people thought … perhaps we had too many candidates in the race,” Solo said. “I disagree. What you saw this last couple of weeks – you saw people get educated on the important issues at hand. All we can do now is have a wake-up call and not just think about these issues but actually have some action now and do something about them. …

“I have to say that we’re proud. The six of us on the other side of things, on the side of change – we moved the needle forward in the right direction. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But we’re here to stay.”

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