More than a president: The six leaders to bring U.S. Soccer into a new era
Despite the U.S. men’s national team’s failure to make the 2018 World Cup next summer in Russia, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said he has no plans to resign.
While calls continue for a change in leadership at that position, there are other potentially more important changes that can occur in the leadership structure at U.S. Soccer. The number of qualified candidates for the unpaid position of president is a small pool, and the skillset demands an ability to run a $100 million company while also having an understanding of sports business and soccer. One idea that is beginning to pick up steam within soccer circles is to remove much of the day-to-day soccer power from the office of U.S. Soccer president.
The way to go about doing that is for the federation to hire a director of soccer, which would oversee the senior national teams, U.S. youth national teams and youth and coaching development. That includes hiring and managing the head coach of the national teams. The office would also allow for more soccer leadership to come into place in U.S. Soccer, including a full-time youth soccer director.
This potential structure would give U.S. Soccer new soccer-focused leaders with professional experience to direct the growth of American soccer from within the most powerful organization in the sport. It would also move Gulati and future presidents into roles that would focus almost exclusively on the business end of the sport, which should be kept separate from day-to-day soccer decisions.
Here are six candidates for the hypothetical director of soccer role that would help move soccer forward in the U.S.:
6. Garth Lagerwey
The Seattle Sounders general manager has been one of the most accomplished front-office veterans in MLS history, helping to build MLS Cup-winning rosters in Salt Lake City and Seattle. Lagerwey has the right type of personality for this leadership role. He’s unafraid to challenge the status quo, but he’s a well-liked personality who is also willing to listen and incorporate new ideas.
Lagerwey’s experience on the professional stage should help him deal with the egos that come along in the national teams from both players and coaches. His understanding of MLS and the domestic soccer scene is also important. Lagerwey also has a law degree, and his legal experience would be a huge asset in the front-office structure of U.S. Soccer. The main knock on Lagerwey for this role: He has no experience in international soccer as a player or executive.
5. Ali Curtis
The former New York Red Bulls sporting director has been out of the game since his bizarre exit from the MLS club, and the Duke graduate’s fresh ideas and expertise would be put to good use in a role with U.S. Soccer. Curtis was not afraid to bring change to the New York Red Bulls even after one of the most successful seasons in the franchise’s history, and that willingness to shake things up would be a needed quality for anyone in this type of role.
Curtis’ expertise in MLS and his success in the college game might actually make him a perfect candidate if U.S. Soccer was to create a youth soccer director position. Curtis emphasized development with the Red Bulls, and his fresh ways of looking at organization and structure might be a perfect fit to better organize a still-crowded youth game that still needs change to drive development in the country. Like Lagerwey, Curtis’ lack of experience in the international game and outside of the U.S. soccer scene would be a knock on his resume for the top director of soccer position.
4. Eddie Pope
The former D.C. United and U.S. national team defender is one of the most universally respected players in this country’s history. Pope is considered the greatest center back ever produced by the U.S. men’s program, and he has continued to work in soccer – albeit in lower-profile positions than some of his peers.
Pope worked with the MLS Players Union and now runs the North American division of Octagon Sports as an agent. It may be difficult to peel him away from such a position, but Pope has the type of demeanor and approach that might make people across U.S. Soccer actually listen. His experience in the soccer world likely helped him crystallize some ideas about what needs to change in both the pro and youth development scene, and Pope would be an ideal candidate to run the soccer side of U.S. Soccer. While Pope never played overseas, his experience with the U.S. men’s national team and as a player rep should give him plenty of experience needed for this position.