Interviews

Who is Michael Winograd? Get to know U.S. Soccer's presidential candidates

A soccer lifer used to advising on multi-million dollar deals, Winograd brings boardroom and playing-field experience to a crowded race.

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[Editor's note: FourFourTwo is profiling each of the declared candidates in the U.S. Soccer presidential race. For the latest updates, check our guide to the election, which links out to each person's profile.]

Michael Winograd is among the nation's leading corporate attorneys, a litigator and advisor for massive concerns involving hundreds of billions of dollars. And soccer is in his blood.

He played in college and as a pro overseas, has been coaching for two decades in the collegiate and youth games and was deeply involved in the creation of a professional club in the late 1990s. He's got skin in the game, as they say, and believes he can make a difference as U.S. Soccer's president.

“Like many people, I want to make soccer in this country better,” Winograd, who this month announced his candidacy for February's election, told FourFourTwo. “It was not so much the single Trinidad and Tobago game [that prodded me to run], or the failure to qualify for the World Cup ... I think it's taken time to get us to this point, to the position we're in, and it will take us some time to get out of it.”

Winograd is among seven candidates who have declared their intention to challenge three-term president Sunil Gulati, who ran unopposed in 2006, 2010 and 2014 and has not yet announced an expected re-election bid. The vote will take place at U.S. Soccer's Annual General Meeting in Orlando, Florida.

Let's take a brief look at Winograd and his thoughts on the most important issues.

Who is he?

Winograd, who turns 47 in late November, has for 17 years practiced at the largest New York City corporate law firms, representing and advising multibillion-dollar equity firms and major corporations such as Microsoft, Samsung, FedEx and Bank of America. He's also an adjunct professor at Fordham University's law school.

It's going to require deep soccer knowledge and experience, and I have that. ... It's also going to take the business side and the ability to bring people together. To earn trust, to articulate persuasively a path forward that people all buy into in an inclusive way, and that's what I've done for the last 17 years.

He played college soccer at Lafayette and spent a few years as a professional player in Israel. He served as the director of youth and team development for the Staten Island Vipers, building the late-1990s A-League team's technical foundation among other duties before departing to be an assistant coach at the University of Richmond.

Winograd has coached at camps and clinics and in youth soccer, coaching both of his children, who are now Development Academy players, and has served on his New Jersey town's soccer organization's board of directors.

Qualifications?

Winograd has a deep history in the game as a player, coach, administrator, in building a professional club and in managing the most successful of NCAA College Cups while at Richmond.

His experience as a lawyer for top New York City firms -- Ropes & Gray LLP, where he's worked the past six years, is, he said, “the leading law firm in the world in the private equity sector” -- provides a unique skill set that he believes would best serve U.S. Soccer.

“This is going to require a lot,” Winograd said. “It's going to require deep soccer knowledge and experience, and I have that. ... It's also going to take the business side and the ability to bring people together. To earn trust, to articulate persuasively a path forward that people all buy into in an inclusive way, and that's what I've done for the last 17 years.”

Fixing the fissures in American soccer will “take somebody who is prepared, somebody who's intelligent, somebody who's fair and open-minded. And it's going to take diligence and preparedness and actually being able to listen to all parties, understand what they're saying, push back when necessary, but bring them all onto the same page, get everybody included in the process, rowing in the same direction in an integrated way, and buying into something that will be in everybody's best interests.”

Biggest issues?

On the field, the top three: youth development, youth development and youth development.

“We need to define a clear path to the national team and make sure that we are identifying kids at an early age and getting kids at an early age -- good players -- in front of good coaches,” Winograd says. “And that implicates identification, it implicates training, clarity of a path for the consumer -- so people know what the right path is, if you have what it takes -- and it also takes money.”

The whole structure of American soccer's youth set-up needs to be analyzed and corrected where necessary, and U.S. Soccer needs to take a greater role in youth development. Repairing the “fractured state of youth soccer and soccer, frankly, around the country” is vital if the USSF is going to progress.

Off the field, the federation needs much greater transparency in how it reaches pivotal decisions, such as hiring the next men's national team head coach and technical director, and more input from various constituencies.

He also wants to reduce or eliminate pay-to-play cost barriers and says making coaching education more affordable and accessible is critical.

“We need to make sure,” he says, “that when a college athlete who has played soccer at a high level and knows the game, understands the game, and wants to give back, and she happens to decide a different career path but wants to contribute and coach on the side, that when she decides to go take a coaching course and learn how to coach and to learn how to teach and to get whatever licenses may be required, she doesn't have to spend a thousand dollars on a coaching course plus travel and hotels. It’s just not practical.”

What does the men's national team need?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The primary focus, Winograd says, should be on youth development and improving the system used to identify and develop players. That is the path toward the future.

He also wants to see full transparency in the process that leads to hiring a successor for Bruce Arena.

“I would focus on the decision-making process,” Winograd says. “We can all debate whether Jurgen Klinsmann was the right or wrong decision, whether renewing his contract was the right or wrong decision. The first step is understanding; I don't know what the process was. I'd like to know who made the decision. I'd like to know how it was made and who was consulted. I think we need a process that is conclusive and transparent and merit-based to figure out critical decisions like who the coach of the national team is.”

The process is more important than who eventually gets the job.

“There are lots of eminently qualified people to lead our national team,” he says. “Peter Vermes, Tab Ramos come to mind very quickly. And there are lots of others out there. The process will be critical.”

If he's doing the hiring, the decision will be reached by a panel that would include former national team coaches and current and former national team players. And others: “There are a lot of ramifications to who you hire,” he says, and the process “needs to be an inclusive,” with input from all sectors, “right down to the state associations.”

“We've got vast human resources in this country. People with experience, people with knowledge, people with merit need to be included. You can argue one way or another with decisions -- how people were fired, why people were hired -- but you can't right now, because we don't know what the process was. On critical decisions like that, people will know what the process is.”

What does the women's national team need?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It's all about equality, Winograd says. The U.S. women are No. 1 in the world, the reigning World Cup champion, and they had to endure a bitter fight en route to a new collective bargaining agreement in 2017 that doesn't go far enough.

Winograd believes that everything the men's national team gets, the women, too, deserve.

“It's stunning to me, quite frankly, that there isn't equality [between the men and women]. I don't quite understand how there isn't, in all respects ...,” he says. “When I talk about equality, if the men are not playing on substandard fields, the women will not be playing on substandard fields either. And I don't think either should be. If the men are traveling in first class, the women will travel in first class. If the men are getting a certain per diem, then the women will get the same per diem.

“And in terms of pay, if the men and women both want the same structure, they will both get equal pay. If the women decide that they would rather have a different structure, that's perfectly fine. We'll just make sure that there is equivalence.”

Winograd calls “irrelevant” the argument that the men deserve more because they bring in more revenue.

“If you look at last year's financials, U.S. Soccer spent $80 million on the national teams,” he says. “The amount of money that it would take to create equality and parity, in the sense that I'm talking about, you're talking about a single-digit percentage of that total spent. The fact that this is even a discussion point and hasn't been resolved already is baffling for me. ...

“One way or another, there is going to be absolute equity amongst the men's and women's programs. And it is absolutely mandated by the mission and spirit of U.S. Soccer. I can't imagine it being any other way, based on the mission and spirit of U.S. Soccer.”

NEXT: Youth soccer, pay-to-play, and promotion-relegation