Interviews

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

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

Vision for youth identification and development

Figuring out the best structure for youth soccer and development of top players is going to be difficult, but it's a must if the U.S. is going to reach its aims in the international game.

Winograd would like to look at the issues state by state and wants to create U.S. Soccer field offices, with accompanying training fields, within each state.

“I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all solution for this whole country,” he says. “That may work in some countries, but we're a big country with a lot of diversity geographically, demographically, in topography. It needs to be addressed on a state-by-state basis. And the way I'm going to do it is two-fold.

“I'm going to put in a U.S. Soccer state director in every state, and she is going to be housed in a building that's going to be the visible, central home of U.S. Soccer in that state. That director's going to be charged not only with identifying and training players and creating that clear and elite path to the national team -- in some respects an expansion of the current U.S. Training Center idea -- but here she's also going to work with the state association. We've got representatives in each state, and they together need to sit down, with other parties who are interested, and it's not burn everything down, start over and dictate from the top, it's let's figure out what works in this state.”

These positions would be funded so that they'd become a legitimate option for top coaches working in the collegiate and professional games.

Winograd is OK with competing leagues of differing philosophies -- “in the United States, if you think you can do better in a private world, you're entitled to go try” -- but wants to make sure the there is complete clarity within the landscape that things are organized logically.

That's especially important, he says, so that parents understand the options their children possess.

“I coached my kids for three years at the recreation and travel level, and when you get to the travel level, in some respects the consumer doesn't even know which league is for what,” he says. “It's not a matter of parents thinking their kid is the next Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan. It's a matter of someone saying, 'Hey, I don't know if my kid's great, but she loves it or he loves it, and I would like to make sure that my child can explore the game and see how far it can take him or her. But what's the path?' There's no clarity to the consumer.”

He'd implement basic minimum standards across the country, in terms of technical play, physical development, health and nutrition, proper conduct, and licensing.

“I think once you get that structure in place, you clearly define it and you implement those minimum standards, you are going to make vast strides in the right direction towards mending all this fracturing that's occurred,” he says.

Thoughts on pay to play?

“We need to mitigate or eliminate pay-to-play, and here's how I would do it: five different sources of income and revenue. First, U.S. Soccer has a pretty big surplus. We can dip into that a little bit. The second is making sure that when we are going into cities, we're exploring any and all available public funds and writing grants for public funds to help offset this. Number three, we need to invest in the U.S. Soccer Foundation, and [similar] organizations, to grow that organization way beyond what it's achieved thus far.

“Next, we need to go to the business sector. [From working with big companies and private equity firms], I can speak their language. We need to tap into that market to bring money in. ... The last way to do it is solidarity payments, and it's not just that clubs [receive a payment when it develops] a player and that player signs a [professional] contract. The solidarity-payment system will make it easier for all clubs to invest money up front. People will be more willing to invest $20,000, $50,000, $100,000, if they know there's at least a prospect if they get it right, they'll get that money back. And that will not only incentivize the clubs to invest, but it will enable them to go out to the local sources of funds -- local businesses, local businesspeople -- and try and get those people to invest, and that is a whole different market.”

Thoughts on promotion/relegatoin

“There are few things in soccer as exciting as promotion and relegation. And I think, right now, the practicality is when you've got $150 million franchise rights in MLS and contracts those owners have signed and MLS has agreed to, it's really difficult as a practical matter, and there are a lot of obstacles. And I don't think we should be in the business of being adversarial and ramming things down anybody's throats. I think what we should focus on [building] the profitability and stability of the lower divisions. The more stable they are and the more profitable they are, the more realistic promotion and relegation becomes. ...

“One of the things I've talked about is an interim measure in the near future where you have guest promotion/relegation spots. Take MLS, for example. If you say to the MLS teams, “You are not eligible for relegation, you're staying in the top division,” but every year we award two guest spots. Teams get promoted into MLS. At the end of the year, you can pick a threshold: If they finish in the bottom four, then they get relegated, and that spot opens up for a new [second-division club]. If at the end of the season that team is not in the bottom four, they stay in MLS the next year.

“That at least is a step towards promotion/relegation, creates the same kind of excitement and has the prospect of actually working under the current rubric. ... It's not a today thing, it's probably not a tomorrow thing, but it's at least something to aim for.”

Winograd says ...

“I'm not suggesting that there's a magic talisman out there that you just go in and say, 'Hey, guys, Kumbaya, let's all get together and work it out.' But it's what I've been doing for 17 years with the biggest companies in the world. In the highest-stakes cases. I've been in rooms where the average interests is hundreds of millions of dollars. And that's a pretty big average interest.

“And it is the same principle: preparedness, intelligence, candor, and the ability to persuade, because sometimes people push back more than others, and they need to understand better why things are in their best interests sometimes and what the ramifications and consequences are if they choose not to cooperate. Because sometimes there's a big gain at the end if you win, but there's a big loss if you lose. And understanding those risks and rewards in a not-dictatorial way but in a [manner that brings] all the parties together and start thinking about ways and paths forward that we can all live with, that are in our best interests.”

Click here for more on the U.S. Soccer presidential race