Who is Paul Lapointe? Get to know U.S. Soccer's presidential candidates
[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.]
Paul Lapointe has devoted his life to soccer, he's seen the game through many different prisms – as a player, coach, owner and commissioner – and he believes he has a greater calling.
“You know when God wrote the commandments, he wrote the 11th commandment,” Lapointe told FourFourTwo. “And the 11th commandment is 'never walk away from soccer.' I figured out when I was playing that I'm going to follow that commandment. And there's really not a lot left to do.”
Lapointe, a former indoor pro now working with the United Premier Soccer League, is thinking big for his next step. In the spring he became the first declared candidate in next year's U.S. Soccer presidential election.
Sunil Gulati is finishing up his third term, all won unopposed, and hasn't yet announced whether he'll seek a fourth. If so, he faces a growing field of challengers following the United States' failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
“I feel I can contribute to make soccer better in America,” Lapointe says. “We have such a passionate culture, stadiums, infrastructure and passionate investors, and it's time to jump in and help support all of that, because I think we're behind a little bit. We're concentrating more on the money in the game than on the development side, so that's what motivated me to jump in.”
Let's take a brief look at Lapointe and his thoughts on the most important issues.
Who is he?
Lapointe, 54, is a Massachusetts business owner who serves as the Northeast Conference's manager in the semi-pro United Premier Soccer League. His playing career included tryouts with the old NASL's New York Cosmos and Tampa Bay Rowdies, a stint in the USISL, and time as an indoor pro with the Massachusetts Twisters, a club he founded and owned until a few years ago.
He also founded as served as president of the American Indoor Soccer League, and he coached the Twisters to an AISL championship. He has immense youth coaching experience and guided Springfield Tech to state and regional junior college titles.
Lapointe has owned businesses for nearly 30 years, including car dealerships and a soccer apparel/merchandise store.
Lapointe has been enmeshed in the game since his youth in the 1970s and has considerable experience as a player, coach, administrator, and club and league owner at the youth, amateur and professional levels. His work with the UPSL, an amateur league that has quickly grown into a nationwide outfit, has him involved in some of the more pressing issues facing American soccer, including development and the debate over promotion/relegation.
His business experience, too, is a plus. “Nobody,” he says, “can tear down a profit-and-loss statement better than me.”
“The next president [must be] a link to the very centers of the soccer that the American soccer community is starting to engage with,” Lapointe told FourFourTwo. “And that's youth soccer development, that's the finances of the USSF, the structure of the USSF. Women's soccer, beach soccer, Paralympics. Futsal is very near and dear to my heart. Those are sectors that are really starting to arise and ask questions, and we need a president that is going to be able to deal with every sector of the game.
“I've been in 28 years of retail, so I know how to deal with the business side. But owning league in this country for seven seasons gave me a broad perspective of what it's like being a [club and league] owner. ... My heart is in the grassroots, that's where I came from, and I think that's a big connection point to American soccer that the next president should have.”
Which issues are most important?
Number one, Lapointe says, is eliminating conflict-of-interest situations in U.S. Soccer – in which those impacted by decisions have a say in matters – and number two is modernizing the federation. For the latter, he'd make the president's job a full-time position.
“A part-time president gives part-time results,” he says, and “the president needs to be intricately involved” in all matters facing the USSF.
You know when God wrote the commandments, he wrote the 11th commandment. And the 11th commandment is 'never walk away from soccer.' I figured out when I was playing that I'm going to follow that commandment. And there's really not a lot left to do.
Competitively, the federation needs to look closely at promotion/relegation and how it would work, whether it would encompass all of American soccer or just the amateur ranks or everything except Major League Soccer.
Long-term, the biggest issue is youth development.
“If you want to talk about why we didn't qualify for the World Cup, then the number one priority is going to be our development system that flies in the same airspace, but everybody flies in a different pattern,” Lapointe says. “Pay-to-play is a big subject.”
Pinpointing what needs to change will take time.
“[We need to] define a process to the sectors that we're talking about, to be able to deal with them on a daily basis,” he says. “But to be able to come to all the sectors in one clean sweep without a defined plan and without people to handle that defined plan – and without surrounding myself with the qualified people to define that plan – then there's no sense talking about it. At this point, we have to take one sector at a time and deal with it.”
What does the men’s national team need?
The U.S. men have much of what they need already, it just needs a little tweaking. And, of course, a new head coach and technical director.
The real work here is about development, and winning a World Cup should be the aim.
“We have state-of-the-art training facilities,” Lapointe says. “We have money, we have curriculum, we have coaching education, we do have a youth system that has developed soccer for the past 25 years at record paces. ... But there's no sense in talking about winning the World Cup or even qualifying for a World Cup [unless] we roll up our sleeves on Monday morning and find inner-city kids and really go after the talent that we have in this country.”
Lapointe would like to see the federation's technical staff widen its umbrella to find the best players.
“It can't be looked through the tinted windows of Major League Soccer only. What about NASL players? What about USL players? What about an 18-year-old that we haven't even discovered yet that can't afford to go to a Development Academy or ODP program, that could literally walk onto a national grid at a certain age bracket and compete. I know they're out there, because I've coached them.”
What does the women’s national team need?
Equality in pay and working conditions, for one thing.
“I get the financials,” Lapointe says. “I get the rebuttal of 'well, the women don't bring in as much money' ... but the combined income on the women's and men's national teams is tremendous. So I think they should be paid equally. I know the women have just signed a CBA agreement, but I think if I were president, they'd be a little happier at this point.”
The women's team, despite an early exit at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, is in good shape. It's ranked No. 1 on the planet and expects to be in France to defend its World Cup title in 2019.
“Women's soccer is not broken in America,” he says. “There's a lot of tools in the toolbox, it just needs a tuneup.”
He'd like to see the federation create a U.S. Open Cup for women, to expose the game to more people and give more players the opportunity to be seen.
“I think if we have an Open Cup for women and also look to televising sectors of that, it might open up markets for investors to look at women's soccer as just as exciting as the men's game and a viable product for investment. If we do that, I think women's soccer doesn't have to be on a Save-the-Whales campaign and GoFundMe accounts and portions of the USSF's financials going to save women's soccer. I think it can survive on its own, but we need to help it in the right sectors.”