Who is Steve Gans? Get to know US Soccer's presidential candidates
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Steve Gans, a Boston attorney who has been involved in American soccer since the 1970s, and recently spent several months on a “listening tour” with people involved in U.S. Soccer's youth and adult sectors. He says he found widespread dissatisfaction with president Sunil Gulati and federation leadership.
What he heard spurred him to announce his candidacy for the USSF presidency.
“It was not my idea originally to run,” Gans told FourFourTwo. “People have come to me for a few years now [about running], and I've graciously said no for a long time ...
“I've been thinking very seriously about it since the Klinsmann fiasco. It just was kind of a final straw with people. They came back with a vengeance and said someone good has got to [run]. I listened, really looked at it carefully” and was leaning toward doing so last May.
What he found prodded him forward. Let's take a brief look at Gans and his thoughts on the most important issues.
Who is he?
Gans, 57, is a partner at Prince Lobel Tye LLP, focusing on corporate, sports and employment law, and he represents professional and youth soccer clubs in the U.S. and England. He also is founder of Professional Soccer Advisors, a consulting firm working with pro and youth clubs and with corporations looking to become involved in the game.
He played in the youth system for the New England Tea Men and served as the NASL club's statistician and official scorer. He also played college soccer at Cornell and Brandeis, worked in the front office and had a short playing stint with indoor soccer’s Baltimore Blast, and was formerly on the board of governors and general counsel for FC Boston, a U.S. Soccer Development Academy club. He also played a significant role in Boston's selection as a World Cup host city in 1994.
He has two sons who played in the Development Academy.
Gans' law and consultancy work has him involved at the highest levels of the game, and it is bolstered by his experience in business, as chief operating officer of a book and publishing company and president of an affiliated book company. His time in the youth game provides a grassroots foundation.
“I've been a player, I've been a front-office executive, I've been an adviser, whether consulting business or as an attorney, both on management side and playing side,” he says. “I've represented players, represented management, represented clubs. Youth, I've done all of that, too, from being a parent and a coach, but also counseling youth clubs” on a variety of legal and structural issues.
“I have a well-rounded background in this game, and I dare say it's more well-rounded and experienced than the current president's. ... It's a very complex job, and that job demands that there be someone with significant administrative experience, significant business experience, significant experience in negotiation, in leading organizations, in consensus-building, in dealing and solving complex problems, and, honestly, I don't see anyone else out there that fits that bill.”
Which issues are most important?
“There needs to be a lot of change,” Gans says. “There needs to be transparency. There needs to be fairness. There needs to be greater competency.”
First up, find the next coach of the men's national team. Long-term, improve the youth system, in how players are scouted, identified and developed. And improve coaching, especially in the youth ranks.
Gans also says he would form a task force from the state associations to tackle structural problems in the youth game, especially “infighting” among sanctioning and registering organizations battling for players, leagues and clubs. That, Gans says, is “causing confusion, it's causing complete chaos, and you can't go on like that and just fiddle while Rome burns.” He also would repeal some of the “ridiculous” strictures enforced in the Development Academy.
The core to all of it is in equal treatment of constituents.
“One thing that you really hear a lot about is that the federation doesn't show respect across the board to all the constituents,” he said. “I have utter respect, complete respect for every single aspect, every single constituent of the game in this country. And especially the youth and adult association members, because these are people volunteering tons of time out of no other reason but the goodness of their heart and their love for the sport.
“We all have this commonality, that we love the sport, and yet there's all this kind of acrimony and feeling of rejection and being ignored, and it doesn't have to be.”
Gans says the complaint he often hears about Gulati is that he's “focused on the national team to the exclusion of everything else.”
“You see where that got us,” he says. “I know I can do a better job with the national on the men's side, and I can keep the women on top, and yet – because my judgment is better and my leadership skills are better – you can do that by still showing complete and sincere respect to the other constituencies that are not part, per se, of the national team. Because it's the right thing to do, because I'm considerate enough to do it, because I'm competent enough to do it, and, pragmatically, if one thinks it's not all organic, they're wrong. If you don't have a healthy youth system, you're not going to have a healthy national team.”
What does the men’s national team need?
A new coach. The “right new manager,” Gans says. “We need to get the right technical people involved.”
That's the pressing issue within the federation, and he says he would “never, ever” make a unilateral decision in hiring a coach and technical staff and would instead form a “committee of technical experts,” which would include former national team players, to assess candidates and advise on the best options.
What does the women’s national team need?
Equal treatment. Our women are winners, and they'll begin qualifying next year to defend their Women's World Cup title in 2019, and the federation needs to demonstrate that it values the women as much as it does the men.
Gans supports “equal pay for equal work” – he wants the women to receive the same remuneration and benefits as the men – but says the greater concern is about work conditions.
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“I think that the real issue that's crying out right now is equal work conditions,” he says. “My understanding is that the labor agreement [the U.S. women signed with USSF] has aspirational language in there that basically says they'll try to avoid artificial turf when they can. It doesn't say anything specific, like you can play on artificial turf no more than X times a year. Evidently, since that agreement's been signed, they have been forced to play on turf. That's outrageous to me, to be honest.
“The idea that they don't get equal work conditions is offensive. It's inherently offensive.”
Gans says the women won't deal with turf during his presidency.
“When Juventus and Chelsea come here in summertime and they play in a venue that's otherwise artificial turf, they get temporary grass laid down,” he said. “If the women are going to play games in front of 15,000, 20,000, 25,000, 30,000 people, by golly that gate, that attendance gate, justifies spending $100,000 to make sure that they're safe. So I can pledge this: Under my administration, they are not going to have that disparity.”