US boss Gulati is caught between Rocco and a hard place

Sunil Gulati

October 18 – The backlash against US Soccer federation president Sunil Gulati (pictured) after the US loss to Trinidad & Tobago that saw them fail to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia has continued, and if anything increased in vitriol.

US soccer stakeholders are now adding their voices of condemnation to media and fans. The latest assault on Gulati comes from Rocco B Commisso, owner of the iconic New York Cosmos and chairman of the second tier North American Soccer League (NASL), who in an opinion piece in the New York Daily News says the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) has “failed all of us so miserably”, and calls for the end to Gulati’s reign of power.

“Sunil Gulati’s role as a U.S. Soccer power broker has outlasted three U.S. Presidents. During his reign as President of the USSF, the performance of the U.S. Men’s National Team has fallen to its lowest point in 30 years. The responsibility for the American men’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and the last two Olympic Games must land at his feet,” he says.

Commisso, an Italian immigrant at the age of 12 who studied his way to Colombia University (where Gulati is an economics lecturer), saved the Cosmos in January and moved operations to the Colombia University soccer facility. But while the ‘alumni’ and any perceived football links via Colombia with Gulati might be expected to engender some compassion or loyalty, Commisso is having nothing of it and deliver both barrels in his condemnation.

“In the 12 years during which Gulati has been the USSF’s president, little or nothing has been done to enhance the competitiveness of our men’s program, despite the vast resources and power that he commands as chief executive of the sport’s governing body.

“Unfortunately, it is not just the men’s national team that has suffered under his watch. Although the U.S. women’s national team has achieved unparalleled success in international play, its reward by the Gulati-led Federation has been lower pay and worse working conditions than the men’s team.”

Commisso also raises the taboo subject in US soccer circles of Gulati’s connections to the Department of Justice RICO investigation into football malfeasance. “A FIFA corruption scandal erupted on U.S. soil in which the central figure was one of Gulati’s close confidantes, Chuck Blazer,” he says.

“It is clear the leadership of U.S. Soccer has failed all of its stakeholders: players, fans, sponsors as well as parents, team owners and others who have invested time and money in soccer at all levels. Getting back on track requires fundamental change in the structure and management, starting with a change in the Federation’s leadership.

“Gulati needs to step down immediately and join Bruce Arena, who took the honorable path of resigning as coach of the U.S. men’s national team.

“As we say in my native Italy, a fish stinks from the head. We cannot begin to address the issues facing U.S. soccer if Gulati remains in control of the “beautiful game” in America.”

Gulati would argue that Commisso has a personal axe to grind. The NASL has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the USSF in the Brooklyn federal court claiming that the USSF has manipulated league qualification criteria to benefit its business partner Major League Soccer and its marketing arm Soccer United Marketing (SUM) which jointly sells MLS and US national team rights.

The NASL also claims the USSF is deliberately attempting to put the league and its clubs out of business by revoking its Division II status in the US hierarchy.

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