January 19 – The North American Soccer League has confirmed it is backing former US international Eric Wynalda in the U.S. Soccer presidential election race which climaxes on February 10.
Eight candidates are running to succeed Sunil Gulati and in a statement NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal said: “I am proud to announce that the NASL and its member clubs unanimously support Eric Wynalda to become the next President of the United States Soccer Federation.”
“Eric is a soccer visionary who knows how to lead by inclusion and empowerment. He was a pioneer when he became one of the first American players to achieve success as a professional player abroad and that experience left him unafraid to challenge the status quo.”
“Eric is best equipped to deliver an increase in opportunity for all stakeholders and end the conflicts of interest that limit the sport’s growth. There are foundational issues plaguing the sport in our country and Eric’s extensive background, including being a member of the Hall of Fame, uniquely positions him well to lead the development of soccer and not just the business of soccer.”
Arguably the NASL and Wynalda are both on the fringes of the election when it comes to looking at the breakdown of the voting constituency. The NASL is at issue with the USSF over their ‘de-recognition’ as a top tier professional league (they argue for political reasons and say there are anti-trust issues), while Wynalda has no obvious stakeholder base to support him in the election.
But there is no doubt that they both appeal to a popular soccer supporting US fanbase that is nowhere near as ignorant of the kind of football culture they are talking about as the rest of the world too often likes to view them. The USSF too often reflects a similar dismissive attitude of its stakeholders and football fans generally, favouring a support of the business end of the game and a very close alliance with the MLS and its interests.
It is unclear how much of an issue this will be for the stakeholders who have the final vote.
Wynalda brings a unique perspective to the election race. What he lacks in the formal business training required to run a $125 million football ‘corporation’ he makes up with in his understanding of the US game itself
Last year Wynalda told Insideworldfootball the problem is deep rooted and the failure to win World Cup qualification in what should have been a formality in their final game against Trinidad and Tobago is just the most visible proof of this. The World Cup failure is not the problem, it is just a symptom of a much bigger cultural problem – a point echoed by a number of US Soccer stakeholders.
“The coaching problem is bigger than we thought. We have a federation that was led in a way that can take a lot of credit for the business side but at the pro level we have never really engaged with the real business of football. The federation thinks it is doing a great job. But the first step to fixing problems is to recognise you have them,” he said.
“The federation has been ruled by a strategy of divide and conquer. You create confusion and you can end up staying in power.”
“What if you were able to incentivise, create a better competitive environment. It is different when you play in a system and are fighting for a spot against someone who needs to win. You can never duplicate that in this country.”
Wynalda is an outsider in the election but his opinion and comment are increasingly finding support.
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