New York Cosmos Chairman Rocco B. Commisso — already embroiled in a lawsuit with U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) to keep his league alive — is calling for the resignation of President Sunil Gulati after the U.S. men’s team was eliminated from World Cup competition.
On Tuesday night, the U.S. men’s national soccer team dropped a 2-1 contest to Trinidad and Tobago — a shocker that eliminated the U.S. men’s team from next year’s World Cup competition. It was truly an embarrassment, one that should cause plenty of reflection in USSF offices.
And that reflection should include the resignation of Gulati, according to Commisso. Now, the outspoken Commisso isn’t exactly a dispassionate observer here: he and his fellow NASL owners are using USSF over the decision to deny the NASL Division II status for 2018, a decision based on the league’s lack of progress in meeting Division II standards for number of teams and facilities. And, there’s a subtext here: Gulati came to USSF with plenty of ties to MLS, and the ties between MLS and USL is part of the argument that USSF was biased against NASL.
As a former college soccer player and youth coach, I know first-hand the flood of emotions that the U.S. Men’s National Team must be experiencing after last night’s loss to Trinidad and Tobago, which eliminated us from the 2018 FIFA World Cup. I understand the anguish and guilt felt by the players after letting down millions of fans of the national team, young and old. I respect the professionalism that it takes for the U.S. coach to step up and take responsibility without making excuses.
The real causes of last night’s debacle, however, weren’t actually present on the field or on the sidelines in Trinidad. Instead, the result was a byproduct of larger, systemic problems within the sport in our country. The blame must be placed squarely at the feet of U.S. Soccer’s management, led by Sunil Gulati. The first step in ensuring that American soccer consistently performs at a level that spares all of us the kind of negative emotions generated by our National Team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup is for Mr. Gulati to resign. It is his only honorable path forward. The USSF Board members and senior management personnel appointed or nominated by Mr. Gulati should follow him out the door.
While I’m disheartened by the result of the game, I’m not surprised. Going back to the first New York Cosmos Media Day after I assumed control of the club earlier this year, I have consistently expressed my dissatisfaction with the efforts put forth by the USSF. As a passionate soccer fan and team owner, I wish that the outcome against Trinidad and Tobago had proven me wrong. Regrettably, the team’s performance along the road to the World Cup in Russia did just the opposite.
When it comes to men’s soccer, the U.S. has never come close to achieving international prominence, as it should, given our country’s size, resources and huge pool of athletic talent. We produce the best baseball, basketball and football players in the world, but in the case of soccer the reverse is true. In the almost 12 years during which Sunil Gulati has been the USSF’s President, little or nothing has been done to enhance our prospects, despite the vast resources and power that he commands as chief executive of the sport’s governing body.
Frankly, the leadership of U.S. Soccer has failed all of its stakeholders: players, fans, sponsors and those of us who have invested in professional soccer. Getting back on track requires fundamental change in the structure and management of the sport in our country, starting with a change in the Federation’s leadership. I pledge my personal support and that of the NY Cosmos to the task of bringing about the necessary reforms.
Now, to be sure, there are plenty of calls for Gulati to step down in the face of the World Cup elimination. He’s done a lot to grow the sport in the United States, with both MLS and USL setting 2017 attendance records and the business side of the sport booming. For many others, however, the loss of the men’s team will be reason to call for change.