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The State of Our Soccer Union is Not Good

Presidential candidates, American Outlaws, fans of franchises and clubs, athletes, parents, distinguished readers, members of the board, and delegates to the USSF election,

My fellow Americans, This summer’s July 4th holiday will mark the 242nd anniversary of our nation’s Declaration of Independence. That same day will also mark the 30th anniversary of hosting rights for the 1994 FIFA World Cup being awarded to the United States, kick-starting the rebirth of domestic soccer in this country. These last 30 years have been ripe with memories, records, and the continual dawning promise that soccer was America’s sport of the future.

As we fast forward three decades, it becomes clear that we find ourselves in one of those seminal moments in history where our task is tall and the requirements strenuous. Seldom have the stakes been higher for soccer in America and this opportunity for change, if not taken now, may soon quietly pass us by.

Our republic’s founding document states that, from time to time, the executive shall give to the Congress information of the state of the union and recommend to their consideration measures both necessary and expedient. While this provision may not be enshrined in governing documents of our sport, it is vital that the collective wisdom of the founders be taken for the purposes of accountability and leadership.

Given the position in which we find ourselves, due in part to the existing leadership of U.S. Soccer, I deliver to you today this written message in the spirit of Presidents Jefferson through Taft, not as a leader in American soccer, but as a voice in the crowd.

I write to you today to report that the state of our soccer union is not good. Our men’s national team has inexplicably and embarrassingly missed out on qualification to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years. Our domestic game is structured improperly and is more notable for stupid, avoidable drama off the field rather than the competition on it. Our youth system remains gratuitously expensive, poorly coached, and improperly refereed, hindering American player development from the beginning. And in all of these areas, the federation’s willful abdication of leadership and responsibility is actively hurting American soccer, rather than serving its principle mission of growing the game.

It is also true that our women’s team is now no longer head and shoulders above the rest of the world. The benefits of Title IX, passed in 1972, paved the way for our women’s team to have a several decade headstart on other nations in terms of sporting infrastructure, and we have been rewarded through our achievements on the field.

Though the women were knocked out of the 2016 Olympic Games in the quarterfinals, one unfortunate result does not define a team. Our women’s national team bounced back to end 2017 ranked number one in the world. We are the current holders of the Women’s World Cup and look to qualify for and defend that title during the summer of 2019 in France. Our goal is to walk away with nothing short of a second straight winner’s trophy in what will no doubt be the most competitive Women’s World Cup played to date.

My fellow soccer loving Americans, let me be clear: women’s national team players should be paid for the same work as, with the same bonuses as, and with the same perks as, the men. This isn’t about business metrics, though they financially pull their own weight; this is about fairness and a commitment to equality. This is not club soccer, where a club’s financial means affects what it can and cannot pay its players; this is about the awesome honor that is to represent the United States of America. For every game in which a national team player is called in for, they should be paid an equal and fair amount.

In order to achieve this end, I am proposing that our men’s and women’s national teams negotiate collective bargaining agreements together in a unified players union. This is a bold step towards uniting all members of the player pool eligible to represent the United States on the world stage in the global game. While the women recently renegotiated their CBA with the U.S. Soccer Federation, they should be invited back to join the men when the men’s deal comes for negotiation. We will follow the lead of the Norwegian players and help set the example for what is right, not only for the international soccer community, but also for all Americans.

In regards to the men, the failure to qualify for this summer’s upcoming World Cup cannot be categorized as anything other than a top-to-bottom, total and catastrophic failure. The players didn’t get it done, yes. But players are only as good as we develop them and players are only as good as we coach them. So while it is fair to say that our players didn’t get the job done, we must also look to the federation for leadership, for ownership, and for responsibility. Yet those characteristics are the antithesis for which this federation stands.

Make no mistake, if the federation cannot take responsibility for its failures, then it has lost its authority to be the governing body of soccer in America. If the federation will not take ownership of its own problems, then we shall do it for them. And if the federation refuses to provide leadership to remedy the current state of soccer, should we not then find new leadership that measures up to the task?

The critics will say that one result does not define a program. Indeed, even I mentioned that in referencing our women. But the failure to qualify for the World Cup was not solely on our inability to get a point in Couva. Our failure to qualify for the World Cup was also our failure to secure a result at home against Mexico or in either match against Costa Rica.