ORLANDO, Fla. — Carlos Cordeiro’s victory in the U.S. Soccer Federation presidential election saw him convince voters he was an agent for change.
Now he has to prove it.
It’s the single biggest priority for Cordeiro as he succeeds Sunil Gulati. On Tuesday he will be in New York for a meeting related to the bid to win the co-hosting rights for the 2026 World Cup, a quest that has immense long-term implications for growing the sport in this country. And he also must quickly fill the newly created general manager roles on both the men’s and women’s sides, with the men’s job having a bit more urgency about it, given that there isn’t a full-time manager at the moment.
But this is a fractured, toxic soccer community and there seems to be a disconnect between those within the national council who voted and those on the outside clamoring for more change. It’s a community that needs some healing and Cordeiro will need to reach out to those feeling disaffected, even if they’re disinclined to return the favor. Some links might have to be reforged several times.
“For those who didn’t vote for me, I’m going to have to work even harder to convince them that I will be a good president,” Cordeiro said.
The best way he can do that is by keeping his word. He doesn’t need to complete every last item on his campaign platform all at once, but there needs to be some tangible signs of progress in the coming months.
He needs to follow through on his stated aim of creating a technical department to manage on-field matters especially since, by his own admission, he isn’t a soccer expert. He needs to keep his promise that he’ll put more focus on the state associations that keep the game at the youth and adult levels moving and that he’ll make the game more affordable.
Most of all, Cordeiro must govern in a style that includes rather than excludes. The sight of him sharing the podium with U.S. Soccer Federation CEO Dan Flynn at a post-election press conference made for good optics. Now, Cordeiro will need to continue that approach with Flynn, the board of directors and the USSF staff.
“A lot more can be done, and I think you’ll see over the next couple of years a much more engaged leadership, a board that actually is taking responsibility and is more engaged with Dan and his colleagues in Chicago,” Cordeiro said. “To me, we’re only as strong as the team is. Not that it was lacking, but I think we can do a lot better.”
There is understandable cynicism regarding Cordeiro’s reformer credentials. He has been a USSF insider for the better part of a decade, having first been brought in as an independent director in 2007. Eleven years on, he is a fixture within the USSF hierarchy, serving as treasurer and then, two years ago, being elected vice president.
During that time, Gulati amassed considerable power within the USSF and didn’t hesitate to wield it; Cordeiro stood by his side throughout. Yet during the election, he wore the seemingly contradictory hats of steady hand and change agent and it catapulted him to the presidency.
“I think all the candidates recognized that we needed change,” athlete council member Brian Ching said. “Carlos is very intimate with the organization, and I think he was committed to change. I think that he will be able to bring about that change and inclusion.”
There already are initial signs that some ideas are being implemented. The creation of the GM positions counts as at least some first steps toward the USSF evolving, but more is needed. Cordeiro also will need to take on a more public profile, for example.
He benefited during the election from the presence of Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter, who seemed to be on the receiving end of an inordinate amount of flak. It allowed Cordeiro to take more of a run silent, run deep approach. There still is plenty he can do in the background, but now he is the face of the federation. He will not only need to sell his ideas to the board, but also to the public.
Cordeiro still has some work to do in this area and gave his doubters ammunition on Saturday when he called the 2026 World Cup rights “the most important priority for the federation,” given the money involved.
He’s right in many respects but the emphasis on money unsettles those, who have grown tired of being told of the USSF’s great financial position in the wake of a World Cup qualifying failure. At a minimum, the skepticism will keep Cordeiro on his toes as he settles into the job.
And if he isn’t the proponent of change he professed to be? The USSF will muddle along, unable to pull out of the muck in which it finds itself.
But looked at another way, this is an immense opportunity. The appetite for reform is there and, if he is successful in pushing some through, it can serve as springboard for greater things, as well as a belief that better days are ahead.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.