Fans In The Forefront As USSF Kicks Off 2011

After a summer World Cup that saw the United States kick, claw, scratch, sidefoot and ultimately submit, focus for US Soccer migrated ever so briefly from it’s players to the front office so to speak.

The populace...

With a new four-year preparatory cycle virtually beginning instantaneously, the denouement of an on-field campaign wrecked by Asamoah Gyan saw Sunil Gulati and US Soccer navigate, or meander if you prefer, through three events that didn’t necessarily have the desired outcomes: the rehiring, or hiring, of a men’s national team coach, drastic CONCACAF qualifying changes and a massive and aspirational attempt to bring the World Cup back to US soil.

No rest for the weary and a daunting task for the organization–on those last two–in a minefield named “FiFA” where randomness and favors appear to trump logic and merit at nearly every turn.

Fast forward to January 22nd, 2011 and US fans retroactively bore witness to the apparent sequel to Jurgen Klinsmann I, the US–outside of its control–coughing up it’s quadrennial trip to Azteca and Qatar, who sits three page turns in in the FiFA rankings, awarded the 2022 World Cup–the one that many in the English-speakering media thought was a few days in Zurich away from being earmarked for the States.

It’s a dizzying and frustrating sequence of events for US Soccer and the fed is getting back on message and looking to drive the sport forward–in the void of a World Cup bid win–by galvanizing both the casual and hardcore supporter.

The first step here in 2011 was the organziation of what is expected to be many intimate “Fan Forums” in and around US games.

The first forum occurred Saturday night at HDC prior to the Chile match and TSG was privledged enough to be the lone media scribe allowed to join up with a group of approximately 30 fans that would pepper USSF President Sunil Gulati with their questions and concerns.

Having arrived a full two hours before kick-off, the fan group was quickly led through the metal detectors and then escorted through the stadium guantlet to a downstairs media room.

There were a few refreshments lining the right wall, but no one bothered.

Gulati entered stage right, to hearty applause, after a short introduction by press officer Michael Kammarman and the session began.

What followed was a refreshingly candid Gulati–I believe I am qualified to make that statement because I interviewed him after the game and I certainly received more “media-tailored” responses to my queries–taking one fan question after the next and tackling them head on, engaging the inquirer often in his replies. Only one question was, sort of, ducked.

As an event, it was simple, but seemed to achieve its purpose as fans were either satisfied with Gulati’s response or posed follow-ups if they were still left wondering.

Having attended a few fan forums at various intersections of my life, I can easily say that the fans in attendance were also extremely well-prepared for the conversation.

Not only did their questions show the knowledge you would expect of a group that probably hits refresh on USSoccer.com, Twitter and BigSoccer.com all day long, but they were phrased in the right context to drive the answer they wanted. Aware of the stature of the speaker at the front, but more aware of their individual temporal importance to that speaker. Suddenly, I got a little self-conscious.

Gulati, for the most part, obliged.

With no ESPN ice cream mic crowding him and less dissemination of information expected post-event, less amplification allowed for less rhetoric and more direct responses.

Fans were welcome to share what they learned after the proceedings, but not during them.

Saturday's speaker of the house...

The wide-ranging see-saw media session lasted about an hour with the USSF preside engaging the audience with a Socratic method of Q&A. I can only imagine that Gulati behaves similarly in his Columbia classroom.

Some tidbits of information that emerged from Gulati in no particular order. Since TSG participated as an observer in the forum, we did not ask questions.

• The US vs. Argentina friendly up in everyone’s favorite soccer hotbed, Seattle, was torpedoed because of “distance issues” as the lead factor.

It was implied, but not stated by Gulati that Argentina felt the Land of Pearl Jam and Sockeye salmon was just too far for its players to travel for the international friendly date.

Despite the Argentinian negotiations, U.S. Soccer still does consider Seattle and other West Coast locations as great venues for potential matches in the future. But it’s clear to this writer that there are trickier logistical challenges because of the volume of players in Europe across potential opponent nations.

• “We liked the old system. That wasn’t what was on offer.”

Gulati’s sentiments on the changes to CONCACAF qualifying that will likely ruin, if not at least adversely impact, the USA vs. Mexico rivalry. Gulati shared that influence in the decision making was not like the World Bank, where big powers rule, but more like the United Nations where ever voting nation no matter small counted equally.

• No US friendly will be played again “in the next year” on the West Coast and, in what was more of a tongue-in-cheek remark, Gulati kidded that the US will “never play a Latin American country in a qualifier [out west].”

• However, there is a chance of a US – Mexico friendly on the West Coast “sometime in the next year.” The US considered a home-and-away series with Mexico this year, but thought–with a possibly meeting in the Gold Cup–it would not be in the best interest of team development.

• Exposure-wise, the number one priority for USSF right now is “our relationship with our media partners.”

• On the World Cup bid process, Gulati [due to the World Cup bid process in 2010] “thinks you’ll see some changes” in the future selection process.

A questioner then suggested that the US boycott FiFA which earned a well-tailored response from the US Soccer spokesman:

“I saw in the ground rules today that you could ask any question, not that I have to answer it though. [laughs] It’s in our collective interest that I don’t answer that one.”

• In the single exchange the seemed to get Gulati’s blood percolating, a fan led with a somewhat rambling question about a foreign coach ever potentially being the US Men’s Team coach, suggesting someone like Jose Mourinho who would be “given control of everything?”

Gulati, shooting back: “What’s “everything.” I don’t know what “everything” means. I don’t understand.”

The questioner continued: “Like Mourinho has at Real Madrid or had at Chelsea.”

Gulati, “Is that what you think? There’s another guy there that writes the checks. Guaranteed he didn’t have full control at Inter. If you’re an owner, you have full control. Without getting into specifics, let’s see what full control means.”

“Want to decide on the full schedule? Sure, I’ll give you full control. Oh, but we have a contract that this many games for television and you have to play this many games in the United States.”

“Ok, full control. ‘This player is suspended.’ No, in the United States, there is a grievance procedure that we have to observe. And I can give you another hundred.”

“I’m not referring to any specifics. There is no full control. Not with the US,  not at Real Madrid, not at Inter and certainly not at Chelsea. Chelsea has had six coaches in the past six years, right?”

“It’s never full control unless you’re the one writing the checks.”

Photo credit: The Villager newspaper...

“And I don’t own any teams. I don’t have anywhere near full control of my son’s under-13 team.”

“I refereed one game and I had one kid swearing at me the whole game. It was my kid.”

It was the one question that Gulati clearly bristled at (but recovered) and no doubt the press officers on hand will have a word with him on it. Following up on the exchange, Sunil Gulati, or Dan Flynn, for that matter have zero control in who Bob Bradley selects to bring into camp or other similar team moves.

That said–and without be an apologist–it was great to see Gulati, unencumbered by the press, get a little agitated, a little passionate.

• There will be a third kit for Gold Cup this summer as confirmed by Gulati hollering back to his marketing team in the back of the room for confirmation. It will be a red jersey.

All told, I thought the event was an excellent business move for USSF, seeking to engage–not placate–a sampling size of constituents so as to improve the message and direction going forward.

TSG was able to catch up for an exclusive interview with Gulati–one we had been seeking for some time–after the match that evening. You’ll see that on TSG sometime next week.

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33 responses to this post.

  1. Awesome recap! Thanks for sharing! Great Stuff…

    Reply

  2. Posted by EFG on 2011/01/27 at 11:04 AM

    Anyone else excited about a red jersey?

    Reply

    • Posted by JW on 2011/01/27 at 12:20 PM

      YES.

      Reply

    • Bring back the 1994 ‘denim’ jersey! Still my favorite USA jersey ever, not because it was attractive – it was not – but because it was the most uniquely American jersey we’ve ever worn.

      Everyone knows Brazil’s yellow, Italy’s blue, the Dutch orange, and Ireland’s green jerseys. There is NOTHING about our recent jersey designs, besides the crests, that have been unmistakably American, nothing that stakes out a design territory. We need an identity for ourselves and need to stop looking like models for Nike’s latest generic designs.

      Reply

      • Posted by bunkelUSA on 2011/01/27 at 2:11 PM

        I agree about the “models for Nike’s generic designs” point, but that doesn’t mean we need to do something crazy like the denim. None of the examples you mentioned have a distinctive design either, they’re just colors that have become distinctive because of the history/tradition of the team. I personally like the all white kits. Simple and classy.

        Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/01/28 at 6:50 AM

          That 1994 jersey was tacky and horrendous. But it was unique, I’ll most definitely agree with that! Maybe that kit holds a special place in your heart because that WC was the springborard for football to grow here, I don’t know…

          I have to agree somewhat with bunkelUSA. Obviously we all have differing cognitive maps, but why does blue mean Italy, and not France [or even Scotland]?

          Reply

    • Posted by Taly on 2011/01/28 at 12:22 PM

      Not really. I like that our fans sport red, white and blue that makes us unique – versus our fans wearing a solid red.

      Reply

  3. Posted by That Guy on 2011/01/27 at 11:37 AM

    “Fast forward to January 22nd, 2011 and US fans retroactively bore witness to the apparent sequel to Jurgen Klinsmann I, the US–outside of its control–coughing up it’s annual trip to Azteca and Qatar, who sits three page turns in in the FiFA rankings, awarded the 2022 World Cup–the one that many in the English-speakering media thought was a few days in Zurich away from being earmarked for the States.”

    My head is spinning from this paragraph.

    As for jerseys, I don’t care what color we wear as long as we’re consistent.

    Good for Gulati on the control question.

    Reply

    • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/01/27 at 8:52 PM

      Amen on consistent. Feel like a 1998 Brazil yellow looks passable for a current jersey. In the meantime the US has had so many different jersey designs (and colors) over the years.

      Reply

  4. Posted by SamT on 2011/01/27 at 1:31 PM

    Sounds like a great session. And I look forward soon to reading the answers to the questions you WERE able to ask.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Joe on 2011/01/27 at 1:54 PM

    @Matt
    The Sash. I think that has the potential to be our “Brazil yellow”.

    Reply

  6. Posted by away goals on 2011/01/27 at 3:28 PM

    Anybody ask about the odd broadcasting pattern for the usnt? First chile, which I can kind of understand since it was sort of a triple A team…

    But now the egypt game is only available on espn3 and deportes? What’s the rationale there? I assume nobody’s goal is to actively frustrate fans, but it’s getting hard to tell…

    Reply

    • ESPN is contracted with US Soccer to televise 10 matches a year. In the case with Chile and Egypt ESPN has to be choosy about which 10 matches they’ll show. A B-side international and a mid-afternoon match (despite Euro-based players) is not high on ESPN’s wishlist.

      They’re saving their matches for primetime, marquee games like Argentina, probably Paraguay and other matches throughout 2011.

      Skipping on two, early matches allows them to still hold rights for many more throughout 2011.

      It sucks that this is the TV contract, but from ESPN’s perspective they’re showing matches that more then us die-hards will tune in for.

      Reply

    • Posted by Ryan Rosenblatt on 2011/01/27 at 5:32 PM

      Also, FSC doesn’t have a contract currently with SUM, who handles both MLS and US TV contracts. Depending on which report you believe, SUM is asking for a stupidly high amount of money for the MLS rights, which are tied to the US rights, or FSC doesn’t value their MLS rights. Whatever the case, because they’re out of contract ESPN is the only network that can show the US so because of the 10 match contract that’s limiting them to big-time friendlies and the qualifiers later in the year, they aren’t going to put it anywhere but ESPN3 and FSC’s lack of contract means they can’t step in like they have in years past.

      Reply

    • Posted by away goals on 2011/01/28 at 12:05 PM

      Nice work on the tv rights info, team. I guess I should be grateful that high quality streams like espn3 even exist. Five years ago I would have killed for that kind of option.

      Reply

  7. Posted by Ufficio on 2011/01/27 at 3:54 PM

    the US–outside of its control–coughing up it’s annual trip to Azteca

    That should be quadrennial, right?

    Still irritated by the changes to qualifying. Bad for the US on a couple of different levels.

    Reply

  8. [...] “There will be a third kit for Gold Cup this summer as confirmed by Gulati hollering back to his marketing team in the back of the room for confirmation. It will be a red jersey.”-  The Shin Guardian [...]

    Reply

  9. Posted by Chas on 2011/01/27 at 5:12 PM

    Matthewsf, dth, and to every other contributor: I know you guys aren’t paid, but would it kill you to start proofing your articles before you post them????

    Reply

    • Posted by Dave on 2011/01/27 at 6:12 PM

      I tend to notice things like misspelled words, too, unless of course I’m the one who made the spelling error, grammar mistake, or failed to express myself clearly.
      Still, if I understand what someone is trying to say, it doesn’t seem worthwhile to get worked up about it.
      In the case of a factual error, you can politely present your case here or find the contact information(it’s here) and send an email.
      And, yes, for the soccer fan, these guys cover some things pretty well for free and with a minimum of advertising.

      Reply

      • Posted by Chas on 2011/01/27 at 8:03 PM

        Yes Dave, I’m really “worked up.” Lets all judge people based on their blog posts.

        Ever think — maybe companies don’t advertise because the articles are sloppy??? Proofing the articles is just a suggestion here guys, for TSG’s own good. Maybe next time just get the title of the article right???

        Reply

        • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/01/27 at 8:33 PM

          This is Matthew from TSG.

          First, we do our best on the articles. Sure we could use an editor, but we try our best and this is labor of love for all involved right now.

          We are lucky that most in the community understand our desire to provide a good forum and relevant and sometimes exclusive information…and sometimes at the cost of proofreading.

          I would auger that TSG does a better job of qualitative reporting (though not grammar) than many paid publications. Did any other publication this year speak with Eric Lichaj? Or did other publications write about Lichaj without even speaking with him?

          Apologies for being fired up, but sometimes I’m not sure people realize how much of our own time and effort we put it into this.

          On the advertising front, we’ve predominantly TURNED DOWN advertising…so we don’t feed the TSG audience a steady stream of insurance, Tripe AAA, dating and casino/betting other ads. These are typically the ads you see at other sites which in some cases detract from the content.

          We could do that and make a decent buck but we’ve decided against it at this time because it would in some ways take away from the experience. We feel the community should be matched more appropriately with the advertising.

          Anywho…I thought I would respond here. I appreciate the typo catch in the title. I would say while we are occasionally sloppy in our presentation, we are not sloppy in our reporting…and that is more important to me right now.

          Reply

        • Posted by Russ on 2011/01/27 at 8:59 PM

          I’ll take amazing American Soccer content on a daily basis if it comes at the expense of some typos here and there.

          Lighten up.

          Reply

        • Posted by dth on 2011/01/27 at 9:43 PM

          Well…I’m not actually a contributor BUT:

          by internet standards typos are rife and thus not particularly interesting. One of the more famous/celebrated political bloggers, Matt Yglesias, writes some of the worst typos I’ve ever seen–we’re talking about typos that change the meaning of an argument rather than just a minor misspelling or something.

          And really, I don’t necessarily think that’s a big deal. The point of language is to communicate; if you can understand the content even though there’s a typo, clearly the typo is not that bad and the language has done its job. Hunting down typos is mostly a signalling issue whereby you prove you’ve done a good job chewing over the rest of the content in your piece. But since the internet is inherently casual, that’s not a big issue. I care more about errors of thought than errors of spelling and I think it odd that anyone would weight the latter at anywhere close to the former.

          Reply

        • Posted by John Henry on 2011/01/28 at 6:29 AM

          I love TSG. It’s better for thoughtgul US-based soccer content than anything. (About 1,000x better than soccernet.)

          But sometimes I do have a little smile, not from the typos but from the solecisms and the odd word choice.

          Like “I would *auger* that TSG does a better job of qualitative reporting”

          just teasing. :)

          *maybe you were thinking “aver”?

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/01/28 at 6:58 AM

          Like somebody else said, I’d rather the writers worry about the factual content being correct. So if a few typos creep in, then so be it.

          It’s not like TSG are handing in an essay at Uni or something. Got to love the ‘spelling nazi’…

          Reply

        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/01/28 at 11:08 AM

          bad spelling may not mean bad journalism, but defending of the bad spelling so much is not good either. the content can speak for itself, and so can the spelling for that matter.

          Reply

  10. Posted by Crow on 2011/01/27 at 6:01 PM

    I can’t stand Sunil. That is all.

    Reply

  11. Posted by Nelson on 2011/01/28 at 2:14 AM

    If all you need is a proofreader, I’m sure a loyal TSG fan and grammarian could help out. I already read most eveything y’all publish. Should TSG not then just ask for the kindness of a follower to do what the authors do: work for free?

    Reply

    • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/01/29 at 4:31 PM

      its so nice that people can start a forum out of the goodness of their own heart, for us, the fans.

      Reply

  12. Posted by John on 2011/01/28 at 9:21 AM

    From what I have always understood, TSG gets compensated by Bob Bradley in sweat suits.

    Where do you think “Jucy Couture” comes from?

    Reply

  13. [...] I commented in the quick follow-up the next day–a piece you should read if you haven’t already–Gulati’s answers in the fan session were [...]

    Reply

  14. [...] Tread On Red: As we confirmed in January, the men’s team will debut some snazzy new red kits. ‘Bout [...]

    Reply

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