Finally had our chance to catch up with USSF President Sunil Gulati.
Gulati is a figure that doesn’t need any introduction. A lighting rod of criticism by uber fans over the last year, the president of US Soccer is actually quite a likable figure. He’s got an email readily available to any fan that wants it and, from only recent observations, you can tell there is quite a bit of passion and US Soccer zeal under a veneer that is always aware of how strong the signal is coming from his voice.
As we commented a few weeks ago, TSG was able to sit with Sunil as he presided over a socratic method-style fan forum before the Chile game.
We were able to catch up with him after the game and led off with a subject that is dear to his heart, the US Women’s team. In doing our research we learned that Sunil loves to talk about the US ladies and is so smitten with the team–beyond his job details–that, in 2008, he elected to stay in China to watch the US Women do battle in the Olympics rather than hightail it to Guatemala to catch up with the USMNT for a critical qualifier against Guatemala.
Don’t worry, he caught both games–he never misses watching any.
Now our conversation with US Soccer prez Sunil Gulati:
TSG: So, are you going to watch the ladies tonight?
Sunil Gulati: No, no. I’m on a flight back to New York. How could I watch it live? Oh, on the internet. I have a flight back when it’s on at 3am.
TSG: What’s your expectation for the women’s team at the upcoming World Cup? Do you think they’re challenged by their youth? They’ve had a few stumbles in the last two tournaments or series of games if you will?
SG: The challenges are they’ve lost only two games in the past two years…so I’m not sure anyone is hitting the panic button.
The expectations for this team are very high. They’re Olympic champions. Everyone, the players, the coaches has very hight expectations. But the gap has clearly narrowed at the top.
German’s playing at home. They’re defending world champions.
TSG: They’re a young team. Do they have enough time to prepare and reps to prepare?
SG: I don’t know. I leave that to Pia to figure out. We’ve got a pretty experienced player and coach in her. The preparation will be as good as we can make it.
TSG: Getting to the recently concluded World Cup bid process, with about a month to reflect, what would you do differently about the bid process.
SG: About the bid process?
TSG: Anything with the bid process?
SG: There are a lot of things that I would do differently, but could we do anything differently to make a difference.
I’m not sure the answer to that is yes.
TSG: Looking back and seeing the various news reports, do you think Qatar won the bid based upon merit? Assuming US bid was top-notch and the technical analysis as we know was excellent.
The US put in a strong bid and Qatar’s technical review was weak. In that respect, asking the question again, do you think Qatar won the bid based upon merit?
SG: Listen, I said many times along the way. These decisions are elections. They’re not compute-generated programs that spit out an answer to a multi-variable calculus problem.
People are going to base their decisions on many different things.
Part of it is the inspections. Part of it is going into new territories.
At the end of the day, we accept the results.
We congratulate Qatar and we move on.
TSG: A striker got fouled this evening [Juan Agudelo against Chile]. A striker scored [Teal Bunbury]. Much has been made about that a US striker has not scored at the past two World Cups.
But then you look at a country like Paraguay. A very successful country on the international front.
For the past two World Cups they had less collective goals than the US and a striker only scored one of them.
Do you think the US striker situation is scapegoated a little too much?
SG: I think when you talk about a total of seven games it is a very small sample size.
We won our group without having a forward score so there is obviously other ways to win games.
Clearly you would like the players up top to help in that area and I’m sure they’ll help in that area in qualifying.
TSG: I’m sure, but one thing that I thought was interesting was…well it was odd for me to hear the strikers singled out after World Cup. It seemed out of context for a US team that always focuses on quote “team.”
SG: I don’t think it was put out as a challenge. It was more put out as a statistical fact of the last seven games.
Look it’s a strange circumstance. For example, against Ghana we could have had a striker instead of Landon and today it could have been a midfielder.
I don’t want to get too caught up that.
TSG: In terms of the US team now, what’s your expectations for the next few years..let’s say for the next two years. What are your success metrics for Bob Bradley?
SG: This year it’s all about two things.
A year ago we would have said it’s about the Gold Cup and trying to qualify for the Confederations Cup.
Because the qualification schedules has changed, the first six months are all about preparation for and winning the Gold Cup. After that we have to focus on qualifying.
Those are the big things on the schedule.
TSG: Okay, I’d like to go back and ask some questions on Bob Bradley. I’m sorry but I never got to ask these questions at the time.
Did you look at many other candidates? Did you look at just one other candidate? How many candidates did the USSF look at?
SG: The biggest part of discussions with Bob was whether two cycles is or was too much.
In the end, I don’t think there is anything else to be gained about talking about anything else that might’ve happened, about what we’ve done or not done.
Bob’s our coach. He’s had a good run. We all thought another little break and we could have beat Ghana.
We won our group. Got to the semifinals and got to the finals of the Confederation Cup a year earlier.
Those are pretty good results.
TSG: Okay, then let me get specific with regard to one name that’s come up: Jurgen Klinsmann. Will Jurgen Klinsmann ever be considered for the USMNT head coaching role with the present USSF leadership still in place?
SG: Do I interpret that as will US Soccer ever hire Jurgen Klinsmann if I am president of the federation?
TSG: [laughing] Well I was trying to be diplomatic.
SG: Life is long so who knows. I don’t think there is any point on speculating.
There’s been so much speculation on what I may or may not have done. We’re focused very much on qualifying for the World Cup and winning the Gold Cup and continuing to move the program forward.
TSG: Alright, are you having fun with your job?
SG: Yeah, overall, sure.
December 2nd wasn’t a whole lot of fun. But last summer was pretty extraordinary. The summer before was pretty extraordinary. The Olympics for the women before that was pretty extraordinary.
In any situation where you have wins and loses, there are plenty of disappointments along the way. But overall, sure.
TSG: What advice would you have for your eventual successor?
SG: Well, I think there’s a couple of things. One have as much experience as you can and you gotta have fun doing it. It’s an unpaid gig.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve found–and I’ve been doing what I’ve doing for twenty years.. Probably the biggest change is communication and the speed of communication, of technology and all those things.
What might have been discussions in a bar ten years ago about how the team played are now discussions in cyberspace and now end up in my email. There are some positive and some negatives with that….because now everyone has a megaphone.
The communication has changed very dramatically.
In the end you have to be able to take that into account because the stakeholders and fans are all a part of it.
TSG: In terms of MLS, did you expect a ratings bump coming out of the World Cup?
SG: No I don’t think so I think the hype of the World Cup was the hype of the World Cup.
Over time, you hope that translates into more people caring about the national team and the home league.
I don’t know if it would be fair to compare or expect the ratings to go up.
TSG: Sure, but the ratings trailed off. Was that expected…
SG: Sure, that’s something that everyone’s working on. People working at MLS, at ESPN…finding out ways to resonate more with fans.
That’s an important part of the puzzle and something we’re challenged by.
TSG: Did David Beckham have the impact off the field for MLS that was expected?
SG: Yes, I think so. David’s gotten a lot of people aware about the game and the league and that’s a success.
TSG: [Sunil is about to be pulled away] Last one, and I know you’re going to answer this diplomatically. A potential game winning penalty kick, who takes it. Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey?
SG: Wow. That’s a tough one. I think Bob’s answer on that is the same as mine, the player’s get to sort it out on the field. I think that’s a circumstantial one. Who’s tired? Who’s been fouled?
And If they miss hopefully we get a retake and the other one will knock it in.
Sunil Gulati, President of US Soccer.