Sunil Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation since 2006, has decided against running for re-election. Gulati broke the news himself to ESPN on Monday.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and talking about it with people in many different positions – many of whom told me I should run,” Gulati told ESPN. “But in the end, I think the best thing for me personally, and for the federation, is to see someone new in the job.”
Gulati said he had “mixed emotions” about the decision, and said it was a “very, very hard” one to make.
Gulati has been involved in U.S. Soccer for roughly three decades, and has had a hand in the growth of the sport at various levels. But he has been heavily criticized since the U.S. men’s national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
“The loss to Trinidad was painful, regrettable and led to a lot of strong emotions,” Gulati told ESPN. “And to be honest, I think at this point, that’s overshadowed a lot of other things that are important. So fair or not, I accept that and think it’s time for a new person.”
Seven candidates have already declared their intentions to run for the USSF presidency: Boston attorney Steve Gans, United Premier Soccer League northeast conference manager Paul Lapointe, former U.S. national team players Eric Wynalda, Paul Caligiuri and Kyle Martino, New York attorney Michael Winograd, and current U.S. Soccer vice president Carlos Cordeiro.
“I’ve met all seven who have declared their candidacies,” Gulati told ESPN. “I think several of them would be in for a pretty big shock about what the job is – it’s not just about national teams. It’s about 4 million registered players, referees, medical safety, grassroots stuff. It feels like that stuff gets ignored sometimes.”
Candidates will need three nominations by the Dec. 12 deadline to be eligible for the election, which will take place on Feb. 10 at U.S. Soccer’s annual general meeting in Orlando.
Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported on Saturday that Gulati, if he chose not to run, might throw his support behind Kathy Carter, the current president of Soccer United Marketing. Carter, according to MLS’s website, “oversees the revenue business for MLS’s commercial subsidiary.” She formerly served as VP of sales and marketing at Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), and was MLS’s VP of corporate marketing until 1999.
Gulati told ESPN that, at the moment, he is not supporting any other candidates. Carter has not yet declared her candidacy, but has acknowledged she is “exploring a run.”
Gulati had been expected to run, despite widespread calls for his resignation. And he had been considered the favorite, despite not declaring he would run. He had reached out to delegates for support, and had reportedly received the majority of nominations that had been filed. He told ESPN that “the general perception in the soccer community versus the people who vote in elections may be different right now.”
Despite his decision to not seek re-election, Gulati will maintain his positions on the FIFA Council and as the chairman of the joint North American 2026 World Cup bid. He could still be involved in the organizing of the 2026 World Cup if the North American bid wins a June 13 FIFA vote to decide the host.
Gulati had run unopposed for the USSF presidency in 2006, 2010 and 2014. Gans became the first to announce he would challenge Gulati in September. Lapointe also declared his intention before the men’s national team’s qualifying failure. The rest declared afterward, though Wynalda had been plotting a run for some time.
Gulati’s decision not to run could blow the race wide open. And Gulati’s support for a given candidate or candidates could shape the race over the next two months. ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle reported on Sunday that Gulati and MLS commissioner Don Garber had urged Carter to join the race.
Carter and any other candidates who wish to run must declare their candidacies and acquire the three required nominations by next Tuesday, Dec. 12.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.