US SoccerUS Soccer

Resource Center: President's Report to Membership at the 2004 AGM

Dr. S. Robert Contiguglia
President's Report to Membership
March 7, 2004
The Hilton, New York, N.Y.

Just seven months ago in Chicago during our 90th anniversary, we celebrated a momentous 2002 both on and off the field with our World Cup success, the opening of U.S. Soccer’s National Training Center, and preparing to host the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2003 in the United States.

Shortly after the AGM, more than 350,000 fans flocked to six venues across the United States to see the finest women athletes perform at the highest level. By using soccer specific facilities such as The Home Depot Center and Columbus Crew Stadium, partnering with Soccer United Marketing, MLS, WUSA, USL, the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the contribution of thousands of volunteers from our soccer family; we were able to provide the athletes with an unmatched environment for success and to impress the world with incredible U.S. organization with less than four months of preparation . We were also able to achieve a financial surplus for the event. I want to thank everyone involved in Women’s World Cup 2003. We could not have done it without you.

The success of the Women’s World Cup also showed the impact of WUSA on the women’s game with most of the extraordinary player performances coming from WUSA players. It is obvious that the United States must have a high level professional league for our women’s national teams to consistently excel and for the women’s game to succeed worldwide.

During the Women’s World Cup, I met with many women’s soccer advocates from the international soccer community. They said that the WUSA was also the icon for building the women’s game worldwide, that formation of another league is critical for women’s sport, and that any new league must be sustainable for at least five years.

U.S. Soccer is committed to assist in the process of restarting a women’s professional league. To that end we are supporting and working closely with the WUSA ad hoc committee and the Women’s National Team Players’ Association.

Player development and facility development are the two critical components of our business plan as we move forward. Last November, your Board of Directors approved Phase IV of U.S. Soccer’s overall strategic business plan.

This commitment charts the course for our sport to increase its presence in the American sports landscape. Over the next three years, we will invest $30 million in our operational budget with $14.5 million earmarked for player development, $13.6 million going to facility development and $1.9 million for other initiatives. These investments will bring us closer toward meeting our mission of making soccer a pre-eminent sport in the United States.

The center for player development and the home of our national teams is our National Training Center at The Home Depot Center in Los Angeles. In January of this year the NTC hosted nine different U.S. National Teams. In one special moment, we could see the full integration of our men’s and women’s programs painted in a continuous vista showing national team players from one field to the next. An emotional soccer reporter standing with me said, “This is a proud moment for the United States. Our future is before us.”

Also in January, the NTC hosted the National Referee Camp and debuted as a venue for the U.S. Soccer National Coaching Schools. We are currently reviewing the possibility of expanding our presence at the NTC to include a soccer specific sports medicine center focusing on performance, treatment and prevention of injuries, and player safety.

On the field, the target for our national teams continues to be consistent success against the best teams in the world, and we are now one of those teams. Our national teams’ goals remain to qualify, advance and win every FIFA competition. To that end, the past seven months have seen our National Teams place in the top five in three FIFA Championships, with fifth-place finishes for our U-17 and U-20 Men’s National Teams in their respective competitions, with two players selected for the U-20 All-Tournament Team and a Golden Boot award, and, of course, the third-place finish for the US Women at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

With our third place finish in the Women’s World Cup, our U.S. Women’s team maintained its perfect record of being the only team with top three finishes in every Women’s World Cup and every Olympic Women’s Football Tournament. No other country in the world has shown this kind of consistency.

The inability of our Under-23 Men’s National Team to qualify for the Athens Olympics shows us that we still have work to do for player development especially in the 18-23 year old age group. We have talented players in our professional leagues, which are capable of competing with the best in the world. We need more talented players at that level who need to compete regularly in a professional environment. Our technical staff recommends that our professional leagues establish a reserve team system to provide regular competition for this group of young talented athletes. We are examining how we can assist in making a reserve system a reality.

Our scouting system, the residency program in Bradenton, Fla., and our current developmental programs do a good job in identifying and developing players up to 18 years old. We have more quality players who are under 18 than ever before, with 40 players in residency. In our business plan we are providing more training days and more international competition than ever before.
Our youth members and scouting systems are identifying hundreds of players starting at age 13. We will also be using the NTC for more regional, national and international events to build our talented player base.

Whenever I attend a FIFA event, I am congratulated on our progress as a nation and our consistent success at the international level. International experts on both the men’s and women’s sides commend us for the athleticism, fighting spirit, organization and psychological strength of American players. All say that while the U.S. has made great progress, we need to continue to improve the technical abilities of our players.

Technical development begins at the 8-10 year old recreational soccer level and continues throughout a lifetime. One of our greatest challenges continues to be the technical development of our young players and making the average player better.

Our youth members are responsible for this development. We need to focus on technical development in coach and player education; and need to use small-sided games as the best way to develop individual technique. All of us must resist and educate the ill-informed who believe that children must play the adult game and that youth coaches must stress the tactics of winning over technical development. We must understand what youth sports psychologists have been telling us for 20 years. When young athletes have a sense of individual success like technical training, they get a sense of personal accomplishment. They stay in the activity longer and have more fun.

Two weeks ago I attended the US Youth Soccer state association meetings and coach’s convention. Great concern was expressed to me about inter-organizational and intra-organizational competitions leading to player burnout by forcing players to participate in too many tournaments and events, which could interfere with individual player development. Our youth organizations need to bring order to this situation by working together to organize competitions that place the needs of the players above the commercial and economic needs of the coach, club and organization. Our responsibility as soccer leaders is to provide an environment for every player to be as good as he or she can be. This includes providing competent coaches, referees and administrators, and training and competition appropriate for player development.

Another concern expressed by our members is the barriers created by requirements for teams to obtain travel permits. Travel permits were first introduced by the Federation years ago mainly to protect players and to assure quality competition. Today, these permits are unnecessary. We should initiate a uniform policy to remove the travel permits requirement for teams playing within U.S. Soccer and require only notification to the appropriate member organization.

Facility development is crucial to bring our sport to the level of the other major sports in the United States. One can easily document the importance of modern sport specific facilities in the growth of sports worldwide. New NFL stadiums, NASCAR tracks and hockey and basketball arenas have become the backbones of those sports. New soccer specific stadiums will plant a solid footprint never seen in the American sports landscape and help to drive future commercial success.

We have already seen benefits of these stadiums in Columbus and in Los Angeles. These facilities have been shown to provide a better experience for the spectator and television viewer.

The recent groundbreaking for a new stadium and fields in Frisco, Texas, is the result of a public-private partnership between the City of Frisco, North Texas Soccer and the Hunt Sports Group. The project demonstrates what can be accomplished when the whole soccer community works together. The Frisco plan will be a model for partnerships across the rest of the country. In addition, ground has been broken in Rochester, N.Y., and similar plans for a facility in suburban Chicago have already been announced. Plans for Denver, Harrison, N.J., and Washington, D.C. are underway.

These soccer specific facilities will benefit the entire soccer family, provide the finest environments for all players to succeed, give U.S. Soccer greater flexibility in scheduling national team games, allow us to host more FIFA competitions and allow for more flexible scheduling for our professional leagues. We will no longer be limited to using only American football stadiums and subject to their scheduling priorities. This new flexibility will also allow us to offer a broader and more flexible television schedule of professional and national team games.

We are currently in the middle of a great adventure, namely the formal evaluation of U.S. Soccer’s governance structure and ethics practices. This independent study by The Consensus Management Group is the result of the concerns expressed by our members regarding all aspects of how U.S. Soccer governs itself. Issues of equity and fairness in governance and the balance of tensions between the needs of the Federation as a whole and the needs of our individual members will be examined.

We will explore all aspects of our governance structure from the size and function of the board of directors to structure of the National Council. In addition, in light of the recent scandals within sport and business, there is the need to evaluate our business practices. This will preserve organizational integrity and assure we follow ethical business principles.

So far, the process has been well received with every one providing input. You have been open and honest providing diverse opinions, which have been kept confidential. A final report with recommendations will be submitted to the Task Force on Governance and Ethics and presented on the internet for all of you for comments in May. The real work begins after the report is received. My hope is that any changes coming out of the report will be acted on at the next AGM in 2005.

One of my favorite sayings is that our challenges are the results of our successes. Our teams are consistently winning on the field, we have financial stability and a strong business plan for the first time in 90 years, our coach and referee programs are among the best in the world, we are partnering to build a national footprint of soccer specific stadiums, and we are focusing on creating environments for making players better. We also hosted a most successful Women’s World Cup organized in only four months. We have done this with every one in the soccer family working together.

Yet there is more to do. And we can only do it by continuing to work together in an open and transparent manner, respecting each others’ opinions and responding to each others needs, while always putting the needs of each player first.

Together we can continue to build the finest sports organization in the world. The best is yet to come. Thank you for what you do for the game.