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Sunil Gulati

Sunil Gulati Quote Sheet Regarding U.S. WNT Coaching Search, Potential Women’s Professional League

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati addressed several media members regarding the ongoing U.S. Women’s National Team head coach search and a potential women’s professional league for next year.

U.S. Soccer Quote Sheet
U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati
Oct. 5, 2012

Opening statements:
“I wanted to give you a few updates on the women’s side of our program in three different areas. First, Jill Ellis will coach the team for the October games. Jill, as you all know, was an assistant coach with Pia [Sundhage] and is our Youth Development Director on the women’s side. She has coached our Under-20 team, she has coached many of the players on the National Team as a head coach whether in college or on one of our national youth teams. Jill will coach the team on an interim basis for as long as we need and certainly for the October games.

“Second, I’ll give you a brief update on where we are in the coach search. We had about 25 to 30 inquiries, CVs, discussions in some cases, and from that group we have now talked to a number of people. We had a number of interviews this past Wednesday in Chicago with our search committee. We had some previously and we’ll have more discussions in the next week or so. That process is on-going. We have not reached the end of it. There are still some international coaches and some domestic coaches that are in the mix and from the various groups or types of coaches that I discussed on our last call, which essentially meant international, some U.S. college-based coaches, some from our own programs that have coached in our National Team program and then those with professional experience. Clearly there are some that cross all of those lines. We don’t have a short list per se but we’re still talking to people in this first round of interviews. The timetable is still to try to bring this process to a conclusion by the end of October, but we don’t have a critical cut-off date of any sort with a competition around the corner so we can answer questions about that later.

“The third element is that we had a call today with the leadership of U.S. Soccer and potential investor, owner-operators from 11 groups representing 10 cities for the possibility of a new women’s professional league for next year. That discussion went very well. We filled them in on a number of things of our possible participation and really where we right now is talking with them as well as starting a process of vetting those potential investors on financial and other financial, operational, organizational management guidelines. We’ve asked them for their own operational plans, their own budgets and so on and we’re starting a process to vet them through an auditing process to make sure that they’re up to the level that we’d want for this league. I’m not going to get into the specific 10 markets and 11 investor-operators. They are spread across the country. There are some former professional teams that are obviously part of that group, some current MLS teams investor-operators are part of that group and we expect to have that process pretty much completed by the end of October as well. We are doing a number of things parallel to that and the most important of which is talking to the U.S. team players about what that league could look like and their possible participation in it and so on. That would happen in the third week of the month in and around the games in Chicago and East Hartford. So the two or three most important stakeholder groups are the potential investor-operators, the National Team players and, and at this point working very closely with the Federation. The USL is part of this structure and would handle the front office possibilities, if we pull this together.”

On whether he has a timeframe in mind for completing the coaching search process:
“Ideally, by the end of the month, but if it goes into November, that’s not a problem. We certainly would want a new coach on board in terms of being with the team when they have their first get-together after the first of the year. I can’t tell you when that would be because the coach would be part of that decision-making process. We expect to have the process done by the end of October and if it stretches a little bit further, not a problem, but it’s possible the coach is not available to us until January 1. There are coaches that are under consideration that are with college teams that would have potential NCAA tournament games that would preclude them starting earlier, and there are coaches that are under contract, either to a foreign federation or a foreign club team or a domestic club team that would preclude them starting before January 1.” 

On whether he sees the new coach taking on an expanded role in regards to the Youth National Teams:
“It all depends on who the person is. That question was the first comment I made to the people that we’ve interviewed for this position. The job description is: coach the senior national team. How much they’re involved in the overall technical direction, player development processes and the other youth teams really depends on two things: one is who the person is, and whether they have capacity and interest in that, and two, the timing in any given year. If it were a coach that we brought in that was from outside the U.S., this next year they’d be, frankly, learning the ropes about the set-up here, where the youth clubs are, who the universities are, all those things. If it was someone who was from within our system, they might have a greater role in that. (U.S. Soccer Women’s Technical Director) April Heinrichs will continue to direct all of those efforts so how much there is collaboration-cooperation in terms of direct, hands-on time, depends on who the person is. I’m in pretty regular contact with April about that process and she knows the people we’re talking to, generally, and is looking forward to working with someone. How extensive will really depend on who the someone is.”

On whether or not he has a preference regarding how involved the new coach is with the youth set-up:
“It won’t be the decisive factor. Pia was involved with the youth set-up primarily, in her tenure, as a way of seeing if we had any players in the youth set-up that could help the senior team. That’s one model, and it’s a model used by a number of countries around the world. In most cases, on the women’s side, there is one person who does both roles, but it’s primarily because of a funding issue. We have the luxury of not having to make that one person. The preference is to have a Women’s National Team coach that can continue to keep us on the gold medal stand.”

On the community looking for an American coach to lead the national team:
“Without trying to figure out how to define the U.S. Soccer community, because it’s a very broad community, I’ve always said that if we’ve got the opportunity to hire an American coach, we’re going to do that if we think that’s the best choice for the program. Clearly an American coach brings a number of things: knowledge of the American game, knowledge of the American university system, knowledge of our youth programs, all of those things. At same time, an international coach may bring a different perspective and be able to add things that an American coach doesn’t have. Especially on the women’s side, where we have a long history of success being at the top. If we can hire an American coach then that would be a great thing.”

On whether Jill Ellis is a national team coaching candidate:
“Jill essentially took herself out of the running to be the permanent coach a month or so ago when we started this process. She is coaching these games and the team on an interim basis because she’s been an assistant coach, is a terrific part of our staff and is on a full-time contract with U.S. Soccer. But she took herself out of the process for reasons that I think she’s mentioned previously.”

On whether April Heinrichs is a coaching candidate:
“April is quite happy and satisfied and we are certainly satisfied and happy with her continuing to serve as the technical director, so she’s not currently a candidate.”

On where he sees the U.S. Soccer Federation fitting in with the new league and whether the Federation’s involvement would continue after the new league’s launch: 
“The answer is yes. What we’re looking at is a different sort of participation than we’ve had in the past, which has primarily been as a sanctioning, regulatory body. There is every possibility that we would have a more active role in the management and funding of this league. What form that takes is still being discussed but a big part of our participation would be that the National Team players would play in this league and perhaps be funded directly by U.S. Soccer. Having said that, the overall support that U.S. Soccer provides for the National Team program is frankly beyond anything that happens around the world so we’re seeing if we can reshape some of that and add to that in the form of a league. I think we’ll have a pretty good handle on that in the next few weeks.”

On whether he sees U.S. Soccer’s support extending to subsidies for specific teams:
“No, I don’t see us writing a check to any team but, for example, if we said, ‘Look, some National Team players are going to play in the league and you’re not funding them at 100 cents on the dollar,’ well that’s a pretty explicit subsidy. We have paid the players for their participation in the National Team program but the teams have paid their salaries for when they played with the teams.”

On the breakdown of potential women’s professional league markets and the timing of a launch:
“Ten markets and 11 teams. We’ve got a unique situation in one market where there are a couple of different possibilities, and we are talking about the possibility for sure of a launch next year. That’s the goal, and that’s what we’re seeing if we can work toward.”

On whether there is high importance for a women’s league running in specific markets such as New York/New Jersey, Chicago and Los Angeles:
“There are differences of opinion on that. There is a line of thought that secondary markets perhaps are the right way to go because you can get greater attention, whether it’s the media, fans or anything else. But I think in general, any professional league in the U.S. wants to be in major markets or major media markets. I think we would have, in this league, a mix of some of those very large top-10 markets and then certainly some that would be by definition outside of the top 10 if we had 10 or more teams.”

On regionalizing a professional women’s league:
“In terms of national and regional, it may well be that it’s a combination of the two. What I mean by that is a national league…which has a schedule that is more regionalized so you don’t necessarily play everyone the same number of times. That’s clearly a national league. I’m not saying you wouldn’t play people in the other coast at all, but if we have conferences, for example, you would play people in your conference, which would be on geographic grounds, more often than the opposite. But that’s probably a little early for me to comment any further than I just did.”

“In the 10 potential markets that I have outlined, we in fact have teams and interest and multiple levels of interest: two in each part of the country in terms of east, west and Midwest, and central. Is it essential? No. Does it make certain things more challenging and other things easier to facilitate? The answer is yes. Obviously having some teams in different parts of the country makes the travel schedules for games and so on a little difficult. Having clusters of teams in certain parts of the country makes travel easier and rivalries easier, but as discussed earlier we want to be in major markets. All of those things come into play.”

On the interest of MLS clubs being part of a new women’s league and modeling something similar to teams in Europe:
“The differences between the situation of the U.S. and MLS versus Europe are rather different. MLS is not 75 years old. We don’t have a Division 1 that’s been there for 75 years. The travel issues are completely different. The size of the stadiums is different. While some teams in the previous leagues have played some games at MLS stadiums, it has not been the norm. There has been some MLS participation previously. That’s not a league-wide decision. Clearly MLS has to approve any of their owners participating in another league with the women’s team. It’s really case-by-case. There are some situations where individual MLS investors are enthusiastically looking at this possibility, others where they’re very much focused on their MLS team or the stadium situation, or they don’t want to do this now and see how this starts. This isn’t a discussion that’s taking place with [MLS commissioner] Don [Garber] and we have 19 teams looking at this in a unified way. How do I feel about it? It’s up to the individual MLS teams to do this. In some places it works much better than others and for some owners it works much better than owners to seriously consider the possibility.”