Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Annual President’s Report
U.S. Soccer Annual General Meeting
Saturday, February 15, 2020
“Investing in All Members”
I want to begin by expressing our gratitude to every single one of you, for your love of the game and for everything that you do—day in, day out—for the good of the game. We can never thank you enough.
Everything we do at U.S. Soccer—every decision we make, every dollar we invest—is in pursuit of the mission that brings us here today: to make soccer, in all its forms, the preeminent sport in the United States and to develop soccer at all levels.
I’ll say that again—at all levels. We now have 22 national teams, 110 members, including youth and adults all across the country and millions of players, coaches, referees and fans. And we’re still growing. Today, we’ll consider applications from three organizations that want to become the newest members of our Federation—Cerebral Palsy Soccer, the National Independent Soccer Association, and United Futsal.
Just yesterday, the board of directors voted to give provisional national affiliate status to the Armed Forces Sports Council, our men and women in the military who serve across our country and at bases around the world. And with your support next year, they will become a full national affiliate and be able to vote for the At-Large Director. Our growing membership speaks to the strength and diversity of our soccer family.
As a Federation, we have an obligation to all our members—to serve all of you, to invest in all of you, so that we’re all growing together. That’s what I want to talk about today.
Investing in all members starts with governance that is open, accountable and inclusive. As President, I’ve worked to communicate with you throughout the year. In the spirit of transparency, we also welcome and encourage the media and Soccer House staff to attend board meetings.
I want to thank the entire board of directors for being more engaged than ever before—across all our committees—with more discussion, more debate, more oversight of all Federation activities and closer collaboration with senior management at Soccer House.
U.S. Soccer is changing. And today, we’ll elect a vice president and a new independent director to help us push ahead with the reforms we need to keep our Federation strong and growing.
Of course, doing right by you, our members, also means doing right by those who serve you every day—our dedicated Soccer House staff. That’s why we recently created a new Talent Committee at the board to work closely with Tonya Wallach, our Chief Talent and Inclusion Officer. We’re moving ahead with a series of reforms to improve the work environment, to improve communication and to retain our great talent. With a growing staff, we’re also looking to relocate to a new, modern headquarters. We’re determined to make it the best possible place to work. After all, without our staff we can’t do anything, including this AGM. I’d ask you to join me in expressing our gratitude to our incredible staff.
At Soccer House this fall, we thanked Dan Flynn for his nearly 20 years of dedicated service. Our CEO search committee has been making great progress. We’ve been interviewing a very impressive and diverse pool of talent, men and women, American and international, all highly qualified. We’re committed to finding the absolute best person to help lead us into the future. And we hope to make an announcement in the coming weeks.
With good governance and the right team at Soccer House, we’re able to sustain and grow budgets that invest in all members. We’ve also benefited from strong financial reserves—a surplus—and sound management. As you’ll hear in a few minutes, under our 5-year plan—FY2018 to 2023—we’re continuing to invest across our Federation. This year, we’re proposing a budget of $132 million to sustain and grow our critical programs at all levels—high performance, scouting, player development, coaching education, referees, youth development and much more.
Unfortunately, we’re also having to spend many millions of dollars in legal expenses defending the Federation against various lawsuits. I want to say again that we take these lawsuits very seriously. We’ll continue to do everything we can to resolve these suits in the best interests of everyone involved. That includes everyone across our Federation because we have to keep investing in players, coaches and referees at all levels.
Needless to say, we couldn’t continue to grow the game without support from our longtime marketing partner, Soccer United Marketing, and our many broadcast partners and corporate sponsors, especially our largest sponsor, Nike. Here, I want to say that we’re all very thankful to Jay Berhalter for his many years of service. Jay’s commitment helped us grow our revenues and get the game to where it is today.
Make no mistake, if we want to be competitive with the top federations around the world, then we need to invest even more in our players, coaches and referees. That means we need to grow our revenues even more, and in the years ahead I’m confident we will.
We continue to make major investments in the single largest component of our budget—our national teams, at all levels. This starts with making sure that soccer operations are run by soccer experts. Under our new Sport Performance Department—and our first-ever Sporting Director, Earnie Stewart—we’re aligning all our national teams, including talent ID, high performance and analytics. Kate Markgraf—a World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist—is serving as the first-ever GM of our Women’s Team. And we’ve welcomed Brian McBride—a three-time World Cup veteran—as the new GM of our Men’s Team. Earnie, Kate and Brian, would you please stand. Thank you to you and everyone in our Sport Performance Department.
On the women’s side, we continue to celebrate our inspiring, record-breaking 2019 Women’s World Cup Champions! I’m not going to recite all the honors and accolades the team has earned—we’d be here all day. But I do want to take this opportunity to salute everyone who made that victory possible. 23 of the greatest athletes that our nation has ever produced. Coach Jill Ellis and the 35-person staff behind the scenes. And, I have to mention, so many of you, because those 23 extraordinary players started out as youth players and rose up through the ranks. We thank all the coaches, parents, referees and administrators who supported them and believed in them every step of the way.
Now, under Vlatko Andonovski, the team begins a new era. They just qualified for the Summer Olympics, the next She Believes Cup is just a few weeks away, and in Tokyo our women will have a chance to make history again—the first team in consecutive years to win World Cup and Olympic titles.
On the men’s side, our men reached the final of the Concacaf Gold Cup. A few weeks ago, I visited Gregg Berhalter and the team at camp in Bradenton. Our January Camp roster was the youngest squad we’ve ever fielded in official competition. They continue to develop, and they have so much talent and potential. We’ll be cheering them on as they head to the Nations League final four in June. This fall, they begin their march to the 2022 Men’s World Cup, and next month, our eyes will be on our U-23 men as they compete to qualify for the Olympics.
For the first time ever, we now also have a department at U.S. Soccer focused exclusively on supporting our Extended National Teams. Thank you to Jim Moorhouse, Coach Stuart Sharp and their staff for getting this off to such a strong start.
As part of our new Centralized Training Program, players on our Para team are starting to live and train together in Atlanta, year-round. And at the Parapan Games in Peru, the team won bronze, their first-ever medal in those games.
Our Men’s Beach National Team reached the final of their Concacaf Championship and for the first time since 2013 qualified for their World Cup. We’re also thrilled to welcome our newest national team, our new Women’s Beach National Team. And what a way to start, qualifying for the World Beach Games and—in only their second-ever competition—finishing 5th against the best in the world, a fantastic achievement.
Our Futsal National Team has returned to the court, and we wish them well as they prepare for their Concacaf Championship this spring and aim to qualify for their World Cup this fall.
I want to also acknowledge the success of the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Deaf Teams, both of whom have qualified for their respective World Cups in South Korea this year.
It’s not just our players and coaches—we’re investing in every part of the game. We’re investing in our world-class referees, like the American referees at the Women’s World Cup, those on the field and in the VAR booth. And tonight, we’ll present our Werner Fricker Award to the great Esse Baharmast who’s here today.
We’re investing in our fans—some of the most passionate in the world—including the more than 30,000 who made the trip to France. I think Alex and Becky would agree, when you have great fans in the stands, it makes all the difference on the field. I want to welcome members of our Fan Council who are here today—would you please stand—Ashley Brown, as well as Donald Wine of American Outlaws.
As always, we also celebrate the success of our professional leagues, because strong professional teams and strong national teams go hand-in-hand. MLS is growing faster than ever—on track for 30 teams—including, this month, the first home game here for Nashville SC. The USL continues to expand around the country—now with has 128 affiliated clubs, and growing.
U.S. Soccer is proud to continue our support of the NWSL—extending our management agreement for another year, now the 8th year. Boosted by the Women’s World Cup win, we saw clubs and the league setting new attendance records and a new NWSL team coming to Louisville.
To build on all this momentum, we’re investing in the future. Having won our bid to co-host the Men’s World Cup in 2026, we’re now laying the foundation for success. This year, inspection teams will visit the 23 North American cities that are competing to host matches. Working together with Canada, Mexico and FIFA, I’m confident that we’ll choose 16 great cities.
Also this year, after it selects the host for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, FIFA will call for bids to host the women in 2027. What an opportunity that would be for the United States. Just imagine—two World Cups, men’s and women’s, back to back, in two years. Just think of the excitement it would generate, and the new investments in the game here in the U.S. This could be the most exciting decade in American soccer history.
Finally, and one of the best ways to grow the game, we’re investing more than ever in the grassroots—in all of you. With our expanded Stakeholders Department, I think it’s fair to say that the relationship between Soccer House and our members, adult and youth, is stronger than it’s ever been.
We’re investing more in attracting adults and players for life. Next month, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup kicks off with a modern-era record of 100 teams. We’ve worked hard with USASA and UEFA to create the first U.S.-European amateur championship this May, which we hope becomes a regular event. With apologies to our friend from UEFA, I’m going to predict that the first champion will be Connecticut’s Newtown Pride FC!
We’re investing more to help you boost participation—adult and youth—with our Innovate to Grow Fund. For the third straight year, the Federation offered grants to help you grow. In the past, only a few eligible members applied. This year, we’re very pleased that nearly twice as many of you did. Earlier this week, we announced this year’s recipients—27 members will receive a record $2.4 million.
These programs are doing outstanding work—bringing soccer to underserved communities from Oregon to Massachusetts, expanding coaching education from Alaska to North Carolina, empowering more female coaches from Washington state to Virginia and more support for referees, from Cal South to Minnesota. We even have members across the country working together to get more kids on the pitch—Cal North and Connecticut. Altogether, this year’s grants will span 13 states and reach 37,000 players, coaches and referees. Congratulations to this year’s recipients.
At the same time, we’ve been working to tackle some of the toughest challenges in youth soccer. As part of our Youth Task Force, the leaders and representatives from all our youth organizations have spent countless hours working together. They’ve been dealing with issues like risk management, SafeSport and standards and certification. It hasn’t been easy. These issues are hard, but we’re seeing progress.
Our working group on coaches announced its first wave of initiatives to increase access to coaching education. This month, we’ll launch the first in-person grassroots coaching course in Spanish. It’s all part of our goal of having 300,000 licensed coaches by 2022.
Many of you told our working group on referees how hard it is to retain referees. There are many reasons for this, and one of them is the abuse that many referees are subjected to, which is unacceptable. That’s why, this fall, we’ll launch a new national awareness campaign to make sure that players, coaches and parents show our referees the respect they deserve.
The Task Force has been hard at work since late 2018, and it’s important to come to agreement on what needs to be done—and then do it. So I’m asking the Task Force to complete the main body of their work by the end of this calendar year and provide their final recommendations to the board of directors.
Of course, one of the main objectives of the Task Force in the first place was to bring our youth organizations together and align them around common issues. Well, that’s exactly what’s happened. You’re working closer together than ever before, and the cooperation you’ve forged can be the foundation for progress we have to make in the years to come.
Because we all have to reduce barriers to participation so more kids can afford to play and so we grow our membership. And we all have to truly welcome players from all backgrounds and all communities, including from our cities and immigrant communities. Because if soccer in America is going to realize its full potential, then youth soccer has to be as diverse and inclusive as the communities that we serve.
Finally, even as we work to grow our ranks at the youngest levels, we need to make sure we’re investing in the multiple pathways that propel our most promising youth up the ranks to the elite levels of the game. I’ve asked the Technical Committee of the board to do a deep dive into our landscape. It’s going to include representatives from our Youth, Athlete and Professional Councils and the Federation’s technical staff.
They’re going to ask the important questions. How can we make sure we’re not missing great talent, boys and girls? What more can we be doing to scout, ID and develop and keep the next generation of players so they don’t leave for other sports? And ultimately, how do we expand the talent pool, for both our professional leagues and our national teams? Addressing these questions will be critical to all our members and all teams at all levels.
In closing, I want to share a story about one of those teams. As I mentioned, our Men’s Beach National Team made it to their World Cup, in Paraguay. I had the opportunity to visit with the team and attend their opening match.
For those of you who’ve never seen a beach match, it’s amazing. In the end, they didn’t get the results they wanted. But in their spirit—their love of the game, their commitment to each other—they reflect the spirit that brings us together as a Federation. In fact, if you haven’t seen it already, I hope you’ll go to our website and watch our video series—“12 Stories”—about our inspiring beach players.
They’re players like Nick Perera and Chris Toth, both among the top 50 beach players in the world. On the field, Nick is team captain. In his day job, he’s a coach in his own right, and he still finds time to serve our Federation on our Athlete Council. And despite a heart condition since birth and many surgeries in his life, Chris excels as goalie. He says, “I want to help the team as much as I can.”
To all of you here today, thank you, as always, for your partnership. Thank you for your love of the game and your commitment, to all our players, coaches and referees and fans at all levels. After all, we’re a Federation of millions, but we are One Nation, One Team. And we’re all stronger when we invest in each other, when we work together and when we say, “I want to help the team as much as I can.”
Thank you all very much!