Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Annual President’s Report
U.S. Soccer Annual General Meeting
Saturday, February 16, 2019
“Only the Beginning”
A year ago, you gave me the incredible honor of serving as president. Once again, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for this great privilege. It’s deeply humbling, and I’m grateful to so many of you. We are, after all, a federation. We’re only as strong as our members and our ability to work together, as one, united team. So to all of you who have offered your talents and time, I can’t thank you enough.
When I spoke to you last year, we all agreed that U.S. Soccer needed to change. I promised to focus on four main priorities to make soccer in America the very best it can be. We still have a lot more to do. But the past 12 months have been a year of progress and change in these four areas.
First, we had to win our bid to co-host the Men’s World Cup in 2026. Our joint bid with Canada and Mexico was the first-ever three-country bid, so we came together and worked together as equal partners, in friendship and in mutual respect. It was also the first time that all the member associations of FIFA had a vote in the decision. The question of who would host in 2026 often became mixed with global politics. There were moments when some thought we might not win.
So we put together a plan that highlighted not only our world-class stadiums and cities, but also our values, our diversity and how our countries welcome people from all over the world. We waged a global campaign and we worked hard for every vote. And it paid off. We won by an overwhelming margin, and for the first time in more than 30 years, the Men’s World Cup will come back to America! As I’ve said before, this will be an extraordinary opportunity to energize soccer in America, and not just in 2026, but in the years leading up to it.
Second, we agreed last year that our governance had to be more open, more accountable and more inclusive, with more oversight. And so it’s been a year of reform. I’ve made a point to communicate with you regularly, so that you know what’s happening at the Federation, and why. We created a new Technical Development Committee and Commercial Committee so that the Board plays a greater role in all Federation activities. All six of our Board committees are now under new leadership.
Meanwhile, at Soccer House, we restructured our senior management to align with the Board and improve accountability. In fact, I’m pleased that we’ve now named nine of our ten senior managers who report to the CEO, and we’re moving ahead with our search for the first-ever General Manager for our Women’s National Team.
We expanded and formalized our Membership Department so that we’re listening to and serving all our members better. All 12 standing committees, task forces and panels have more new members than ever—new voices and new perspectives from across our Federation.
We’ve strengthened our commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion—including appointing our first-ever Chief Talent and Inclusion Officer, Tonya Wallach. And today, we’ll elect a new independent director and a new vice president to help us sustain and build on these reforms.
As we move forward, I hope we can also deal honestly with an issue that has come up over the years—the fees that members, including youth and adults, pay to the Federation. When you raise concerns, we take them seriously. So we opened the books and dug into the numbers, because it’s important that we all know the facts.
What we found is that, over the years, the Federation consistently gives back to our collective membership more than what it is paid in fees. This includes, for example, grants to members from our Innovate to Grow Fund. However, this doesn’t include the many non-cash contributions and support that members receive from the Federation. More importantly, going forward, that’s where I hope we can focus—our overall relationship and how we can work together to strengthen it.
Of course, growing the game requires something else—growing our budget. As you’ll hear today, we propose to draw on our surplus so that we can increase our operating budget for this new fiscal year by 18 percent, to more than $136 million. This will be our largest increase in several years and our largest budget ever, allowing us to increase our investments across the board.
That said, to truly compete with world-class programs like Germany, England, France and Spain and others—which have budgets that are much larger than ours—we still need to do dramatically better. And I’m pleased that with new, major, multi-year sponsorships we’re on our way, even as we have a long way to go.
I want to share one further thought on the relationship between our Federation and members. As you know, the Federation has unfortunately been subjected to lawsuits from within our soccer family. Defending each suit consumes significant time, energy and resources, including legal fees.
I want to take the opportunity to say to everyone—you have my commitment as president, and the commitment of the board, to being your partner. It’s my sincere hope that, instead of rushing to the courts when there’s a disagreement, we can work through our differences amicably. Instead of paying huge legal fees to lawyers, let’s invest that money where it really belongs—in our players, coaches and referees and helping our teams achieve their highest potential.
This relates to a third priority—truly investing in our national teams. We’re making sure that, from now on, soccer operations are run by soccer experts.
On the men’s side, I know change hasn’t always come as quickly as some would have liked. But between doing it fast and doing it right, we’re determined to do this right—and we are. We’re thrilled to have hired our first-ever General Manager—three-time World Cup veteran Earnie Stewart. Earnie then led our search for a new head coach—the first U.S World Cup veteran to become head coach of the team—Gregg Berhalter. We’re delighted that both Earnie and Gregg are here with us today. Gregg, I’ll warn you, we’re all soccer experts—you’re going to get a lot of free advice! With a rising crop of young, talented players, the new culture that Greg is introducing into the squad, our men are poised for a new era! This year, that means defending their title at the Concacaf Gold Cup.
What an amazing year it was for our Women’s National Team. A historic 500th win. An undefeated 2018. Winning the SheBelieves Cup. And the Tournament of Nations. And their sixth Concacaf championship. Congratulations to Jill Ellis and our extraordinary women—the #1 women’s team in the world. They’re just starting camp, and as they prepare for the next SheBelieves Cup, I want to encourage everyone to go out and support our women as they get ready to defend their title at this year’s World Cup in France and bring that trophy home again.
But we can’t rest on our laurels. We have to constantly review our programs and push ourselves to get better. The truth is, our U-20 and U-17 women had another difficult year. Looking ahead, the competition on the women’s side will only get more intense. Around the world, more nations are investing heavily in women’s soccer. In fact, I was just at the UEFA Congress last week where they announced a four-year strategic plan to take women’s football to a new level. All of which means that we have to do even more to sustain the competitive edge of our women’s programs here in the United States.
That’s why, today, I’m announcing a new strategic review of women’s soccer. We’re going to pull together a team of experts, from inside and outside the Federation. I’m going to propose that it be led jointly by our next vice president as well as our future general manager of our Women’s National Team. We’re going to review all levels, from the youngest grassroots programs to the senior women’s team. And we’re going to undertake a complete inventory of what we’re doing today, with the goal of determining what more we could be doing—and were we can be investing more—tomorrow. Because we need to ensure excellence across all our women’s teams. So when we look ahead to 2027 we can imagine—dare I say, dream—of once again hosting the Women’s World Cup right here in the United States, including a win on home soil.
Beyond our senior national teams, we honor every athlete who wears the crest. This year, we’ll all be cheering our Paralympians in the world championship in Spain and at the Parapan American Games in Peru. And good luck to our Beach National Team as they aim to qualify for the Beach Soccer World Cup.
I’m also pleased to announce that—starting this year, for the first time ever—we will have a new department at U.S. Soccer focused exclusively on supporting our Extended National Teams—Paralympians, Beach and Futsal, with a dedicated budget for our Extended National Teams, starting this year at $2 million.
Strong teams also depend, of course, on a strong and passionate fan base. Today we’re once again joined by members of our Fan Council, who I would ask to stand and be recognized—thank you for your commitment. We’re delighted that so many fans, including young fans, come out to support, especially, our women. We’re always committed to improving the fan experience, and we’ll soon be releasing a brand-new website and app for fans later this year, working with the Fan Council.
World-class games also depend on world-class referees. Our American referees are some of the most respected in the world. In fact, there were four American referees selected for the Men’s World Cup in Russia, more than any other country. On VAR, the United States—including MLS—is also a global leader. At a FIFA summit last month, we made the case that VAR should be part of this year’s Women’s World Cup, like it was in Russia. I’m pleased to say it’s under serious discussion, and we all hope FIFA makes the right decision at their meeting next month. Because our women deserve the very best technology—just like our men.
As we see around the world, strong federations also depend on strong domestic professional leagues. So we celebrate the success of our professional leagues, from the NWSL, heading into its seventh season; to the USL, including the new USL Championship; to the thriving MLS, on track for 28 teams. And if anyone ever doubts the strength and future of soccer in America, they need only look at the most recent MLS Cup. It was the largest crowd ever. The future is soccer!
How do we build on this energy and excitement in the years ahead? This brings me to a fourth and final priority—growing the grassroots.
For the second year in a row, the Federation offered up to $3 million from our Innovate to Grow Fund to help our youth and adult members boost participation. As I hope you all saw, we recently announced this year’s recipients and we congratulate them all.
I do want to point out, however, that—of our 103 eligible members—only 20 applied for funds. And so, of the $3 million we offered, only $1.2 million is being granted. That’s nearly $2 million that’s being left on the table. This is money we’ve set aside for you, and we want you to have it. But members have to apply, and I want to once again encourage every eligible member to come to us with your ideas—actionable plans and programs—that will help grow the game.
Growing the game also includes attracting adults and players for life. As I informed the Adult Council yesterday, we’ve agreed with our friends at UEFA to inaugurate a new amateur cup between the champions of our USASA Amateur Cup and the UEFA Regions Cup. The photo you’re looking at is from this year’s champions, the Milwaukee Bavarians SC. We’re aiming to start the new cup next year in 2020, and we hope it becomes an annual event—so our amateur players have even more competitive opportunities. Because increased programming, I believe, will translate to increased membership.
At the same time, we need to address the challenges facing youth soccer. As we all know, the youth soccer landscape is too fragmented. We need multiple pathways for player development. Too many kids, especially from underserved and immigrant communities, cannot afford to play the game they love, which is heartbreaking. I’ll say it again: fixing youth soccer must be our highest priority.
That’s why, for the first time ever, we’ve brought all our youth organizations together in a single task force to address the many challenges facing youth soccer. I want to thank the leaders of all the youth organizations who have stepped up, as well as all experts and thought leaders from a wide range of backgrounds who are volunteering on our working groups—and who Dr. Pete Zopfi announced at yesterday’s Youth Council meeting.
They’re tackling issues across the board—membership growth, diversity and inclusion, coaching, refereeing, risk management and SafeSport, and standards and certification. We’re starting to see results. With the Federation and all our youth organizations finally all sitting around the same table, aligned around the same common goals, this could be our best opportunity yet to put youth soccer in America on a new course.
In closing, we acknowledge that as a Federation, as a soccer nation, we still have a long way to go. But after a difficult chapter, we’ve turned the page and we’re focused on the future. Winning the bid for 2026, making governance more open and accountable, truly investing in our national teams, and growing the grassroots—we’re on our way.
I want to leave you with a story that captures why I’m so optimistic. In November, I went down to Bradenton to visit with our U-20 men. Coach Tab Ramos and the team were in the final stages of the Concacaf U-20 Championship. I watched a training session and, afterwards, we spent some time together. They’re some of the most impressive young men you’ll ever meet.
Just look at what they accomplished. Eight victories in eight games at the Concacaf tournament. In the final match, defeating Mexico 2-0, winning their second straight Concacaf championship., and qualifying for this year’s U-20 World Cup.
Just as impressive as what they’ve done, is how they’ve done it—truly as a team. During the Concacaf tournament, eleven different players scored, with assists by fifteen different players. When I met with them, I was also struck by their incredible diversity—young men from so many different backgrounds coming together on the field as one, united team.
When midfielder Alex Mendez was named the 2018 Young Player of the Year, he spoke with humility about his family, his teammates and his squad. He said, “none of this would be possible without them.” And when Alex signed his first professional contract this fall at just 18 years old, he said, “it’s only the beginning.”
I’m sure all of you have your own stories about the hope and optimism that inspires us and drives us forward, serving and growing this game that we all love so dearly. To all of you here today—thank you for your partnership. Thank you for the progress we’ve made together this year. None of this would be possible without you. U.S. Soccer is changing, and it’s only the beginning.
Thank you all very much.