Orlando: Evolution or revolution? Football in the United States faces a potentially pivotal leadership election on Saturday in a hotly-contested ballot that could have far-reaching ramifications for the game.
Four months after the United States' shock failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the inquest into what went wrong continues to dog American soccer.
In the aftermath of that crushing setback, United States Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati opted to step down.
Now a crowded field of eight candidates are vying to succeed Gulati, with some contenders vowing a wide-ranging shake-up of the way soccer is run in the United States while others preach continuity.
The new president will be elected by a pool of delegates drawn from various constituencies across US soccer.
These include the 91 state associations, national associations and professional leagues, members of the Athletes Council, members of the USSF Board of Directors, past presidents and life members.
So far no candidate has emerged as the overwhelming front-runner, although Kathy Carter, the president of the USSF's promotional partner Soccer United Marketing, has made a late charge, according to media reports.
Carter has reportedly secured support from the National Women's Soccer League, which accounts for 4.8 percent of the vote as well as Major League Soccer, which has nine voting delegates on the Professional Council or 14.5 percent of the vote.
If those numbers hold, it will mean Carter is assured of at least 19 percent of Saturday's vote, giving her a solid platform for the presidency.
Carter, along with USSF vice-president Carlos Cordeiro, are widely seen as the establishment choices.
Two former US men's national team players, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino, have also garnered wide support.
Wynalda has run on a radical platform which proposes wholesale changes, including the introduction of promotion and relegation to MLS, moving MLS to a winter calendar to sync up with Europe, while introducing an endowment fund to help make the sport accessible.
Quite how Wynalda proposes to force through parts of his manifesto — MLS remains opposed to promotion/relegation and changing their calendar from its current March-December schedule — remains to be seen.
Martino, a popular TV analyst, has made youth development the central plank of his campaign.
"Missing the World Cup and the Olympics are symptoms of the problem," Martino told ESPN. "The failure comes down to a need for focus on youth development, create access to the game for a larger and more diverse group of players.
"At the grassroots level, we need to develop a soccer culture, wider our reach and encourage more kids to play."
Of the eight challengers who have thrown their hat into the ring, only one, Boston attorney Steve Gans, declared his candidacy before the World Cup debacle.
Gans said he was prompted to run after being made aware of widespread dissatisfaction with the governance of the USSF at all levels of the game.
"The future of soccer in America is at stake here, including the future of the United States men's national team, which is going in the wrong direction," Gans told AFP in an interview.
Gans is critical of a youth development system which produces "joyless" players.
"We're creating better players technically but we're creating players sometimes who are robotic," he said.
Completing the field are three candidates considered outsiders, Mike Winograd, former US women's team goalkeeper Hope Solo and former international midfielder Paul Caligiuri.
Solo wants to improve access to the sport at the grass-roots level, with the USSF assisting funding to help lower-income families.
Caligiuri is also critical of the way youth football is structured.
"The US Development Academy has failed," he said. "It has increased, not lessened, the cost to play soccer in the US."
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Updated Date: Feb 09, 2018 12:36:43 IST