Ahead of the United States Soccer Federation presidential election on Feb. 10, ESPN FC asked the eight candidates running to succeed Sunil Gulati to address a series of questions, in 150 or fewer words per answer.
Here is what Hope Solo had to say.
The U.S. men have not only failed to qualify for the World Cup, but also the last two Olympics. What needs to be done to get the program back on track?
We cannot let players slip through the cracks. The state associations do what they can to serve all communities, but with very little support from USSF. This is unacceptable. It's an arrogant and classist belief that we only need to scout players from the "super clubs." Skilled players are in every corner of America. We should no longer be recruiting kids to play for one team in every state, and creating "super clubs." This doesn't create character or "battle test" these youth players. Often times, these teams win games 6-0 or even more. We need talent spread throughout the state. We need parity. We need to end the ruthless recruiting. Our coaching curriculum doesn't do the job either. Why do we only have 3,000 A-level coaches in America? A small country like Spain has approximately 20,000. Even our coaching programs have become exclusive and expensive.
What makes you qualified to run an organization with 170 full-time employees and an annual budget of around $100 million?
Great leaders have the courage and fortitude to challenge the status quo. They persist through adversity. They have an unbreakable work ethic and no matter how high they ascend, they never stop learning. For the past 18 years, this has been my path. The same commitment that made me the best goalkeeper in the world, will define my leadership as president. No one person has all the qualifications to address every aspect of this job. The best and most "qualified" president will be the strongest leader; the person who knows how to cultivate a culture of success and build a team that embodies it from top to bottom. That is what I will bring to the presidency, along with a personal network of powerful people in the worlds of business, politics and international soccer who will help me build the most capable executive team the USSF has ever had.
To what extent are outside sources financing your campaign and who is contributing?
My campaign is 100 percent self-funded.
During his time as president, Sunil Gulati operated in more of an executive/hands-on role. The USSF Board of Directors is moving to make the position more of a chairperson role with less power. Do you agree with this move?
The timing of the change is questionable and seems connected to Sunil's departure, giving Dan Flynn more power. I do think the centrality of the position caused some of the associations and memberships of U.S. Soccer to feel disregarded and unheard. The communication needs to flow upwards with more ease and effectiveness. If this change would encourage that flow, I could be for it, but I'm not yet convinced.
What can the USSF do to help create more Christian Pulisics? What needs to change on the youth development side and is it a problem if more players follow his lead?
I addressed most of this in the first question, but I will add that in a country this big and this diverse, there can't just be one prescribed way to success. The route needs to be varied and that variance encouraged. I want to encourage our children as they play, to define the soccer culture of the United States from within. Soccer is the world's game and the U.S. is the ultimate melting pot of ideas and identities; we should foster that in our culture and in the paths our talented players create as well.
How would you reform the youth system so that the cost to families, which often runs into several thousand dollars annually, isn't so prohibitive?
We need to have an inclusive pathway. That pathway once was through the ODP programs, through state cups, and through regionals and nationals. But it still costs families significant amounts of money. That's why each state needs support from the federation, to help lower-income families. We also need to allow the states to give steep penalties for those teams found [to be] recruiting/behaving unethically. Right now, most of the players being brought into national team youth camps are from the top clubs and clubs with developmental academies. This is not inclusive, fair, and simply goes against the culture of soccer. We need to give the game back to the communities.
There is a perception in some circles that many of the country's best athletes leave soccer for other sports. What ideas do you have for ensuring that more stick with it?
I believe this is more of a factor in men's soccer. In women's soccer, many of the best athletes leave their sports to come to the women's game. The difference is success. When you create a successful entity, people in the U.S. have a hunger to be a part of it. The opportunity to play casually amongst friends and family is important as well. I want to open fields across the United States for these kinds of games. I understand there is more to it than that, but conceptually, I would love to see soccer played more frequently on the playground.
What are your thoughts on promotion/relegation? Do you think it's viable given that MLS is against it?
Conceptually pro/rel makes every aspect more entertaining. I can also understand the business commitments that undermine this wonderful part of the game. As a fan, I would want to see it. I believe that consequences should be a part of sport. Soccer culture is different than the NFL or NBA. If you want to be a part of the historic soccer culture, this is how it works. We need to establish true soccer culture here in America.
What other changes would you make to the pro game in the U.S. to foster growth and interest?
We have to make the game more personal. Create stars at the league level, not just the U.S. level, and certainly pro/rel, and changing of schedule. I would also allow the women's players to play anywhere they choose. It is un-American to force the players to play in the NWSL and make less money than a potential contract overseas. It handcuffs these women, and it is unheard of on the men's side.
Do you think the domestic game should change its calendar to match that of the international game?
It's the world's game and we play at a different time of year than everyone else. At some point, the calendars aligning worldwide would help. But, while we are still in the growth phase here in the U.S., I think fans would prefer the experience of the games in better weather. We don't have the buy-in that the Premier League and other leagues have to be able to sit our fans in these conditions. For now, the schedule should likely stay, but I am open to and ultimately want a calendar that is in line with the soccer world. One idea is to split the league across the country into two regions: north and south. In the winter northern teams head south, and in the summer, southern teams head north, or we simply need to take a break in the winter.
Gulati had considerable power over how national team coaches were selected. In the future, how should these decisions get made and who should have the final say?
What makes the coaches in other sports great is the ability to work with and inspire high-performing stars. That's a quality that hasn't been at the top of our list. For example, a coach like Phil Jackson, one of the greatest coaches of all time, understood how to work with the big personalities and superstars on his team. Conversely in soccer, a coach like Pia Sundhage, a great coach, made fun of the star quality of the U.S. players.
The USSF has a tightly coupled business relationship with Soccer United Marketing and MLS. How big is the SUM/MLS/USSF conflict of interest here and what, if anything, should be done to address it?
To be part of the U.S. national team, you must give your marketing rights to the federation. The federation, in turn, gives those rights to SUM for an undisclosed amount. As such, SUM can sell sponsorship against the players at its discretion, without any transparency. We tried getting clarity during the CBA negotiations with Sens. [Dianne] Feinstein, [Amy] Klobuchar, and [Patty] Murray directly asking the questions, with no answers. After five months, the USSF finally disclosed that in exchange for the exclusive marketing rights, SUM pays the USSF $100 million over a four-year period. But we don't know how the USSF distributes it. As a result, it's impossible to determine where the money goes. Additionally, MLS and SUM are connected; SUM and the NWSL are not. If Don Garber is the commissioner of the MLS, do you think he cares more about the MLS and male players or the NWSL and female players?
FIFA training compensation and solidarity payments mandate professional clubs to reimburse a player's youth teams for development costs. The system is not being enforced in the U.S.; should it be and, if so, how should this be done?
Yes, I think this is important, because we must find ways to support our youth programs from the top down. Professional teams can help in doing this, and so can the federation. Every bit helps when trying to find scholarships for youth players who cannot afford ODP, or travel costs. This must be mandated.
How would you ensure that the men's and women's national teams get equal pay?
The USSF must abide by federal law. Same employer, same job descriptions, same responsibilities. Regardless of how the federation has tried to muddy the conversation with the "complexities" of the different pay structures, they are breaking the law. We all know the men make the majority of their income playing professionally, not with the federation. Unfortunately at this time, the NWSL doesn't offer the same opportunity for the women. The goal for a women's professional player, then, is not to be an NWSL player, a job that pays lower than any other job you could get coming out of college. It is instead to be a national team player. A Stanford grad would be half-crazy to play in the NWSL for 15K per year (a salary that was increased from $7,500 per year in 2016 when the Lifetime deal became a reality); women cannot live on these wages.