ORLANDO, Fla. -- The chaos surrounding the election for the next U.S. Soccer Federation president achieved a new level on Thursday evening, as six "change" candidates sought to combat the growing likelihood that an establishment candidate would prevail in Saturday's vote.
Throughout the day, sources contacted by ESPN FC spoke of how current USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro and on-leave Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter were on the verge of turning the contest into a two-candidate race.
An SI.com report, later confirmed by ESPN FC, indicated that the three votes belonging to the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) would go to Carter. Combined with previous support from the MLS contingent in the USSF's Professional Council, that gives Carter a built-in base of support constituting 19.3 percent of the total vote.
There was also a sense that Cordeiro, who has been involved with the USSF since 2007, was being viewed by some delegates as a "change" candidate.
In the face of such obstacles, after a number of conversations throughout Thursday, the six remaining candidates -- Paul Caligiuri, Steve Gans, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo, Mike Winograd, and Eric Wynalda -- agreed to plot a strategy that involved joining forces.
A draft statement was crafted in which the "Gang of Six" opted to join forces against Cordeiro and Carter in a bid to make sure that a true reform-minded candidate would prevail.
On Friday, Caligiuri denied his involvement in an evening meeting, but sources said he was still aware of the drafted statement.
The draft read, in part: "We, the undersigned share similar visions for change. We believe a vote for any one of us is a vote for real change. If you believe in change, real change, please vote for a real change candidate. On this we are united, and stand together for the good of the game."
Here's a copy of the statement the six "change" candidates drafted. I'm told it fell apart as one candidate - Wynalda - dropped out. #USSF pic.twitter.com/mhHXUyvL8O— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) February 9, 2018
However, multiple sources confirmed that the attempt to craft a statement fell apart, and tensions almost boiled over in Martino's suite. A disagreement emerged over whether the top vote-getter in the first round among the "Gang of Six" should then receive support from the rest in the next round.
Multiple sources said Wynalda was the one struggling to come to an agreement with others, though it later emerged that a new framework had been drawn up and it is expected to be agreed upon by the six candidates early on Friday.
Part of the motivation for the alliance is that Saturday's vote allows just 10 minutes between rounds if a candidate doesn't achieve a majority of the vote. That is scant time to throw support to another candidate, so the idea was to come with a plan in advance of Saturday's vote.
Of course, the combined voting strength of the six candidates would need to be greater than 50 percent in order for this tactic to work. Given the facts that the ballot is secret, some delegates are still making up their minds and allegiances can shift from round to round, it's nearly impossible to predict if that will be the case.
As that issue was being discussed, another tremor was felt. The USSF Credentials Committee met on Thursday to hash out the voting procedures, but the fact that the meeting was held in "executive session" -- so that the entire proceeding was off the record and not open to the public -- created a red flag for one candidate.
The non-public nature of the meeting was viewed by that candidate's camp as "a clear violation of non-profit governance" since there would be confusion about the rules. The source added that the lack of transparency about the rules could serve as a basis for litigation to have the election result vacated.
The election dynamics remain fluid, and the credentials committee is due to meet again on Friday. If it meets out in the open, that may placate concerns about how the election will be conducted. But at the moment, the toxicity and turmoil that has characterized the election shows no sign of letting up.