The United States will vote for Jordan's Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein for FIFA president on Friday and not for the embattled Sepp Blatter, despite the potential for reprisals in future World Cup bids if the incumbent is re-elected.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati believes that Prince Ali can unseat Blatter when the organization votes for its leader in Zurich.
Gulati, speaking on a conference call with reporters a day after 14 current and former FIFA executives and associates were indicted on an array of charges by the U.S. Department of Justice, confirmed that he will cast his ballot in favor of the challenger.
U.S. Soccer will vote for Prince Ali bin Al Hussein for next president of FIFA. This is a vote for good governance & promise for our game.
- Sunil Gulati (@sunilgulati) May 28, 2015
Gulati, also the lone American on FIFA's powerful executive committee, would likely have voted against Blatter even before this week's indictments as the U.S. nominated the prince in February.
But on Thursday, Gulati said he isn't so sure the election will be the landslide in favor of Blatter that many are predicting.
"I think it's going to be a very competitive election," Gulati said from Switzerland. "What's happening on the ground here is certainly very different than the views from outside.
"I've talked to enough people that are open-minded or have pledged support," Gulati continued. "I think you'll see a lot closer vote than people would've projected some weeks ago."
Prince Ali has promised to reform FIFA, a stance supported by U.S. Soccer and several other nations of CONCACAF, the regional confederation that oversees North and Central America and the Caribbean. Most members of UEFA, Europe's confederation, are also expected to vote against Blatter.
But because each of FIFA's 209 member nations receives an equal vote, and because the status quo has enriched administrators in countless smaller countries, Blatter remains the favorite.
Gulati also said Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani told him Canada will vote for Ali.
Earlier on Thursday, Gulati and Montagliani, along with Mexican federation president Justino Compean, were charged with overseeing the business operations of CONCACAF after it banned its president Jeffrey Webb, who was among those officials arrested on Wednesday.
Gulati acknowledged that the federation's public stance against Blatter could cost his country the chance to host a future World Cup.
In 2010, Qatar defeated the U.S. for the right to host the 2022 event, a controversial decision that is now being scrutinized in a Swiss criminal inquiry that was also announced on Wednesday.
The U.S. is expected to bid on the 2026 World Cup, and FIFA is set to vote on a proposed new rule that would prevent countries in Europe and Asia from hosting the event, opening the door for the U.S. if it had Blatter's support -- unlikely once the federation votes against him in the election.
But Gulati said cleaning up the game is what matters most, whatever the cost.
"Would I like to see the United States host a World Cup in the future?" Gulati said. "The answer is, of course, yes. But for me, and for U.S. Soccer, better governance and more integrity at CONCACAF and FIFA are far more important than hosting any international soccer tournament. That's our focus right now."
Gulati was once an ally of Chuck Blazer, the former CONCACAF and FIFA executive who is now a cooperating witness for the FBI. He also worked closely with Webb.
Gulati, citing the ongoing investigation, declined to say if he had been questioned by federal authorities at any point himself.
"[Wednesday's] shocking news was very disappointing, and if the allegations are proven, it's beyond description," Gulati. "But there are plenty of good people at CONCACAF, and we'll try to get things back on track."
The immediate priority for the organization is making sure that July's Gold Cup, CONCACAF's regional championship for national teams, goes off as planned.
"The most important thing are the commercial agreements that are affected by some of the marketing companies that are part of the indictment," he said before adding that the tournament wouldn't be impacted on the field.
But Gulati sounded far less optimistic that the 2016 Copa America, which is to be hosted by the U.S. for the first time next summer, will be played.
"Given everything that's happened, it's hard to say what the final result of that would be," he said.
The feds' indictment included allegations that over $100 million in bribes were used to secure the rights to that tournament.
"Over the days and weeks ahead we will come to terms very quickly with what the financial status of those [marketing] companies is, because they are the partners of the event, the partners of CONMEBOL," Gulati said, referring to the South American confederation that oversees the Copa America. "I couldn't possibly give you an answer on that today."
In any case, the first order of business is Friday's election.
"It's a secret ballot," Gulati said. "There are 209 voters, and we don't have Nate Silver telling us what's going to be the result."