The race to become the next leader of U.S. Soccer took an unexpected twist on Wednesday, as Carlos Cordeiro -- the vice president of U.S. Soccer and a longtime friend and colleague of the current president, Sunil Gulati -- has entered the campaign for the top job himself.
Many observers assumed Cordeiro would simply support Gulati's bid to win one final term as president, but Cordeiro -- a former partner at Goldman Sachs who has been increasingly involved in the soccer world over the past 10 years -- is striking out on his own.
In a letter to potential voters in February's election that Cordeiro sent Wednesday, he laid out a platform that calls for significant structural change within the federation and a bold financial growth strategy which includes bidding to bring the men's and women's World Cup tournaments to the United States in 2026 and 2027.
In an interview with ESPN on Wednesday, Cordeiro confirmed his intention to run and said: "U.S. Soccer has achieved a lot over the last 25 or 30 years, but I think we've hit a plateau."
He added: "To use a business phrase, this is a growth story. We have the best set of demographics in this country. We have a wealthy country, a country with a strong corporate base for sponsors and an amazingly strong fan base. We simply need to aim higher than we have been."
Gulati, who has been U.S. Soccer's president since 2006 but has received widespread criticism in the aftermath of the men's national team's failure to qualify for the World Cup, could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon. He has not yet said publicly whether he will seek re-election, but has made overtures to many potential voters about supporting him once again.
Cordeiro's relationship with Gulati has long been a close one, and the two frequently traveled to FIFA meetings or international games together. Cordeiro did not want to be specific about Gulati's reaction when he learned of his friend's intentions, but said that the two met this week in New York to discuss it.
"This is not about Sunil," Cordeiro said. "I've decided to take the plunge here because I think it's about the federation and how I fit into that. Sunil has been a friend and I very much hope he will continue to be a friend."
He continued: "My point is not about him. I just think we need a new form of leadership to get us to the next level."
The bedrock of Cordeiro's proposal is something he refers to in the letter as "Mission 26/27." That plan, he said, is based in the premise that U.S. Soccer has long been thinking too small in terms of its financial status.
Referencing his successful corporate background, Cordeiro said that he believes the federation needs think of itself more as a business than a governing body, and suggested he would aim to increase its budget from around $100 million annually to something closer to $500 million by 2027. As critical though, Cordeiro said, is the idea that there should be a true separation between the business and technical sides of the federation: The president, Cordeiro said, should not be intimately involved, say, in hiring national team coaches.
That should be the purview of a technical director or general manager -- a position Cordeiro said he would create.
"I know what I know, and I know what I don't know," Cordeiro said. "I don't pretend to be the soccer expert. I love the game, but I know there are any number of other more qualified people in this country who can make the biggest on-field decisions. We need that professionalization and it has not been there."
Cordeiro enters a field of crowded candidates. Steven Gans, a Boston attorney who has advised youth clubs and English Premier League teams, has stated his intention to run, as has Eric Wynalda, a former national team player and current analyst for Fox. Paul Lapointe, who has been a fixture in the lower levels of American soccer leagues for years, has also staged a lower-key candidacy for the position while Landon Donovan, the former star MLS and national team star, is reportedly considering a run but has not announced his interest.
"I like much of Carlos' platform," said Gans. "I'm wondering why he's kept it a secret all these years. U.S. Soccer needs a president who will actually change the way things are done, and is ready to lead us out of these troubling times. I'm the best person to do that."
Cordeiro said he respects all of the other candidates but believes his combination of business savvy and experience in the soccer world -- both within the United States and outside -- makes him the candidate most able to successfully bring change.
"I would bring an open, inclusive leadership style," he said. "I think that's been missing."