The Sweeper: How Not to Question the US Soccer Federation About Diversity


Big Story
Our post yesterday on the future of SoccerAmerica sparked an interesting discussion in the comments about the purpose of the magazine in print and online.

The magazine still has outstanding access to decision-makers. This week, Paul Gardner has a two-part interview on the SoccerAmerica website with the recently re-elected President of the US Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati.

The interview is…how can I put this charitably…curious. Gardner seems to meander from question to question based on various bees that have rattling around in his bonnet for some time, not bothering to particularly explain his point or follow-up strongly to Gulati’s answers.

PAUL GARDNER: You took office with what seemed to me a serious conflict of interest situation over your work for the New England Revs. But it seems not to be a problem.

SUNIL GULATI: It gets brought up on various issues. There are times when there is a potential conflict — on MLS matters — but they are relatively few, and my involvement has been completely disclosed.

PG: Would it not make matters simpler and clearer to make your position — that of USSF President — a job with a salary? Why are you opposed to this?

SG: It’s something that’s been suggested, and as things are turning out, it seems that more and more Federations worldwide now have paid Presidents. But it’s not something that I am comfortable supporting — a least while I’m president.

PG: I have seen no real evidence that national team success translates into a gain for MLS. I mean does it sell more tickets?

SG: When the national team is successful, people notice the game itself more, there’s a general buzz. They certainly notice the players. Does that mean more people tuning in to MLS games? Those analyses are hard to make. It’s very difficult to isolate data points, but I do believe that as the sport is successful in one sector, that often translates into other areas – just don’t ask me to prove it statistically.

PG: The demise of the National Hall of Fame is not encouraging, a reminder that things can go wrong. Should the Federation do more to support it?

SG: We are continuing our support. We continue to put money into it. We believe it’s important to have that annual recognition — the inductions  of the sport’s top players and personalities. The second part is the museum itself, the exhibits. The model we have on that front is not sustainable. The Hall has been heavily subsidized for many years by the local community, the state, sponsors, as well as by the Federation and the Foundation. It’s not encouraging, true, but if you’re asking do I think it’s a reflection of where the sport is now — no I don’t.

As we can see, Gulati easily brushes aside what are legitimate concerns poorly constructed into questions by Gardner that fail to get to the meat of any of the issues raised. There is no attempt to dig into detail in Gardner’s follow-ups. It’s certainly not a puff-piece, but it’s almost better than that for Gulati, so easily does the Columbia University lecturer fend-off the veteran journalist.

Then things take a turn for the weird. Gardner’s final question to Gulati, the overseer of all of American soccer, is a bizarre, unexplained query about how the hiring of an assistant coach by US Men’s National Team boss Bob Bradley is somehow a retrograde step for the diversity of the sport.

PG: Diversity is one of your aims. You got it off to a good start with the appointment of Wilmer Cabrera as the U-17 coach. But I’ve seen little progress since then. In fact, I would describe the recent appointment of Jesse Marsch to be an assistant national team coach, as a glaringly anti-diversity move.

SG: Well, it’s OK for us to disagree about individual coaching appointments — but when we talk about assistant coaches, the national team coach or any head coach in our program has great latitude in selecting his staff. So while I’m happy to discuss my decisions in appointing head coaches, I believe that assistant coaches are very much in the purview of the head coach.

Appointing Wilmer Cabrera was one very public thing. But we now have our website in Spanish, we have two or three Hispanics on our BOD, we have more Spanish-language coaching and referee programs. Very few people would think that the hiring of Wilmer is more important than, for instance, the ability to communicate, or having our courses available for Spanish-speaking programs. These are all pieces of the puzzle and an area where we clearly have to continue our efforts — and not only in the Hispanic community.

Indeed, as the second part of Gulati’s question makes clear, there are a lot of points to explore about the USSF’s work on diversity. All this, apparently, is of no interest to Gardner — the work at the grassroots is nowhere near as important as who Bob Bradley’s assistant coach is, judging from the sole question he asks about diversity.

We have to dig a little deeper to understand Gardner’s sputtering question and track back to his column from 10 days ago about the appointment of Marsch to the USMNT coaching staff to figure out where that came from.

The first half of the piece is a screed about Marsch’s record as a player, a rather half-hearted attempt to paint him as dirty, before Gardner concludes he “was not a particularly violent player.”

It’s in the second half that we start to see some reference to what might have prompted Gardner’s question. He picks up on some ill-considered comments by Marsch about diving Brazilians made a couple of years ago, concluding that:

Without questioning Bradley’s admiration of Marsch’s “knowledge and experience,” I am merely pointing out that there are some problems of attitude here that would surely need to be addressed in a player who has been catapulted into the rarified atmosphere of the national team’s ruling class.

To wit: an addiction to serial fouling, a compulsion to quarrel with referees, and a conviction that all Brazilians are cheats.

Bradley, for sure, must be well aware of all this. He has been Marsch’s benefactor since recruiting him at Princeton University and he has coached him professionally at D.C.United, Chicago, and Chivas USA. It is disturbing to ponder that Bradley might actually find the attitudes mentioned above to be positive additions to the national team coaching agenda.

More likely Bradley is simply willing to overlook them. A kindly touch from the master to the protégé who, not long ago, let it be known that he regards Bradley as “a genius.”

Gardner has been ripping on Bob Bradley since at least 1998, when he coached the Fire to the MLS Cup and US Open Cup titles, the journalist criticising the “boring” soccer he saw (if only Piotr Nowak had been Hispanic!). Bradley later moved on to the USMNT role succeeding Bruce Arena (who he assisted at DC United for two years before heading up the Fire), thus perpetuating the East Coast Anglo Rulership of Dull American soccer that at least allowed Gardner to keep filing in the same columns to SoccerAmerica and World Soccer with a mere find and replace on his Word document.

Maybe that’s a bit mean. Gardner has been making an important point about the need for US Soccer and MLS to improve the integration of Hispanic soccer culture into the “mainstream” of the sport for many, many, many years. Surely there are some serious points on it worth raising to Gulati on that based on Gardner’s long experience looking at it.

One could even question whether Bradley’s continual loyalty to those he has worked with in the past does mean the US Soccer set-up is too insular, though the choice of an assistant coach isn’t the best example there given that role surely has to be taken by someone the head coach knows intimately and trusts heading into a World Cup finals tournament.

There might even be a legitimate question to ask of US Soccer about Marsch’s comments on diving Brazilians. Maybe.

Unfortunately, given the chance to ask the man in charge of it all about any of these elements, all Gardner could do was toss an irrelevant softball Gulati was able to hit for a home run.

Quick Hits

  • Are football fans discriminated against?  The Football Supporters’ Federation are hosting an event asking these questions in London next month, wondering “Why are football supporters treated differently from other groups in society? Go to Wembley for a pop concert and you can stand without fear of ejection. Head to a rugby league match and you can drink in your seat. Try either of those at a football game and you could end up with a criminal record. “
  • Fake Sigi on the prospects for a work stoppage in MLS: “the players have absolutely no leverage in a work stoppage. None. MLS will keep making money through Soccer United Marketing off of all those Mexico exhibition matches and Interliga and will simply wait for the players to come back to the table.”
  • Two Hundred Percent looks at “The Continuing Adventures Of Sulaiman Al-Fahim”, as Portsmouth’s former owners true colours come out.

The Sweeper appears every weekday, and once at the weekend. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

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