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U.S. Soccer presidential election primer: 23 FAQs as the vote nears

U.S. Soccer’s first contested presidential election since 1998 takes place on Saturday. (Getty)

It’s U.S. Soccer election week. In a few days, delegates from all corners of the American soccer community will gather to elect a new United States Soccer Federation president for the first time in 12 years.

Below is a succinct but wide-ranging rundown of what you need to know about the biggest day in U.S. soccer since Trinidad. For a more dry rundown, U.S. Soccer has answered some FAQs as well.

When is the election?

It’s this Saturday, Feb. 10, in Orlando at U.S. Soccer’s annual general meeting. It will happen during the National Council Meeting, which starts at 8 a.m. ET. The election itself will begin at approximately 10 or 10:30. Here’s the full AGM schedule. Information on live coverage is at the bottom of this page.

Who is running?

Eight candidates will be on the ballot. In alphabetical order: Paul Caligiuri, Kathy Carter, Carlos Cordeiro, Steve Gans, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo, Michael Winograd and Eric Wynalda. Here’s a more thorough breakdown of who they are, their qualifications, and their platforms.

Who has a vote?

This one’s complicated. Essentially, a weighted system gives delegates from youth soccer state associations 25.8 percent of the vote, and delegates from adult soccer state associations 25.8 percent of the vote. Another 25.8 percent goes to the Pro Council, which is made up of 16 delegates – nine of which will come from MLS. The fourth major voting bloc is the Athlete Council, which, by law, gets 20 percent of the vote. It comprises 21 current and former national team players. The final 2.6 percent goes to USSF board members, past presidents, life members and other individuals.

[More election coverage: Who votes, and how the vote works]

How does the election work?

A candidate needs 50 percent plus one vote to win. That means the balloting can, and likely will, go to multiple rounds. There will be a 10-minute break, or “caucus,” in between rounds for politicking. The voting continues until one candidate wins a majority of votes cast.

Candidates will not fall off the ballot after each round, unless they choose to withdraw, or unless the National Council adopts a rule (via two-thirds vote) that would eliminate the lowest vote-getter beginning after round three. More information can be found in the election abstract here.

Who is the favorite?

Carter? Probably? But nobody really knows. Five candidates appear to have realistic shots. In alphabetical order: Carter, Cordeiro, Gans, Martino and Wynalda. If there’s a dark horse among the other three, it’s Winograd. We’ll have a story handicapping the race on Friday.

[More election coverage: Odds for all 8 candidates]

Is there an incumbent?

Nope. Sunil Gulati, who has been in office since 2006, announced in early December that he would not seek re-election. He heard the resounding calls for change after the U.S. men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and effectively answered them.

Has Gulati thrown his support behind another candidate?

Yep. Well, actually, he hasn’t done so publicly, and has denied that he’s supporting Carter, but he reportedly – and pretty clearly – is. Carter is the establishment candidate.

Are any voting delegates publicly supporting certain candidates?

Not many. Certainly less than 10 percent, possibly less than 5 percent. Now, a big asterisk is that MLS, while only a small fraction of voters, controls 14.5 percent of the vote, and the league is backing Carter. She also has the public backing of a few state associations, as do Martino, Wynalda, Gans and others. But most of the endorsements – particularly Martino’s – are from non-voters.

Will we eventually know who voted for whom?

Nope. The vote is secret ballot.

So which candidates actually represent change?

Imagine a continuum chart, with the far right representing the status quo and the far left representing a full-blown overhaul. Carter would be almost all the way on the right. Wynalda and Solo would be all the way on the left. Then, clustered somewhere left of center, would be (from left to right) Caligiuri, Martino, Gans and Winograd. Somewhere right of center would be Cordeiro.

How much of the campaign has been a response to the qualifying failure?

That’s what has enabled it. But that’s not what the campaign has been about. If not for the Trinidad debacle, nobody would have had a chance to unseat Gulati. The qualifying failure brought about opportunity – an “inflection point,” as Martino has called it – that wouldn’t have otherwise arose. But every candidate recognizes that Trinidad was a symptom, not the root cause.

[More election coverage: A look back at the last contested USSF race]

What, then, are the key policy issues?

Youth reform is the preeminent one. That goes hand-in-hand with equality and diversity. There has also been plenty of talk about the structure of the federation and its decision-making processes. There have been calls for increased transparency. And there’s the always thorny, controversial and polarizing topic of promotion and relegation.

Talk to me about those issues. Start with youth reform.

Where to begin? The American youth soccer landscape is incredibly complex … which is part of the problem. In most states, there are multiple youth sanctioning organizations – U.S. Youth Soccer (USYS), US Club Soccer (USCS), American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), etc. That creates confusion for the consumer – soccer-playing kids and their parents. It also creates friction and (in some cases) unhealthy competition between leagues and teams.

There are also various critiques of the elite-level Development Academy. There’s talk of chipping away at the oft-discussed “pay-to-play” model. Most candidates seem to understand that doing away with it, or even most of it, is a pipe-dream. But there are ways to use grants and scholarships to create a slightly more merit-based system.

How about equality and diversity?

Again, very wide-ranging. Those words – and concerns that the federation doesn’t do enough to promote them – apply throughout U.S. Soccer. The questions being asked: How can we make the game – playing and coaching – available to all, regardless of race or socioeconomic class? How can we increase the presence of women and minorities in leadership positions? How can we ensure the women’s national team gets equal pay and working conditions, and the professional league (NWSL) gets sufficient support?

Almost all, if not all the candidates, have stressed the need to answer those questions, but few, if any, have provided specific solutions.

And the structure of the federation/decision-making power?

Many candidates have criticized Gulati for making decisions unilaterally. They’ve said members – the youth and adult state associations, specifically – feel marginalized, without a voice. Everybody agrees that has to change, and that decisions need to be made by people more qualified to make them.

Where candidates differ is on how to structure those collaborative decisions. Most, if not all, of the former players think the president should remain intimately involved on the soccer side of things. Others believe that the president should take a step back – that the role should revert to what it was pre-Gulati.

Wait, so what exactly does the president do?

He or she is the chairperson of the board of directors. The president is responsible for leading the federation in that he or she is the guiding hand. He or she sets the vision, and oversees important decisions. But the CEO and the staff underneath the CEO are responsible for the day-to-day execution of that vision.

OK, back to policy … what about transparency?

This one’s simple. U.S. Soccer, a non-profit organization, is far too secretive in the way it conducts its business, both internally and with outside entities like Soccer United Marketing (SUM). There needs to be more oversight, and part of the way for the USSF to engender that is to open itself up to public scrutiny.

And finally, promotion and relegation?

There’s an extremely passionate and vocal minority of fans that are pushing for pro/rel. Some within the game want it. The belief is that it will prove beneficial to American soccer in the long run, even if it might put some of Major League Soccer’s growth at risk. The reality, though, is that it will be very tough to force MLS, a closed league with profit-seeking owners, to open itself up to pro/rel. But that hasn’t stopped one candidate from trying.

Are there any issues that apply to one candidate more than the rest?

Yes. Wynalda is a committed pro/rel advocate. His campaign is even being funded by Ricardo Silva, an NASL owner who has pushed for pro/rel using both billions of dollars and legal avenues.

Carter, meanwhile, has been dogged by accusations that her role as SUM president (since 2010) represents a conflict of interest, and that SUM’s relationship with U.S. Soccer needs to be far more transparent.

How long has the campaign been going on for?

Gans announced he was considering a presidential challenge in May, and was the first to officially declare in September. The rest joined the race after Trinidad, though Wynalda had been plotting a run for a while. Gulati had been gauging support as well, and was widely expected to run (and win) until a few days before his announcement in early December.

The field was confirmed when the eight candidates received three nomination letters prior to the Dec. 12 deadline. Solo had declared her candidacy less than a week earlier. A ninth candidate, Paul Lapointe, did not receive the three nominations and dropped out.

How much power will the new president have to effect change?

Nobody’s quite sure, to be honest. But probably less than you think. And many of the grand promises made by candidates aren’t realistic.

How long can the new president serve?

For a maximum of 12 years – three four-year terms. (That rule was adopted under Gulati, with the caveat that Gulati would be allowed to seek a fourth term. But he chose not to.) The next election will be in 2022.

How can I follow?

We’ll have more coverage through the end of the week, as will any other American soccer media outlet. Then, on Saturday, you can watch the entire National Council Meeting live on ussoccer.com or YouTube. The election portion of the meeting will also be streamed live on U.S. Soccer’s Facebook page.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.