The Product is The Player – 2018 U.S. Soccer Presidential Election Candidate Paul Caligiuri
U.S. soccer is clearly at an inflection point.
When the USMNT bowed out of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, it set off a long overdue reevaluation of how we are progressing as a soccer nation.
Last week, I attended the United Soccer Coaches’ Association Convention in Philadelphia. It is a pilgrimage I make each year, and this year it had the added benefit of featuring the eight candidates who are running for President of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The candidates are Paul Caligiuri, Kathy Carter, Carlos Cordeiro, Steve Gans, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo, Michael Winograd and Eric Wynalda and with only a short time till the election on February 10th, there is no clear leader of the pack of eight.
This election has the potential to hold the future of American soccer in its hands.
The race to replace our current president Sunil Gulati has clarified how deeply the American soccer landscape is fractioned. Although everyone agrees the goal is to make soccer the preeminent sport in our country — many disagree on how to build a stronger infrastructure and what U.S. Soccer should fund.
What is the next step before the vote at the U.S. Soccer AGM in Orlando at the National Council Meeting? During these last few days when the candidates participate in their final media interviews and — of course — make incessant private phone calls — we begin our final round of interviews.
Here is our coverage of the race as Paul Caligiuri takes his turn to Speak Out.
Paul Caligiuri brings a uniquely positive view of the path forward and an impressive combination of credentials.
He has played at the highest levels of professional soccer in the U.S. and in Europe –and, Caligiuri is the man who got the USA back into the World Cup after a 40-year drought. With a total of 110 caps for the USMNT, his resume also includes experience on the U.S. Soccer Board of directors and the U.S. Soccer Athlete’s Council. He is also credited as the founder of the U.S National Soccer Team Players Association.
Caligiuri is passionate about equal pay for our women athletes, he expresses a firm commitment to advance the NWSL, he has a plan to develop our players so we can compete on the world stage and he is well-versed on how to align the resources of U.S. Soccer to ensure we achieve the best outcomes. Like us, he’s also a huge fan of Futsal.
GoalNation sat down with Caligiuri in Philadelphia and the most important message we walked away with was his fundamental view that “the product is the player.”
By focusing on the player experience, Caligiuri plans to improve player identification and development with sweeping changes in youth soccer.
“Not qualifying for the World Cup woke America up. We expect to be in the World Cup ever since I scored that goal,” said Caligiuri.
“Self-interests have for far too long governed our sport. And, we have watched this go on for a decade. You can not blame one individual or organization,” said Caligiuri. “Today, U.S. Soccer divides our resources by privileging the Development Academy as the main source of development activity. Instead, we will take the best of the academy system and Olympic Development Program to ensure that we maximize youth development.”
Caligiuri’s passion was evident. “We cannot afford to let one talented player fall through the cracks,” he told us.
“We are the USA, we want to win on the world stage.”
Here is our interview with Paul Caligiuri:
Diane Scavuzzo: What makes you the right candidate to be the next president?
Paul Caligiuri: I am the right candidate because of my wealth of experience. I am the only candidate with experience in all levels of soccer. Unlike any other candidate, I have served on the board of U.S. Soccer as well as the Athlete’s Council and my experiences on and off the field have given me a clear perspective on how to build a structure that will work and be aligned with our American values of transparency.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is your goal as president?
Paul Caligiuri: My goal is to make soccer the preeminent sport in the USA.
For instance, my vision for U.S. Soccer is to do more with Grassroots soccer to improve the player experience for young players to alleviate the plaguing drop off rate we are experiencing.
Futsal can be the driving force for young players to better enjoy the game and improve technically, and there is so much opportunity to tie this in with small courts initiative in our communities.
I will prioritize and properly fund Beach Soccer to legitimize this FIFA discipline. Most important, we need to be world leaders advocating for FIFA Women’s Beach Soccer and FIFA Women’s Futsal World Cups where we can dominate in those disciplines of soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: We all know the high costs of youth soccer is a big issue. What are your thoughts?
Paul Caligiuri: The sport is affordable at the grassroots level but there is a turning point when parents and players turn to club soccer and the higher cost is drastic.
This is where we leave out a lot of kids who cannot afford this financial jump.
I am committed to kids sharing the joy of playing soccer by overcoming those financial barriers.
Diane Scavuzzo: What can the U.S. Soccer Federation do more effectively to increase participation in the game of soccer?
Paul Caligiuri: We can reach out to the communities and markets we have yet to penetrate and I believe the vehicle for success is the tool known as the Olympic Development Program.
With proper funding and guidance, the ODP can broaden our talent base — I want to turn ODP into the program which can provide access to players all across our country.
ODP is the only program that exists in all 55 youth soccer state associations.
Big words have been used in this election: inclusiveness, accessibility and pay-for-play.
I believe that we can train and let high school coaches become ODP scouts — and this will allow us to be in every corner of the country overnight. We will be in every community.
We can all agree approximately:
- 95% + of our elite 18-year-old players still go from youth soccer to play college soccer, but most of them do not even start on their college teams.
- 3% turn pro in the USA but seldom get playing time for years.
- 2% best of the best 18-year-old players will leave the USA looking to make it in a Europe or somewhere else.
The goal is to become the preeminent sport in America.
In order to do that, we need to prepare our elite players when they are 16 and 17 years old so they can start on their college teams in their freshman year, and ensure a higher percentage of those players go on to make professional teams.
The big goal in mind is having 19-year-olds star on our National Teams like Pulisic. We need a method that will continue to develop the 95% of our 18 and 19-year-old adult elite players that go off to college.
This can happen, but we must provide a better pathway for players. Let’s leave no stone unturned in the process.
The Olympic Development Program is our greatest resource, and it has not been properly guided nor has it received any funding from U.S. Soccer for the past 10 years.
I will create a better pathway forward from the grassroots of the game, starting with Futsal all the way to winning World Cups in Both genders.
The Olympic Development Program offers a way for U.S. Soccer to get into communities that we are not in, it allows us not to be held back by certain rules, regulations, or restrictions imposed on soccer players from organizations that U.S. Soccer does not govern, and it can build ALL disciplines of soccer, Men’s and Women’s National Teams, Beach Soccer, Futsal, and Paralympics.
The bottom line is the product is the player and we have forgotten this. We can do better for our players.
We are failing our U16 and U17 as they are not prepared to play on the next level. My plan provides a higher level of competition that will better prepare our players to begin their collegiate and professional careers.
We can not assimilate Europe. The USA is unique.
We are three steps behind the rest of the world in player development because we have not done enough with the transition between youth and the pros. We can solve these issues.
Let’s work together to produce better players and start winning — together.
We should be pushing the players upwards — what MLS is doing to develop players is admirable, but we need to unify all the soccer organizations to work together to reach our shared goal of making USA soccer the best in the world.
Diane Scavuzzo: Any final words?
Paul Caligiuri: The USA has every resource in the world and with a population of over 323 million people.
There is no reason U.S. Soccer cannot become the best in the world.
Editorial Note: Check out the video if you want to see Paul Caligiuri’s goal that U.S. Soccer called one of the most important moments in our history and is known as the goal that was heard around the world … Sports Illustrated calls it THE ‘SHOT’ THAT STARTED IT ALL: