WEEHAWKEN, N.J. — The U.S. Soccer Federation’s latest board meeting, held Saturday afternoon, didn’t produce the dramatic headlines some outsiders had hoped for. There was no announcement of a new CEO to replace the retiring Dan Flynn or of a new U.S. women’s soccer team head coach to succeed Jill Ellis after she steps down next month.
But there was plenty of other news, some of which set the stage for future fireworks.
Chief commercial officer Jay Berhalter said that, as of July 31, the fiscal year’s revenues from national team games were $3.8 million below the projected budget figure, and marketing and sponsorship revenues were $250,000 short.
The outlook has probably grown sunnier since then. Last month, the women’s team’s visit to Philadelphia drew 49,504 fans, an attendance record for a standalone women’s friendly.
On Friday, the men drew 47,960 to MetLife Stadium for a 3-0 loss to rival Mexico. As usual, most of the fans rooted for the visitors. America’s big Mexican immigrant fan base has made El Tri this country’s biggest men’s draw.
Berhalter is the leading candidate to replace Flynn. He is unpopular with the fan base but is a Federation veteran and reportedly Flynn’s choice.
If Berhalter gets the job, he’d oversee sporting director Earnie Stewart, who was promoted last month to be in charge of all soccer operations. That includes U.S. men’s coach Gregg Berhalter, Jay’s brother.
Saturday’s board meeting appeared to be Flynn’s last. Many board members thanked him for his service. One of them, MLS commissioner Don Garber, let slip that Flynn is headed to the St. Louis MLS expansion team.
“I look forward to you yelling at me all the time in your new role,” Garber joked.
There are outside candidates to replace Flynn, but they’ve stayed quiet. The lid will likely come off by U.S. Soccer’s next board meeting, set for Dec. 6-7 in Chicago.
The U.S. women drew lots of praise for winning the World Cup, but board members made sure to not give the players fodder for their gender discrimination lawsuit. A mediation session last month collapsed, raising the odds of a courtroom trial.
Federation president Carlos Cordeiro said vice president Cindy Parlow Cone, a former national team player, had “an incredibly important role” in the mediation. He didn’t give any specifics.
Perhaps he offered more during Friday’s closed-door executive sessions or the short closed session held after Saturday’s open meeting. At least the public sessions are genuinely public, being part of U.S. Soccer’s nonprofit status. Anyone can show up to watch them.
Berhalter also offered the most notable stat raised Saturday. During a presentation by Brian Remedi, one of the Federation’s top behind-the-scenes executives, Berhalter cited U.S. fans buying 145,000 tickets to this summer’s Women’s World Cup in France. No other country beside the host bought more, and it wasn’t close.
Cordeiro quipped that "we will exploit that with the Qataris in 2022 [hosting the men's World Cup] and any future bids we might have.”
Americans might not be as willing to go to Qatar, but there’s no doubt they’ll back the future bid Cordeiro referred to: hosting the 2027 women’s World Cup. That would surely break the tournament’s attendance and revenue records.
U.S. women’s team general manager Kate Markgraf was in attendance Saturday, and Ellis came with her. The board surprised Ellis by announcing the creation of an endowed coaching education scholarship for women in her name.
“It means a lot,” Ellis said, choking up a bit. “The future of this game is really, really important to me.”
Markgraf will likely hire the new coach by November, when the U.S. women have a friendly game scheduled. The venue and opponent should be announced soon.
After that will come Concacaf’s Olympic qualifying tournament early next year. Berhalter and Cordeiro said the United States is likely to host it, and Concacaf is likely to confirm that in a few days.
As for the men’s team, Friday’s thumping was still fresh Saturday morning. Cordeiro opened the board meeting barely nine hours after the game’s final whistle.
Beyond the meeting’s walls, fans and media criticized Gregg Berhalter’s sunny spin on the performance. Stewart did better at balancing short-term frustration with long-term vision.
"Obviously, last night was disappointing," he said. "However, when we talk about progress and what we want to see from our players — and I know that's hard to look through, especially when [the score] looks 3-0 — there were some really positive things."
Stewart said the team’s motto, built with player input, is to be “diverse, brave and relentless.” And he noted that Friday’s game offered signs of “which players are ready for the next step.”
The next step comes in just a few weeks. The U.S. enters the new Concacaf Nations League on Oct. 11, hosting Cuba in Washington.