Athlete Council key to Cordeiro's election as U.S. Soccer president

ORLANDO -- When Carlos Cordeiro went to bed Friday night, he had no idea that his victory in the election for U.S. Soccer Federation president was, for all practical purposes, sewn up.

It was around midnight Friday when the Athlete Council, which had been meeting off and on for seven hours, finally adjourned. That council's vote, which came in a bloc and comprised 20 percent of the weighted total, had been highly sought-after throughout the election. In the endless spin cycle that goes on during an election, no fewer than four candidates told ESPN FC during the run-up that they had the Athlete Council locked up.

Yet it was Cordeiro who walked away with the coveted votes.

"I was just impressed by Carlos' ideas, his vision for governance within U.S. Soccer," said Athlete Council member Stuart Holden. "And also I loved that he was vulnerable in saying he's not the smartest soccer guy in the room and he wants to find the smartest soccer guys. To me, that resonated strongly."

It was by no means an easy process. The AC met around 1 p.m. ET Friday and had meetings with outgoing USSF president Sunil Gulati, MLS commissioner Don Garber and CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani. Meeting with that trio is bound to raise an eyebrow or two, with the assumption being that they were there to lobby for candidates, but AC member Brian Ching insisted that wasn't the case.

"It was just more about the state of soccer," said Ching via telephone. "They were there just to answer any questions that we had. I can say for certain that none of them were there lobbying for any candidates."

Hope Solo, one of the other candidates, stated that she felt the AC was influenced by outside forces. Ching, not surprisingly, refuted that notion.

"I don't know where [Solo] is coming from and where her facts are coming from," Ching said. "I think every single one of us in that room did a ton of research on all the candidates. Lots and lots of hours went into this. No one was influenced. Everyone came to their own decision based on the research that they did. It was a true consensus, and one of the things we wanted to show was that we were a united front in a time of discord."

By the time the meetings were done, only an hour was left to have an actual discussion about the candidates, so the AC agreed to meet for dinner and resume talks later in the evening. The tough conversations started around 9 p.m. That included not only deciding what candidate was strongest, but also whether to vote as a bloc.

"It wasn't an easy decision," Holden said. "When we got in the room, we felt it was important to be able to bloc. We ran an internal process, and we weren't near a consensus. Everybody was informed, everyone was engaged, everyone had an opinion, and everybody brought a discussion to the table. As we started to narrow it down, have those discussions, we found a candidate in Carlos that we could unite behind and show the strength of the athlete."

Holden indicated that the final three choices were Kathy Carter, Kyle Martino and Cordeiro. Ultimately, the decision came down to experience and the extent to which they felt someone could make the necessary changes the federation needs. Cordeiro was their choice, though it was by no means his only area of support.

Yet it was the athletes that gave Cordeiro some precious early momentum. The first round ended with Cordeiro at 36.3 percent, Carter at 34.6 percent and everyone else trailing in their wake. For Carter it was a case of "so close, but yet so far." Had the AC gone for Carter, the election would have been over. Instead, she had hit her ceiling and fell back incrementally in the second round. In the third, Garber admitted that Carter's base in the Pro Council abandoned her for Cordeiro, and her vote total dwindled to 10.6 percent, while Cordeiro skyrocketed to 68.6 percent, well over the 50 percent-plus-one threshold.

"As we were looking through the rounds, we didn't think that Kathy would be able to garner the support to get a majority," Garber said. "Ultimately, the pros and the athletes carry a lot of weight as a bloc. The professionals, not just MLS, but MLS, the NWSL, and the USL have a strong voice, and taking that voice over to the new president is important. It's a statement to Carlos that we're behind him, and it's an indicator of our desire to work very closely with him in the years to come."

So in the end, Cordeiro's bloc was stronger than Carter's. And now he's USSF president.