COLUMBUS, Ohio — On the day of the big USA-Mexico World Cup qualifier, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president will not affect U.S. Soccer’s decision on whether to bid to host World Cup 2026.
“It’s not going to dissuade us or persuade us to bid,” said Gulati, who was speaking to a group of writers at the U.S. team hotel. “Perceptions [of the Trump administration abroad] matter, for sure, but I think those will be developed in the months to come.”
The U.S. has been the favorite to host World Cup 2026, especially after FIFA’s recent decision to prevent any countries in the confederations of Europe and Asia (which includes China and Australia) from bidding. But the election of an inward-looking Trump administration may have an impact on the voters who will decide the 2026 host—each member nation of FIFA—when the decision is set to be made in 2020.
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Gulati also acknowledged that the U.S. Soccer board is currently split on whether the U.S. would share the proposed bid with Mexico and/or Canada should it decide to pursue the World Cup hosting rights. He did say that it would be unlikely that the U.S. would want to share the games 50-50 with another potential co-host.
Here are other highlights from the Gulati roundtable:
• Gulati said he was confident and hopeful that the tone of the U.S.-Mexico game would not cross the line into racist, homophobic or other ugly and inappropriate chants from the fan bases. He noted that the American Outlaws, the biggest U.S. fan group, has 8,000 tickets for the game and has issued a statement saying hateful behavior will not be tolerated.
• He said he has proposed to institute term limits for his own position, U.S. Soccer president, as well as all other positions on the U.S. Soccer board. Those limits, which would cap at three four-year terms, mean that if Gulati runs for U.S. Soccer president again in 2018—and he said he’s not sure yet that he will—the four years ending in 2022 would be his last term in office. (He has been in the position since 2006.)
“A lot of things that happened in CONCACAF and FIFA in the last couple of years and obviously previously, I think some of those would have been different with term limits,” he said, adding that he thinks decision-making is altered if an official is constantly concerned about being reelected.
• He said CBA talks between U.S. Soccer and the U.S. women’s players have taken place recently and are scheduled to continue soon, though he did not provide any details. The current CBA ends December 31. He added he was confident that a new CBA would get done and would not affect planned events for the U.S. women’s team and the NWSL.
• After separate meetings with the NASL and USL, Gulati said he is confident that the NASL will go forward and not fold.
• Gulati made it sound like U.S. men’s coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s job is relatively safe. Every coach is to some degree on the hot seat, Gulati said, “however, we have not had a coach in 27 years [since Lothar Osiander in 1989] who started World Cup qualifying and did not finish World Cup qualifying. I expect [Klinsmann coaching for all of the Hex] to be the case here.”
• Gulati said there will be a chance for more cooperation with CONMEBOL, whether that means more combined Copa América tournaments in the future or potential U.S. participation in the Copa Libertadores. However, he discounted any serious potential for a merger of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL and cast doubt on the future participation of the U.S. in the Copa América as a “guest” team, since it means the U.S. wouldn’t be able to compel European clubs to release U.S. players for the tournament.
Recently, the new president of UEFA suggested playing the Champions League final in New York, while CONMEBOL officials suggested staging the Copa Libertadores final in Miami. But while Gulati said U.S. Soccer would be willing to talk with those confederations, he added that in general terms U.S. Soccer is not interested in staging official games in the U.S. that don’t involve U.S. entities, whether it’s those finals or a proposed 39th Premier League game in its season. The idea is to protect MLS and domestic competitions.