For some frustrated fans, that premise may seem incongruous or maddening, but it is the reality. Consider this, too: Gulati draws no salary from U.S. Soccer to compensate him for his grief.
Because U.S. Soccer is a nonprofit body that oversees all facets of the sport in the United States — as opposed to a for-profit professional sports team or league — its most senior positions are elected posts held on a volunteer basis. Gulati’s primary job is being an economics lecturer at Columbia; on Sunday, in addition to weighing Klinsmann’s fate, he taught a makeup class.
Yes, there are procedures by which Gulati could be removed by U.S. Soccer’s board of directors, but such impeachments are highly unlikely and generally designed for situations in which a board member has done something illegal.
Gulati, for whatever one might think of his recruitment of (and commitment to) Klinsmann, is charged with leading U.S. Soccer in all areas, regardless of that particular area’s public interest. Some, like the flux of the men’s national team, are high-profile and tumultuous. Others, like the World Cup champion women’s national team and its fight for pay equality, are cantankerous and complex. Still others, like the expansion of the federation’s development academy for young players, are important but not widely publicized.
The list goes on: the federation’s decision to enact important new restrictions on youth players and heading the ball; the federation’s financial support for a women’s professional league; the federation’s determination that promotion and relegation is not currently a viable option for this country’s league system; the federation’s interest in bidding to host another World Cup.
All of it is Gulati’s — and the federation’s — bailiwick. All of it matters.
Taken in sum, the conclusion is this: Gulati, who is also a part of the powerful FIFA Executive Committee and who has become a significant power broker among global soccer executives, is not going anywhere any time soon.
The current bylaws of the federation call for its next presidential election to be held in 2018, and it is expected that Gulati — who has been president since 2006 and who ran unopposed in two subsequent elections — will seek one more term from a voting population that represents youth associations, adult associations and other soccer stakeholders. At this point, there is no reason to think he will be challenged, let alone that he will lose.
Should it be this way in the future? That is not an unreasonable question, and it is one some high-level soccer executives, including U.S. Soccer board members, have asked themselves. In American sports, the person responsible for hiring the team’s coach does not generally also sign off on, say, the team’s marketing and sponsorship agreements. And some soccer federations elsewhere have a specific administrator or executive whose primary job is running that country’s men’s national team, giving thoughts on player selection as well as coaches. Perhaps U.S. Soccer has grown so much that it is now untenable for it to avoid having a similarly formal distinction.
In current practice, Gulati and Dan Flynn, the federation’s chief executive (and a salaried staff member), made the call on removing Klinsmann and hiring Arena, even if they consulted with other members of the board along the way. The board ultimately approved the moves, though it is difficult to imagine that anything would have been done differently even if, for example, a powerful voice representing youth soccer had thought Klinsmann was doing a terrific job.
To his credit, Gulati has not deflected his connection to Klinsmann. He has acknowledged many times that he pursued Klinsmann, on and off, for years, and he does not shy from the truth that the on-field results he had hoped for did not materialize. The United States did not do well at the Gold Cup last year, did not qualify for the Confederations Cup, did not qualify for the Olympics and did not start this final round of World Cup qualifying with anything resembling success.
Gulati accepts his share of responsibility. But he also believes that U.S. Soccer has never been in a better financial position than it is now, has never had as much global influence as it does now, and has never been in as good a position to host another World Cup as it is right now. Gulati’s mandate is bigger than just Klinsmann or Arena, bigger than just the men’s national team.
Is the men’s team important? Of course. That is why Gulati flew across the country on Monday morning to meet with Klinsmann at a hotel in the Los Angeles area to inform him of the change before sitting down with Arena, the coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy, and beginning the process of bringing him back aboard. That is why he fired the coach he had wanted to hire for so long.
But by the time Arena set to work concluding his contract negotiations with Flynn, Gulati was gone. On Tuesday, while Arena answered questions about his return from California, Gulati was back in New York, checking on other federation business and taking part in the call after finishing up another obligation: office hours for his students, who are preparing for big tests of their own.