Kyle Martino has announced his candidacy for U.S. Soccer president, saying that the program needs a change in vision and ambition. The former U.S. men’s national player has joined a seven-man race that includes Eric Wynalda, Steve Gans, Paul Lapointe, Michael Winograd, Carlos Cordeiro, and Paul Caligiuri.
While Martino respects incumbent Sunil Gulati, he believes change is needed at the highest level.
“Sunil is an incredibly smart man – he’s an economist professor at Columbia – so it’s hard to hire too many smarter people than him,” Martino said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “But there’s a plethora of people who are smarter than him in the soccer space. That’s been his weak spot. That’s his blind spot – not hiring soccer experts or having soccer experts within the U.S. Soccer structure. Believe me: this is not a blow-the-whole-thing-up approach. There are many people who are capable, competent and qualified to make good soccer decisions within the U.S. Soccer structure, but they’re not given any power. They’re not given the authority to do these things. Sunil has insulated himself a bit in his position to not have to take advice from soccer experts – and that’s clear. That’s not speculative. That’s one of the reasons we’re at this low point in U.S. Soccer’s history.”
Martino, who has taken a leave of absence from NBC Sports to pursue his candidacy, credited Gulati for growing the business side of U.S. soccer, but play on the field hasn’t kept up.
“The business model, Sunil has helped put that in place on the commercial side, growing revenue – and we need to protect those accomplishments and we need to respect Sunil for doing that,” said Martino, 36. “But it’s much easier now to keep the business side moving and to keep the inertia of that going than it is to fix the soccer side. We don’t really need a business man now. We need a soccer Ph.D.”
Martino, a former midfielder, played for the Columbus Crew, L.A. Galaxy and was a national team member from 2002-06. He also believes he has the ability to work with Gulati.
“You have you be able and willing to work with Sunil,” he said. “It’s irrelevant whether you like Sunil or not. I was one of the first to criticize Sunil and say it was time to move on from him. No one else was willing to do that because of his political power. I said that from my position because I knew that it was time for change and we had to move on from Sunil. But we don’t move on completely from Sunil because his greatest accomplishment is getting a seat on the FIFA Council at the big table. That’s incredible that there’s a U.S. soccer voice up at the top of the soccer food chain globally – and he’s going to stay there whether he’s president or not. He’s going to stay on the World Cup bid for 2026 whether we like it or not.”
Thus, maintaining a working relationship with Gulati is imperative.
“I’m seeing some candidates just criticizing him and throwing him under the bus,” Martino said. “Yeah, he deserves to get criticism in certain areas, but you have to have a symbiotic relationship with Sunil Gulati right now. Missing out on the World Cup was bad for the men, but missing he World Cup in 2026, not being able to win that bid and bring that enormous, amazing, greatest-event-on-earth tournament back to the States – if we miss that, that’s catastrophic. So I see people with the lack of political nous to understand you need a strategic relationship with Sunil, whether you like him or not.
“And listen, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t get along with Sunil,” Martino continued. “I’m not his schill. But as far as business is concerned and the business of U.S. Soccer, I respect Sunil and I’ll work with him to get us that World Cup and I’ll work with him to fix this program. I want him to leave me alone (to) run U.S. Soccer, and I’m going to leave him alone to go on the FIFA Council and help get this country what they need in terms of soccer.”