The more things change, the more they stay the same.
That was the sentiment in some circles when Carlos Cordeiro emerged as the winner in the contentious U.S. Soccer presidential election. Two years as Sunil Gulati's vice-president, which followed 10 years on the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors, earned Cordeiro the justified label of U.S. Soccer insider, but Cordeiro succeeded in convincing voters that he was actually a candidate for change, and certainly more of one than fellow favorite Kathy Carter.
Now Cordeiro must convince the unhappy masses who don't see him as being all that different to Gulati that he won't be a carbon copy of the man he credits with helping introduce him to the game of soccer a decade ago.
“To those of you who didn’t vote for me, I’m going to work to earn your trust and your support over the next four years," Cordeiro said after winning the election in the third round of voting. "I promise you I’m going to work together with all of you to bring us together as one united soccer community. Let’s all leave this room today with that in mind.”
Those hoping for a dramatic change — meaning someone with no established ties to Gulati and U.S. Soccer — watched the voting on Saturday and quickly realized that the field's "change candidates" were facing insurmountable odds. That was due in part to the Athlete's Council, a voting block which threw its support behind Cordeiro and ultimately made the difference in helping him beat out Carter, who both MLS and Gulati threw their support behind.
"We had a candidate that we could get behind, but also that we could unify behind," Athlete's Council member Stuart Holden told Fox Sports. "And we could use that power of the athlete to make a statement in a time of discourse, and all the separation and all the vitriol and everything that's going around U.S. Soccer right now, that we had the ability to push our power behind someone and show that the athletes were in strength behind a single candidate and I think that's what ultimately got us that consensus."
Cordeiro must now work to be a consensus builder, and work to show just how much U.S. Soccer is going to change in a post-Gulati era. Gulati's 12-year tenure saw him assert uncontested power and led to him making some decisions that ultimately helped lead to the U.S. men's national team failing to qualify for the World Cup. Cordeiro had a front-row seat to watching Gulati's missteps for two years as his vice president and made it clear he saw a need for a change when he announced his intent to run for president at a time when Gulati still hadn't made a decision on whether he would seek re-election.
That Gulati didn't succeed in leading his chosen successor to the victory was the biggest news on Saturday. Even though he shouldered the bulk of the blame for the missed 2018 World Cup, the long-time president still had plenty of political capital from his decades in American soccer, and it was believed that he would be able to swing enough supporter Carter's way. Cordeiro got in the way though, lobbying many of the same constituents Gulati probably thought he would be able to count on, cutting into Carter's base and setting himself up for a victory.
Now Cordeiro must help bring about that change by rebuilding the structure of U.S. Soccer to include general managers of the men's and women's national teams, individuals who will be hired by a committee, not a single individual. The days of Gulati single-handedly deciding to break the bank to hire a Jurgen Klinsmann, or single-handedly making the choice to turn to a Bruce Arena to clean up the mess are behind us.
Such change was already in the works before Saturday's election, but Cordeiro has made it clear he is fully behind that shift in structure and committed to helping put the right people in place to make the right on-field soccer decisions.
"Carlos Cordeiro is not Sunil Gulati," Holden said on Saturday. "Carlos Cordeiro wants to lead with governance, he wants to lead by building a consensus and I think he wants to empower soccer people."
Part of that rebuilding should include some of the very people Cordeiro faced off against in the election. The wave of anger generated by missing the 2018 World Cup helped set the stage for some new voices to be heard in the conversation about improving American soccer. Some of those voices should become part of the leadership, even if not in the position of president.
Of course, that will require them to want to be a part of the solution even after having seeing their campaigns for the leadership spot fail. Hopefully some will, though it won't be surprising if a few of the candidates lost their appetite for being change agents as soon as the spotlight faded on their presidential bids.
If Cordeiro can, among other things, help U.S. Soccer make some smart hires in the general manager positions, set in motion the necessary changes to improve youth soccer in the United States, and helping make the game more accessible for demographics that have gone underserved or flat out ignored in the past, then he will go a long way toward alleviating some of the fear that he is just more of the same.
American soccer can't afford Cordeiro to be a status quo president. It can't afford the next four years to be a carbon copy of the last four years. On Saturday, voters chose Cordeiro because they believed he is serious about change and capable of bringing it about. He has four years to prove them right.