“I don’t believe that any other candidate has the unique skill set that I do,” Carter said. She added: “I’ve got 25 years of walking the hallways with soccer as my business. This is not about anybody else. This is about me being the most qualified person to lead the federation into the next generation.”
Carter joins a swollen field of presidential hopefuls that already includes the Boston lawyer Steven Gans, the first candidate to announce a challenge to Gulati; three former men’s national team players: Eric Wynalda, Paul Caligiuri and Kyle Martino; the U.S. Soccer vice president Carlos Cordeiro; the Massachusetts businessman and league administrator Paul Lapointe; and a New York lawyer, Michael Winograd.
Carter brings to the presidential race something truly uncommon — an accomplished woman with an enviable résumé in both soccer and business — but, to critics of the way U.S. Soccer is currently run, she also offers something all too common: ties to the status quo.
Carter most recently worked as the president of Soccer United Marketing, which is often described as the marketing arm of Major League Soccer but is in fact much more than that. The company, known as SUM, also controls the marketing rights for U.S. Soccer and the Mexican national team, which allows it to profit not only from the matches and tournaments it controls but also from its partnerships with national federations, regional and global governing bodies, corporate sponsors and television networks.
To Carter’s supporters, those relationships and her successful tenure running a multimillion-dollar, soccer-centered company make her eminently qualified to oversee U.S. Soccer’s diverse interests and constituencies. But to fans and U.S. Soccer members critical of the tight relationship Gulati forged between the federation, M.L.S. and SUM during his tenure, Carter is merely a symbol of the group of insiders who have controlled the federation for years.
Carter, who is also a former M.L.S. vice president, rejected that assessment, describing her driving business methodology as a search for “win-win” solutions, and noting that U.S. Soccer had thrived financially under its current leadership.
But some of her rivals quickly zeroed in on her ties to SUM and Gulati. Gans, the lawyer from Boston, said people like Carter, Gulati and even Cordeiro had a “vested interest” in resisting the changes he sees as vital to a change of course at U.S. Soccer. And Martino, in an email Monday when Carter’s candidacy was imminent, raised the specter of conflicts of interest even as he welcomed her entry into the race.
“There will be a time to discuss possible conflict of interests with Kathy,” Martino said in the email. “But now is the time to celebrate a smart and experienced woman. I know she will add value to the discussion.”
Carter has taken a leave of absence from her position at SUM. She said she would resign if elected.
All of the candidates in the field are billing themselves as agents of change, though they vary in the degree of disruption they want.
Martino, who left his job an analyst for NBC Sports to run, initially shied away from seeking the unpaid position but changed his mind and now is crowdfunding his campaign. Wynalda, who has traveled widely to promote his candidacy and is very active on social media, has embraced the idea of introducing promotion and relegation to American professional soccer as a way to upend the status quo. Cordeiro pledged the need for stability when he entered what was increasingly looking like a chaotic race last month, he has spent the past few weeks making his pitch to voters.
Campaign strategy is important. The U.S. Soccer election is a coalition-building proposition, not a popularity contest. The federation’s president is chosen in a vote of representatives of its various councils: 25 percent shares for the youth, adult and pro councils; 20 percent to an athletes council; and the rest to a small group that includes board members, life members and even a fan representative.
“Anybody who says they have all the answers is trying to feed everybody a line,” Carter said. “What I look is more not having the answers, but actually being able to lead a conversation about, What do we do? I don’t know that we can fully articulate today what the true issues are.”
Carter sketched out a vision of a presidency seemingly reduced in influence, one that returns some of the power that had drifted into Gulati’s hands over the years back to the federation’s board and to its salaried chief executive, Dan Flynn, who is empowered to conduct its day-to-day affairs.
“The position of president is not the C.E.O.,” Carter said, “and I think it’s an important distinction.”
Instead, she talked about soliciting opinions rather than imposing hers; about seeking out ways to make U.S. Soccer more inclusive; about developing not only a new generation of players capable of returning the United States to the men’s World Cup cycle after cycle, but also girls who can carry on the winning tradition of the world champion women’s team. Whenever someone bemoans the fact that they won’t be able to see the United States in a World Cup for four years, Carter said, she reminds them that they can cheer for the women at the 2019 tournament in France.
Carter does not have the three nominations she needs to run — they are due by Dec. 12 — but “I’m starting to do that.”
“I’m saying the same thing to everybody: My job here is not yet to ask for your vote,” Carter said. “My job is first for you to have a conversation with me in a different context, and for me to earn your respect and earn your trust.”
“We need real change,” she added. “We don’t need to just talk about it.”