“I’m not the establishment candidate,” Kathy Carter told GotSoccer recently as we chatted amidst the midday din at a trendy Manhattan restaurant.
Since announcing her candidacy to succeed Sunil Gulati as President of U.S. Soccer earlier this month, Carter, the President of Soccer United Marketing, or SUM, has been forced to perform a delicate dance of touting her decades of experience in the sport without seeming too much of an insider at this anti-incumbent moment as the American soccer community reckons with the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the World Cup next summer in Russia.
“I’m not on the Board of Directors,” Carter said, by way of distancing herself from the “establishment” tag before pivoting to say, “clearly I’ve got a lot of experience.”
That experience took Carter from the pitch, where she tended goal in front of current USWNT coach Jill Ellis at William and Mary, to working on the organizing committee for the 1994 World Cup, to marketing MLS at its inception and eventually to SUM.
As Carter put it “I’ve been a part of the development and founding of Major League Soccer and ultimately the development of it, so my track record certainly proves that I’ve got the ability to evolve and change things and I hope,” Carter said, “to do that at the federation level as well.”
When we spoke the candidate had just returned from Toronto, where in addition to watching TFC raise the MLS Cup after defeating the 2016 champions Seattle Sounders, Carter had an opportunity to meet some of the voters in the February election.
I asked Carter if she was sensing the same “burn it all down” mentality among potential voters that many supporters felt immediately following the disastrous result in Trinidad and Tobago?
“What I’m sensing,” Carter began, “is that change is good” although she was quick to differentiate between the men’s team and the women’s, noting that while the men failed, “our women are the best in the world.”
“What I’m sensing from the women is that we can’t stand on our laurels,” Carter relayed. “We need to continue to innovate and develop so that we maintain our dominance on the women’s level.”
Carter added that “on the men’s side of the game we need to continue to evolve so that we don’t find ourselves in this position ever again.” Citing the Paralympic program and beach soccer as examples, Carter stressed that “the program is vast” and the World Cup flop, “is one piece. What’s happened, and I share the great fervor and emotion about our not qualifying for Russia, I think we can never be in this situation again – but when I think about what the federation means, the national team is one piece but there’s a lot more that goes on with the federation.”
Carter explained. “Continuing to drive membership, and by that, I mean more kids and more amateurs into the game is as important as our national teams being successful on a global level.” “So,” Carter continued, “we cannot think of one to the exclusion of the other because I think that we have all of those things that we need to achieve success in.”
I asked Carter for her views on the hot-button issues of the day. First up, pay to play.
“Anybody that says that they have unilateral ability to abolish pay to play is selling the votes a line of b.s,” Carter told me. Carter calls the issue, “rather complex,” but believes that U.S. Soccer should be “making sure that we create more and more opportunities for kids to come into the game and for people to stay in the game.”
Carter cited “scholarship programs, education for parents and kids about the right path to be in this game, so that they aren’t chasing the dream and spending money, and spending money, and spending money, whether that’s on good programs or perhaps programs that don’t take them to their ultimate goal.”
Although Carter sees pay to play as “part of American sports in its totality” she told GotSoccer, “I think there are ways for kids to come in the system and more importantly to stay in the system.”
Asked about the Academy system Carter spoke of the role of the President of U.S. Soccer, saying that job requires “vision and leadership,” and “part of that is making sure that we have the right people around the table to have those conversations.”
The candidate “has had a lot of conversations with people in the game who have a variety of points of view about that and what I would say is, I don’t believe that I am the person to make those decisions, solely and individually.”
“I believe I’m the right person to put the smartest people in the room around technical development and athlete development from an elite level and make sure that we collaborate around the best way to make sure that players go through the system.”
With all the emphasis on the top levels of the game, Carter said unbidden, “if we don’t figure out a way to make sure that we empower the grassroots of this game and that there’s a base then we’ll leave kids out of the game.”
And then there is promotion and relegation or pro/rel. What does Carter think?
“I’m a fan of it. I like it as a fan,” Carter began before adding, “as it relates to the development of our game today, we’re not ready for it.” Paul Lapointe has proposed trying out pro/rel at the lower levels of the U.S. game and I asked Carter her opinion.
“Not today,” was the reply. Why not? “I think today we need stability in all of professional soccer.” “We need to make sure that we have stability much more than we need to institute, today, promotion and relegation.”
“That doesn’t mean,” Carter finished, “that someday down the line that it won’t be a time for that discussion but today is not the right day.”
Following her college soccer career as a goalkeeper for William and Mary, where Carter counted current USWNT coach Jill Ellis as a teammate, Carter went on to a successful marketing career.
Highlights include working on the 1994 U.S. World Cup committee.
Serving as VP of Corporate Marketing for MLS from 1996-99.
President of Soccer United Marketing (SUM)