Philadelphia, Pa. – The Presidential Candidates Forum hosted by US Youth Soccer was the undoubted centerpiece of the just completed United States Coaches Convention but it was hardly the only attraction when much of the American soccer community converged on the City of Brotherly Love this past weekend.
No, not by a long shot. First we had the yearly talent auctions, the National Women’s Soccer League College Draft on Thursday, followed on Friday by the MLS SuperDraft. Both drafts drew large crowds of supporters, league officials, and press, but with a full roster of events taking place throughout the Convention, there were choices to be made.
Among the speakers on offer were Bruce Arena, Sunil Gulati, and seven of the eight candidates for U.S. Soccer President in one on one settings. Then, there was the usual array of educational meetings and demonstrations as well as a convention floor packed with vendors from all areas of the soccer world, including of course GotSoccer.
Led by CEO Gavin Owen-Thomas, GotSoccer staffers met clients old and new at the centrally located GotSoccer booth in between educational sessions provided by GotSoccer’s talented staff.
The highly anticipated annual GotSoccer party was a smash hit once again, with host Owen-Thomas saying a big thank you to GotSoccer clients at a festive and jam packed Hard Rock Cafe.
With so much going on there was no way to take it all, but here are a few highlights.
SuperDraft 2018 began with Save the Crew chants threatening to drown out MLS Commissioner Don Garber as he announced Joao Moutinho as the number one pick in the draft by the Los Angeles Football Club and reached a soccer highpoint when the hometown Philadelphia Union defied its own tightfisted image by sending $1.3 million in combined allocation money to the Chicago Fire in exchange for winger David Accam.
The days emotional peak came early when Francis Atuahene stood behind the podium after FC Dallas selected had him with the fourth pick of the SuperDraft following a trade with the Montreal Impact. The 21 year winger is the latest player to come to MLS through the Right to Dream Academy, following the same path to MLS as last year’s number one pick Abu Danladi of Minnesota United FC.
Atuahene began his remarks by thanking his grandmother and mother “back in Ghana” and his American family, his High School and the University of Michigan, among others before saying this. “I believe that everyone has a right to dream but unfortunately where I come from only a few have had that chance to realize that dream and I am glad to use my status as a professional player and more importantly my education to make a difference in the lives of people around me as well as my community back in Ghana.”
Atuahene had the audience in the palm of his hands when he added, “the Right to Dream Academy did it for me and now it is my turn to do it for others.”
But back to soccer. In a deal completed after the SuperDraft Atlanta United FC continued on its mission to shake up MLS paying out a league record shattering $15 million transfer fee to bring Ezequiel Barco to MLS. Just 18 years old the Argentine midfielder can play centrally or out wide for Tata Martino’s side but more importantly this signing again underlines the second year side’s ambition, and dares the rest of the league to match it.
A strange SuperDraft anomaly came about with a run on goalkeepers that saw New York City FC, the Houston Dynamo, and the Columbus Crew select Jeff Caldwell, Virginia, Michael Nelson, SMU, and Ben Lundgaard, Virginia Tech, with the 19, 20, 21 picks respectively.
The run on lanky glovemen came after Sporting KC made Butler’s Eric Dick the first netminder selected with the 13th pick of the SuperDraft.
One day prior to the MLS SuperDraft the more modestly monikered NWSL College Draft had the spotlight and while it was no surprise that Andi Sullivan, of Stanford and the USWNT was selected first by the Washington Spirit the Draft did not lack for drama and as in the MLS SuperDraft, it was a trade that stole the headlines.
And why not, with Carli Lloyd at the center of the biggest trade in league history. Lloyd, the two time World Player of the Year, wanted to return to her Jersey roots and while Sky Blue FC had to be happy to bring her home the team payed a steep price in surrendering Australian goal scoring ace Sam Kerr, who ends up with the Chicago Stars while Lloyd’s fellow USWNT star Christen Press lands in Houston from Chicago as part of the deal.
While not naming names Paul RIley, the coach of the Carolina Courage, seemed to be referencing the big trade when he expressed disappointment to a small clutch of reporters, including GotSoccer, that “players are starting to push, and make decisions for teams, and I don’t like that.”
“The players,” Reilly continued, “should play wherever they are, whatever uniform they put on.” Reilly concedes that there can come a time when a player needs “a change of coach, or a change of atmosphere” but he says “this, I’m from this area, or that area, I need to go home is tough for me.”
“I’d love to coach on Long Island,” Reilly continued, “but the reality is there’s no team in Long Island, so I’m ok with going to North Carolina or Buffalo, wherever it is.” “I think,” Reilly said, “they need to be a little bit more professional,” before noting, “in the men’s game they don’t get to pick where they play, do they?”
Prior to Saturday’s Forum seven of the eight candidates to succeed Sunil Gulati at the battered helm of U.S. Soccer addressed conventioneers, with only Carlos Cordeiro opting to keep his powder dry for the USYS session.
All of the candidates acquitted themselves well as J.P. Dellacamera presented three preselected questions and as many ”wildcard” queries as time allowed, along with opening and closing remarks. The format had been changed to a forum from the previously announced debate, with USYS feeling that eight candidates would make for an unwieldy debate.
A reasonable contention, although one candidate later lamented the change, telling GotSoccer that distinctions could have been better drawn in the original format. As it was GotSoccer felt that no candidate separated him or herself from the pack, leading to a hectic few weeks ahead of the February 11th election at the USSF AGM in Orlando.