Don Garber is a king and a king maker. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
If there were any doubts by anyone before Monday, there should be none at all now.
Don Garber is the most powerful man in American soccer.
Again, the Major League Soccer commissioner demonstrated his power with the selection of William Wilson as U.S. Soccer’s new CEO and secretary general, announced on Monday evening.
And he has proven you don’t have to have a position within the U.S Soccer Federation to wield such power.
Wilson, 52, has worked with Garber before, in the league and with Soccer United Marketing. And they were across the pound in different capacities with NFL Europe almost a generation ago. From 2008-12, he served as executive vice president of international business and special events for MLS and SUM from 2008-12. Garber is the CEO of SUM, the marketing division of MLS and U.S. Soccer.
After Wilson’s appointment was announced, MLS offered this statement from Garber:
“I have known Will Wilson for quite some time. He is highly respected throughout the sports business industry and is the right person at the right time to help guide U.S. Soccer. I have confidence that he will be a collaborative and thoughtful leader and a great partner with new U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone, as the federation manages through a multitude of crucial issues and opportunities.”
Wilson’s appointment certainly will raise eyes among many U.S. soccer observers, who might claim there is too much of a cozy relationship between MLS, SUM and U.S. Soccer.
In 2018, Garber flexed his political muscles during the presidential election in Orlando. He led the Pro Council, which had about 25 percent of the vote.
This is what transpired at the election:
The Pro Council had backed SUM president Kathy Carter on the first two ballots. The Athletes, as mandated by federal law about sports’ national governing bodies, had 20 percent.
The Adult and Youth Councils have about 25 percent of the vote each.
Why so did the Pros and Athletes enjoy so much clout?
Because they have did not have to convince many members to vote as a bloc. When you can move a sizable number of votes around without turning individuals off or creating internal controversy, that makes you a powerful force in an election. That made Garber even stronger, only having to convince the National Women’s Soccer League and United Soccer League.
On Friday night, the Athletes decided to throw their support to Carlos Cordeiro, then the USSF vice president (Cordiero recently resigned as president). Former U.S. international Stuart Holden, a member of the Athlete Council and a FOX Sports commentator, said the membership’s final three choices were Kyle Martino, Carter and Cordeiro.
About 15 of the 20-member Athlete Council showed up at the USSF Annual General Meeting. It certainly was easier to find a consensus or convince that number to vote as a bloc than dozens if not more than 100.
While the Adults and Youth have substantial voting power, they are divided in 110 state associations — 55 in each category (some states have two associations, such as New York, California and Texas). So, getting all 55 states in one council on the same page backing one candidate is much more difficult, if not impossible.
After the first ballot, Cordeiro (36.3 percent) led Carter (34.6) by 1.7 percentage points, while the “Gang of six” change candidates garnered 29.1 of the vote, led by Eric Wynalda (1.37).
After the second ballot, Cordeiro started picking up some steam (41.8) as Carter slipped to 33.3. The “Gang of six” fell to 24.9 (as Wynalda, the leader of that pack dropped to 10.8).
So, after that ballot Garber made a decision that decided the election. He swung his league’s votes from Carter to Cordeiro as did the National Women’s Soccer League and United Soccer League.
The final tally on the third ballot: Cordeiro (68.6), Carter (10.6), Martino (10.6), Wynalda (8.9) and Hope Solo (1.4).
Garber might not have gotten his SUM candidate elected in 2018, but he has a former SUM official with one of the most vital, if not most prominent role in U.S. Soccer in 2020. The CEO and secretary general runs the day-to-day operations of the federation.
Not only is Don Garber is a king, but he is a king maker as well.
You can’t say that about too many people on this planet.
Whether you agree with him or like him, there is a reason why he is called The SoccerDon.