Since 1981, Paul Lapointe has had a hand on all phases of soccer. Player, coach, administrator, owner, you name it he’s been a part of it. He’s now in the process of going after the biggest position in American soccer on the biggest stage: seeking the presidency of the United States Soccer Federation. In the past decade, the only candidate who went after the position is current president Sunil Gulati. But with the outcry for change, the possibility (of this writing) of the U.S. men’s national team missing the Russia World Cup in 2018, and with hundreds of clubs demanding change in the way the game is operated in the U.S. the number of candidates have increased. If Gulati is elected this would be his last term according to Federation rules, but with the line up looking to gain his seat it may not even matter.
It’s not clear if Gulati will run for the office, but along with Lapointe, Steve Gans has considered running. Also Jerome de Bontin, John P. Motta, and Eric Wynalda have flirted with a presidential run.
The stage is setting up for a February 2018 vote that will determine the direction of American soccer and who will helm it.
Mr. Lapointe took time this week after a day of podcast and interviews among various soccer outlets. He makes it very clear from the start he wants to be as transparent as one can be on his viewpoints ranging from the women’s game to promotion/relegation in America to even futsal.
E.H: It’s exciting to see all the things happening behind the scenes in American soccer.
P.L.: “Well it is nice to have opportunity to refresh U.S. Soccer in all sectors.”
EH: That’s good to hear because I think from talking with my colleagues at American Soccer United, and folks closer to home, it is something we like to see happen.
Reading your background you’ve been involved with soccer for over 30 years! How much has changed in our view with the game in this country?
PL: “The opportunity for team owners, players, and all in between to aspire in soccer beyond their expectations. It seems the sport is closed for so many. I want to break through the castle walls for the U.S. soccer community.”
EH: You touched on how there are many owners out there with the dream of creating a club that can become great in the right system. Do you believe that by opening the current system in this country it will give clubs—both on the highest level to the lowest level—that opportunity to grow and function like other clubs around the world?
PL: “100 percent. A system from the top flight to the bottom that supports team owners with support to sustain long term is something we need moving forward.”
EH: I know you hear a lot in the soccer community regarding (wait for it) Promotion/Relegation.
There has been lots of debate about it (and I know I’ve found myself in the middle of it as well) but tell me how you can reach out to those who have doubts about opening the system and what is your basis that such a system like this can work in our nation?
PL: “UPSL, NASL, USL, NPSL, PDL would be open to Pro/Rel. Then, I think, the pressure would be on Major League Soccer (MLS) to move on the concept. I will fight to the end.”
EH: Could you give us a time table in regards to how soon the United States soccer community would institute promotion and relegation? Plus, how would you institute a consolidation of smaller clubs into a pyramid base setting?
PL: “The day after I am elected UPSL, NASL, USL all have expressed a positive feeling towards pro/rel. I will write and propose over the next few months all state USASA teams to UPSL, NPSL. Then UPSL, NPSL, PDL to USL and NASL. Then NASL, USL to MLS. It can be done.”
EH: Sounds like a Race to the Moon type of challenge to American soccer to make this work then.
PL: “When the moon is not in sight shoot for the stars.”
EH: I think of the late Casey Kasem of American top-40 fame who said “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”
PL: “Well we have to start somewhere. And stage one, as I stated, will start under MLS then chip away until we have worked out all the kinks.”
EH: A question from my colleague. Chris Kessell wants to know do you envision the United States growing a club system for Futsal and possibly sending a team—male of female—to a Futsal World Cup? (Note: At one point I remembered seeing an American futsal team playing against teams like Brazil and other nations, but it was on YouTube channel and not ESPN or some public venue.)
PL: “Our U.S. Futsal team is under funded. We can compete. Just as our outdoor team we have not secured the best talent pool that is offered here in the US. Futsal needs more attention and I will give it. We have a national team, but the USSF does not sanction the sport here.”
EH: You’ve spoken of the importance of the women’s national team and women’s soccer in America having their own U.S. Open Tournament under your leadership. If you don’t mind me going further about the women’s team, do you envision the women’s game having a similar pyramid style with clubs of their own? What about equal pay? And of course where do you want the USWNT to grow?
PL: “I spoke of women’s soccer having the same pro/rel as the men. Yes. I am 100 percent for an Open Cup for women. With a $100 million surplus. I think we should take care of our women’s team as we do the men.”
EH: And speaking of the US Open Cup, this years tourney was one for the record books! Lots of great clubs involved! Great “David vs. Goliath” matches! And you had FC Cincinnati setting attendance records and beating MLS clubs as if they were Derby!
(ESPN’s) Taylor Tillman made mention at one of the FCC matches they should pad the prize money, take care of travel for all clubs– no matter the size—and give this tourney the coverage and prestige this deserves? Do you share Taylor’s suggestions and would you even do more than even he suggested?
PL: “I know the men’s income levels are higher than the women’s, but we should support both teams equally since the USSF picked them to represent the USA. I spoke of more of TV coverage for the Open Cup and I fully agree to support travel and misc. expenses. A revised look at program will be needed to move that suggestion forward.”
EH: Let’s touch on something that happened just recently: NASL losing its Division 2 status. Do you think the way USSF handled the NASL/USL matter and do you think they should just scrap the divisions altogether?
PL: “I gave my input on NASL decision. I would have given the NASL an extension. The NASL has been around for decades and effect a large market share of soccer. I am sure their law their lawsuit to the USSF did not help their case (this was in reference to the joint filing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport by NPSL owner of Kingston Stockade FC Dennis Crowley and Riccardo Silva, owner of Miami FC against the USSF).”
EH: So this week, Steve Gaws threw his ring in the hat to go for the USSF president. I’ve hard names such as Jerome de Bontin, John P. Motta, and even Eric Wynalda thrown around as possible candidates. This is a diverse group going for the position. If for any reason you don’t win the position which person would you support to be the next president?
PL: “Wynalda and Motta, I believe, share the same passion for development. We would make a great team. Gans (I think) is more concerned about the business of soccer and claims to be connected to higher archive with (Sunil) Gulati.”
EH: Would you consider (if elected) to have a fan/supporters’ summit where you can talk with fans and be as transparent as possible about their concerns and where you’d like to take the sport in the future?
PL: “All 50 plus states if that is what it takes!”
EH: Once the US is on the same par as the rest of the world—with an open system, Pro/Rel, a Pyramid system, etc.– with the groundwork to grow the game where do you see our nation in say 10-15 years? What is your vision once these steps are in place?
PL: “Through the next 10-15 years with an open system in place our nation will develop true soccer stars out of both men’s and women’s programs. We will compete for a World Cup and the demand for the American players here and abroad will increase to levels we have never experienced. My vision will be realized when the full support of this new system is in place and we can get everything in action.”
EH: I got to tell you one of my dreams is to hear three little words come to life here in American soccer: American Premier League.
PL: “I like APL…let’s work on that!”
EH: Don’t get me wrong, I love waking up to (NBCSN) Rebbecca Lowe like the next person, but it would be nice to get a worldwide audience looking at American soccer the same way we look at the British Premiere League.
EH: I won’t keep you much further. I know you have a lot on the table for people to read and hopefully understand where you are coming from.
PL: “Soccer is a gift. Time to un-wrap it here in the USA.”
EH: Well from my experience, if you haven’t been to places like Detroit City FC and watched a match there I can tell you it is an experience you will not forget. The passion is there and there are people can get behind this sport—both in Detroit and in our nation.
PL: “Detroit City FC is a perfect example of a club that if it had the opportunity to be promoted and would prove that the open system can work.”
EH: Thanks for this interview and much success in your run!
PL: “I am humbled and honored you took the time for me. I run for the American soccer community.”
Coming away from this discussion there’s a lot of things which is hopeful for the future of the game in America. There are also many questions raised regarding the approach Lapointe wants to established if elected. Will owners and American soccer leaders embrace the adaption of the way the world conducts soccer business? Will communities and regions fall in line with a more developmental approach to youth training? What will the leagues look like if new leadership and new approaches are in place? And can American soccer succeed with an open system like the rest of the world?
The next few months will give us a glimpse to each of the potential candidates visions for the next century. What the final outcome of the vote for the USSF presidency will send shock waves in every corner of the nation and determine if it is business as usual or a new phrase of the game.