With himself and his club at the center of a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) over anti-trust laws, New York Cosmos principal owner Rocco B. Commisso, who also servers as the chairman of the NASL’s Board of Governors, has called for the federation to undergo sweeping changes after the U.S. national team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The USA fell to a 2-1 loss on the road against Trinidad & Tobago which, coupled with wins for both Panama and Honduras, saw Bruce Arena’s side fall short of reaching the sport’s seminal event next summer.
While Arena has shouldered his share of the blame for the team’s failure, Commisso believes that the issues that lead to the USA’s elimination from World Cup contention falls at the feet of those even higher up the chain, starting with USSF president Sunil Gulati.
“The real causes of last night’s debacle, however, weren’t actually present on the field or on the sidelines in Trinidad,” Commisso said as part of a sweeping statement issued by the Cosmos. “Instead, the result was a byproduct of larger, systemic problems within the sport in our country.
“The blame must be placed squarely at the feet of U.S. Soccer’s management, led by Sunil Gulati. The first step in ensuring that American soccer consistently performs at a level that spares all of us the kind of negative emotions generated by our National Team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup is for Mr. Gulati to resign. It is his only honorable path forward. The USSF Board members and senior management personnel appointed or nominated by Mr. Gulati should follow him out the door.
“While I’m disheartened by the result of the game, I’m not surprised. Going back to the first New York Cosmos Media Day after I assumed control of the club earlier this year, I have consistently expressed my dissatisfaction with the efforts put forth by the USSF.
“As a passionate soccer fan and team owner, I wish that the outcome against Trinidad and Tobago had proven me wrong. Regrettably, the team’s performance along the road to the World Cup in Russia did just the opposite.”
Commisso believes the changes are needed if the USA is ever to compete at the highest level of the game, claiming Gulati’s time in charge has done nothing to advance the competitive outlook for the national team.
“When it comes to men’s soccer, the U.S. has never come close to achieving international prominence, as it should, given our country’s size, resources and huge pool of athletic talent,” the statement read. “We produce the best baseball, basketball and football players in the world, but in the case of soccer the reverse is true.
“In the almost 12 years during which Sunil Gulati has been the USSF’s President, little or nothing has been done to enhance our prospects, despite the vast resources and power that he commands as chief executive of the sport’s governing body.
“Frankly, the leadership of U.S. Soccer has failed all of its stakeholders: players, fans, sponsors and those of us who have invested in professional soccer. Getting back on track requires fundamental change in the structure and management of the sport in our country, starting with a change in the Federation’s leadership. I pledge my personal support and that of the NY Cosmos to the task of bringing about the necessary reforms.”
In September, NASL filed a federal lawsuit against the USSF just two weeks after the USSF denied the NASL’s application for second-division status for 2018, which could jeopardize the league’s future. The United Soccer League has overtaken the NASL as the second division behind Major League Soccer.
At the time, Commisso said that the federation left NASL with no choice but to file suit.
“The NASL has taken this step to protect not just the league, but also the game, fans, and everyone with a stake in the future success of professional soccer leagues based in this country,” he said.
The complaint alleges that the USSF has selectively applied and waived its divisional criteria to suppress competition from the NASL, both against MLS and against the USL. An example provided by the NASL states: “Under the USSF’s divisional criteria, there are European clubs that have successfully operated for decades that would be considered ineligible for ‘Division I’ or even ‘Division II’ status due to arbitrary requirements like stadium capacity and market size.”
The complaint also alleges that the USSF sought to limit competition from the NASL to MLS and USL, and now seeks to destroy the NASL by arbitrarily revoking the Division II status for the upcoming season. According to the release, the complaint only seeks injunctive relief against the USSF’s conduct regarding its divisional designations.