by Paul Kennedy
The news from the public session of the U.S. Soccer board of directors' quarterly meeting on Saturday was just how little news there was to report.
Once again, the meeting was held virtually because of COVID-19 precautions. The public session was dominated by staff updates to the board, but one update was missing for the first time in recent memory from the agenda: a finance update.
At the June board meeting, Pinky Raina, U.S. Soccer's chief financial officer. presented to the board a look at U.S. Soccer's fiscal year 2020, which closed March 31 with was expected to be the worst deficit in the federation's history at $27.9 million.
The proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 called for an operating deficit of $27.5 million -- and that was approved a month before the pandemic hit. No updated projections for FY2021 were presented by Raina to the board in June, but changes included the shuttering of the Development Academy, which was projected to cost $12 million, and the layoff of about 50 employees.
It is not clear how the federation's financial picture has changed since then -- how most significantly it has been impacted on both the revenue and expense side by the lack of national team activity and how if at all the revenues from the two major commercial agreements with Nike and SUM have decreased.
Bur Raina said in June that, based on current projections, the federation's surplus at the end of its five-year plan, originally expected to decline from $123 million at the end of fiscal year 2020 to $50 million in 2023, was reduced to $42 million by February -- before the pandemic -- because of an unanticipated increase in 2020 losses due to rising outside legal costs and already down to $25 million as of June.
No national team activity. While all five U.S. pro leagues have resumed play and many local youth leagues are playing in some form -- U.S. Soccer president Cindy Cone said she had just come from her U-15 team's first game of the season -- there has been no national team activity since then, and there were little details offered about plans for the rest of the year. (As far as youth national teams, there was no mention at all of the four programs not previously shut down for the year.)
Kate Markgraf, the women's national team general manager, hopes to gather the women for a camp in the fall, but a majority of the 2019 U.S. Women's World Cup championship team has either moved to Europe or is skipping the NWSL Fall series. Markgraf outlined three domestic camps for 2021 in addition to the 2021 SheBelieves Cup Feb. 8-25 and a short training camp beginning at the end of June before the USA heads to Japan for the Olympics scheduled to be played July 21-Aug. 6.
On the men's side, the picture is even less clear. No activity has been announced for the two remaining fall windows, and men's national team general manager Brian McBride reviewed a 2021-22 calendar dominated by 2022 World Cup qualifying but whose 14 dates are all "TBC" because Concacaf has had to push back the start of the eight-team Octagonal because the preliminary round, scheduled to start in October, won't begin until March because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Part of the problem -- a major one actually -- is there aren't enough dates in the remaining FIFA windows to play the six games in the preliminary round and 14 games in the Octagonal before the end of international qualifying with the intercontinental playoffs in June 2021. Concacaf will have to negotiate additional windows with FIFA in order to secure four more playing dates. But as FIFA council member Sunil Gulati noted, Concacaf isn't the only confederation with scheduling issues.
The 2021 Annual General Meeting, originally scheduled for Atlanta Feb. 26-27, will be a largely virtual event. All council and committee meetings on Feb. 26 will held virtually. The National Council Meeting on Feb. 27 will be the only non-virtual aspect. Unless the federation gets a waiver from New York governance requirements, it plans on having the board of directors and at least one member of the four councils (pro, youth, adult and at-large) attend the meeting, likely to be held at a Chicago O'Hare Airport hotel.
The National Council Meeting will be highlighted by elections for president (to fill the remaining year of former president Carlos Cordeiro's term that began in 2018) and vice president (currently vacant). Cordeiro was elected vice president in 2016 and succeeded by Cone in 2019. Cone took over as president in March following Cordeiro's resignation.
The key date before then is Dec. 29, the deadline for candidates for president or vice president to submit their three declarations of support, member endorsements required of all candidates.
The board meeting also included, among other things, presentations on the employee-led Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, a nine-person group of full-time employees formed in June, and and the launch of the Jill Ellis Scholarship Fund and SheChampions Mentorship Program, designed to encourage more women to enter coaching.
And as a reminder that there is still a pandemic, Raina presented plans to get all staff back into U.S. Soccer House in Chicago -- in January 2021.