Share Your Thoughts

 Picture Associated Press via NYT

Reigning Women’s World Cup champs Japan were swept aside with jaw-dropping power, ease – and intelligence by the US soccer team in the world cup finals on July fourth weekend this year. Japan were bracing for aerial bombardment when Megan Rapinoe stepped up to those early corner kicks – and instead they got Trojan Horse-d, with the US craftily carving them open – not once, but twice in a row – with low near-post service and well-choreographed movement reported mlssoccer.

The defending champs weren’t out-fought. They were out-thought said mlssoccer.

The Women’s World Cup began June 6 across six different cities in Canada, and ended with the final in Vancouver on July 5. The U.S. hadn’t won the tournament since 1999, though it came close in 2011when US lost a heartbreaker to Japan in penalty kicks. The Americans, ranked No. 2 in the world behind Germany, and were expected to make it to the championship match though they did have the toughest group to start with games against Australia, Sweden and Nigeria.

The Win spoke with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati ahead of the World Cup about Team USA’s chances. “This team has always set very high bench marks for itself and very high goals, so certainly the goal for this summer is to be on the winner’s stand in Vancouver,” he had said and now Gulati is beaming ear to ear as the US  team stood tall last night.

Born in Allahabad, India, to a family that emigrated to the US when he was five, Gulati’s connection to the game runs back to his own childhood, and his involvement in the executive side of it goes back nearly as far.

He was a coach, referee and a player as a kid, and says he got involved in the administration side of soccer simply because he and his friends wanted to play, and there was no team in their age group. By the time he was 21 he was an assistant coach with an elite-level youth team in Connecticut, and he was an administrator for the program at 22.

Gulati was politically savvy and patient. And persistent. When Alan Rothenberg was elected as the new president of the USSF, he was advised to promptly clear house from Fricker’s administration. Gulati was subsequently axed as the chair of the national-team committee. But he wasn’t going to go quietly, and he beseeched Rothenberg to keep him on board.

“Frankly, because I had no alternative person in mind, I acceded to his plea,” Rothenberg tells in an e-mail, “which is the best decision I ever made in my soccer life as he became sooo instrumental in all the successes we have achieved in soccer in the US since then … and he has become a wonderful and dear friend.”

Gulati was the Deputy Commissioner of Major League Soccer during the league’s early days (pictured here in 1996). He says the relationship between MLS and US Soccer is unique in the world of soccer, and the two sides “don’t have the sorts of conflicts you see between leagues and federations.” (Getty Images )

And as the sport continued to grow, Gulati remained a willing servant to the game, even while continuing his career in economics, having earned his master’s degree from Columbia University and joined the World Bank.

“As long as I’ve been around soccer, he’s been there in one form or another, especially with the national team,” says USMNT legend and current ESPN broadcaster Alexi Lalas. “I can remember driving with him [in 1995] from a relegation playoff game in Italy to Milan and then on to Heathrow, and on to Boston and then to Foxboro Stadium, him watching us [Padova] stay up in Serie A and literally the next day being in Foxborough for a national team game [against Nigeria]. It was a crazy 24-hour trip with him.

“He was there to make sure that my passage was secure, and he completed his task.”

Gulati became a fulltime soccer executive with MLS, serving as the league’s deputy commissioner from its inception until 1999, when he joined the New England Revolution front office. Meanwhile, he ascended to U.S. Soccer’s executive vice president post a year later and won election to the presidency in 2006, successfully seeking re-election in 2010. The post is not paid; Gulati also works fulltime as an economics professor at Columbia, where his courses are routinely among the university’s most popular.

To be sure, Gulati has presided over a period of dramatic progress and stabilization for the federation, by any measure imaginable. The shoestring organization now boasts a healthy balance sheet with thriving commercial partnerships, ambitious goals and more than $50 million in net assets reported mlssoccer.

That financial health has enabled the USSF to provide impeccable amenities for its national teams, invest millions in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy; bolster the women’s game with the founding and underwriting of a new professional competition, the National Women’s Soccer League; and in one of Gulati’s biggest gambits, hire the highest-paid, highest-profile coach in USMNT history, Jurgen Klinsmann.

“The federation is in much better shape today than it was years ago,” says MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who also sits on the USSF Board of Directors. “It’s in better shape financially, strategically. It’s far more organized and professionally run.

“He’s smart, he’s fair, he’s committed to the game and always can be counted on to do the right thing.”

The winning team put the cherry on the sparkly weekend’s top.”It’s a competition against the world. We’ll continue to make those sorts of investments and make changes where necessary and try to stay at the leadership of the game,” Gulati had promised.

Vandana Kumar

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...