Ranking the 50 most powerful people in U.S. soccer
It's Power Week at Sports Illustrated, where we're naming our most powerful figures in the world of sports. I already listed my 10 most powerful people in world soccer, and it got me to thinking about what a list would look like if we only limited it to soccer in the United States.
Granted, we're talking about a much smaller (albeit growing) pie, so I decided to have some fun and make a list of my top 50. Keep in mind a few things:
• I'm not including American Premier League owners or U.S.-based World Cup sponsors, since this list is mainly about involvement in the U.S. soccer realm.
• You're going to disagree with some (all?) of my choices. That's fine -- and part of the fun. I'm sure I'll receive some annoyed calls/e-mails from readers (and people on this list, for that matter). Bring it.
• By my definition here, "power" isn't just about how much financial clout or star power you have, though I've taken those elements into account (especially when ranking active players relative to each other). Some of the people below are instantly recognizable. Others could walk down the street unnoticed. Let's dive in, from 1 to 50:
As with any sport, TV money is where the greatest power lies. The list of U.S. networks investing in soccer is growing all the time and now includes ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC/Telemundo, Univision and BeIN Sport, among others. The change compared to 10 or 15 years ago is astonishing.
The best example that wealth doesn't necessarily equal power, the Columbia economics lecturer isn't paid a dime by U.S. Soccer, but he has amassed a tremendous amount of influence atop U.S. Soccer (where nobody ever runs against him), in CONCACAF and, if all goes according to his plan in April, as an elected member of the FIFA executive committee. Gulati has received criticism for U.S. Soccer's support of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, but that support has also allowed Gulati to try and work within the system of FIFA, where he's a member of multiple committees, including the one in charge of reform.
"What have you achieved?" That's the main standard for someone in Garber's position, and by any measure his tenure as commissioner since 1999 has been a success. Garber stabilized MLS early on, has added owners and stadiums and now has the league positioned to take more steps forward. Will MLS fulfill his goal and become one of the world's top leagues by 2022? That's a tall order, but the fact that many believe it can happen is a credit to Garber.
The swoosh has been the main sponsor for U.S. Soccer for years, as well as providing personal endorsements for many of the top U.S. players.
Long the standard-bearer in global soccer apparel, Adidas has sunk a ton of money into MLS, becoming the league's official uniform supplier in a long-term contract.
Anschutz saved MLS by owning six teams at one point a decade ago, and his right-hand man, Leiweke, has landed David Beckham and Robbie Keane for AEG's L.A. Galaxy. Whenever AEG is sold (it's on the market), Leiweke is likely to stay in his position.
The German World Cup winner is now the shaper of the men's team's progress and promises the next level, but success is by no means guaranteed. Everything comes down to how Klinsmann's Americans perform at World Cup 2014.
Flynn has turned a money-starved U.S. Soccer Federation into one that is well in the black. That's no small thing.
Let's be honest: the 23-year-old Morgan has everything it takes (on the field and off) to become the next Mia Hamm. Just one example of her appeal: Morgan has in excess of a million Twitter followers, more than any U.S. soccer player, male or female.
FIFA's new top cop is the New York City-based Garcia, whose ranking next year will be determined by how successful he is at investigating the unsavory elements of world soccer.
Seattle is the runaway start-up success in any American sport over the past decade, averaging more than 43,000 fans at home games last year. Much of the credit goes to Roth and Hanauer for what they've built.
Ivan Gazidis's old MLS deputy commissioner role was divided into two jobs a while back. Durbin is in charge of negotiating all player contracts and relations with the MLS players union. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is responsible for all MLS on-field competition and technical matters.
In addition to being the top women's goalkeeper in the world, Solo has been a mainstream success popularity-wise, writing a New York Times Best-Selling memoir and gaining new levels of recognition on Dancing with the Stars.
The MLS player who has won the game's most respected trophies, Henry also carries a lot of influence over the direction of the team. When Red Bull named Gérard Houllier its global soccer director, Henry told his former coach that changes needed to be made in New York. Sure enough, they were.
You wouldn't recognize them if you saw them, but the Hillsborough, N.C.-based brothers have turned Eurosport into the world's largest soccer retailer -- and the owner of the dynamite domain name Soccer.com. The sway they have with giants like Nike and Adidas is jaw-dropping.
Hard-nosed negotiators both, the Washington-based Levinstein (U.S. men) and Philadelphia-based Langel (U.S. women) have gotten good deals for the players from U.S. Soccer over the years. Langel is currently negotiating a new CBA for the U.S. women.
The energy drink maker has sunk a lot of money into the $200 million Red Bull Arena and the team that plays in it. But will the club be able to achieve its goal of being the preeminent soccer outfit in North America? It would help to win their first competitive trophy sometime.
The MLS Players Union has a tough gig when it comes to negotiating against single-entity MLS, but Foose won some important concessions in the last CBA while averting a work stoppage in 2010. How Foose manages the next CBA negotiations before the 2015 season will determine if the players get some of the things they want, like more guaranteed contracts.
Power comes in part from testing how much you wield, and Dempsey sure demonstrated it last year by forcing a transfer from Fulham to Tottenham Hotspur. His 2011-12 season with Fulham remains the finest by a U.S. national team player ever in Europe.
The all-time leading U.S. scorer has dropped a few spots as his national-team performance and hunger for the game have slipped the last couple years, but Donovan is still an important figure in the domestic game. He's also willing to test the limits of his power, as is the case during his recent self-imposed sabbatical from soccer.
The new pair in charge of CONCACAF, president Jeffrey Webb and general secretary Enrique Sanz, derive most of their power from organizing the CONCACAF Gold Cup and representing the region at the highest levels of FIFA. How they improve CONCACAF's reputation will be important. They have already initiated the move of the confederation office from New York to Miami.
The reigning women's world player of the year is about to break Mia Hamm's all-time record for international goals (158), and she says she plans to continue playing at least through World Cup 2015.
Young owners who live and die with their MLS teams, Heineman and Paulson are the faces of MLS 2.0 and the league's answers to Mark Cuban. If only every league owner cared as much.
Part of the brains behind the formation of MLS and the single-entity model, Abbott is still responsible for much of the planning and execution in the league's growth.
One of the two big soccer agent firms in the U.S., Wasserman is led by Richard Motzkin on the men's side and Dan Levy on the women's side. U.S. clients include Alex Morgan, Landon Donovan, Hope Solo, Abby Wambach and Tim Howard.
Led by former player Lyle Yorks, JGS represents many of the top U.S. players, including Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra and Eddie Johnson.
The greatest coach in U.S. soccer history is back at the top of his game, having won the MLS Cup the last two years. Plus, if U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann starts to really struggle in World Cup qualifying, you can bet Arena will be the choice of many fans who'd like to replace the German.
Even though Beckham is no longer an MLS player, he says he's committed to exercising his option to become an MLS owner someday. It was a smart move by the league to offer that to Becks, ensuring that he would be committed to growing the league.
This group includes the Krafts (New England), the Hunts (Columbus and Dallas) and Jorge Vergara (Chivas USA). All three groups are tremendously wealthy and have the capability of caring more about their floundering MLS teams. But will they exercise that capability? A league is only as good as its lowest-performing markets, particularly in single-entity MLS.
MLS has a long way to go to reach its goal of being one of the world's top soccer leagues, and the league's owners will have to stay committed to the skyrocketing growth necessary to achieve that status.
Unfortunately for Sermanni, this is another spot where a person's power is greater than his salary. Fortunately for Sermanni, he has the best coaching job in women's soccer -- and the chance to shape the U.S. women's program for years to come (as long as he wins).
The U.S.'s lone member of the FIFA executive committee going back to 1996, Blazer is about to leave his post, otherwise he would have been a lot higher on this list. That said, he still knows where a lot of FIFA's bodies are buried.
The former USA Today editor runs the major charitable arm of soccer in the U.S., which has awarded more than $59 million to support soccer organizations and field-building initiatives nationwide.
One of the big stories in MLS last year, the Disciplinary Committee (composed of five figures whose identities are unknown) has the power to issue retro-suspensions for acts not seen by the referee in games. The idea is to clean up MLS games, but some players and teams think the committee went overboard last year.
MLS owners have lost a lot of money over the years, but one initiative that has been profitable is SUM, which Carter has run with impressive success.
The most famous American soccer player of all time spends most of her energy these days raising her family with husband Nomar Garciaparra, but the star power is still there. When Hamm attended the recent Soccer Night in Newtown, she had the longest autograph line of any soccer figure there. She also still has a building on the Nike campus named after her.
The recently hired commissioner of the U.S.'s second-tier pro men's league has added teams, including the intriguing return of the New York Cosmos to on-field play later this year.
The best story involving a U.S. soccer figure this year may not be taking place in America. At a time when Egypt is going through turmoil, if Bradley can lead the Pharaohs to their first World Cup since 1990 he'll be national hero there.
The boss of U.S. soccer's third-tier men's pro league helped broker a long-term partnership with MLS that should be good for both leagues.
Improving the officiating in the U.S. and Canada is paramount, and Walton is the Brit who was recruited to make it happen.
Recently departed from D.C. United, Payne is trying to turn things around in Toronto, in addition to serving as the technical committee chair for U.S. Soccer and vice-chair of the U.S. Soccer Foundation.
A star on the rise, Canetti has put together a successful operation in Houston while spearheading other important projects, including the recent Soccer Night in Newtown.
The former MetroStars GM has built close ties to some of the biggest names in world soccer (coaches, players and executives) as the result of creating and organizing the World Football Challenge for European SuperClubs in their preseasons.
Better youth development is the key to U.S. Soccer's eventual improvement on the world stage, and Lepore is the guy spotting talent for the (still relatively new) U.S. Development Academy.
Longtime coaches, Heinrichs and Ellis are in charge of making sure the U.S. women's program produces not just athletes but technically skilled players for years to come.
The former U.S. star player put together a curriculum for youth coaches around the country in an effort to improve U.S. youth development.
College soccer still matters, and rather than single out any coaches here, I'll mention them all in one fell swoop.
The former World Cup team member and five-time MLS champion is now part of the braintrust behind improving the quality of play in MLS. Agoos is also an athlete rep on the U.S. Soccer board of directors.
The former U.S. women's national team general manager has the big task of making the new U.S. women's pro league viable in a way that its two predecessors were not.
Hizzoner may be leaving office before long, but he has put a Queens MLS stadium on his short list of legacy projects that he's supporting.