Life

Back From the US Soccer Annual General Meeting in Arizona

Well! I touched back down in Seattle yesterday morning, fresh off a week in Arizona. The trip started off a bit conspicuously; for those of you who don’t keep up with weather patterns across the country, Seattle was in the midst of a once-in-a-generation snow storm.

Seriously, I hadn’t seen that much snow in about 15 years. In fact, I’m not sure it’s snowed that much in the last four or five years combined. Either way, I barely made it out of Seattle last Monday; standby travel is always a bit of a gamble. Ironically however, the awful weather made it easier to get a seat, since I assume the conditions made it so people were unable to make it to the airport. So, hooray for blizzards?

Walking to catch the bus in this weather…not fun.

I touched down in Arizona in the late afternoon on Monday, and the sun and mild (for the Southwest) temperatures was like an oasis in the proverbial desert. Though I guess Arizona is mostly desert in fact, but I certainly wasn’t complaining about the drastic change in conditions. Seriously, I felt like Nicholas Cage’s character in Con Air, when he gets his first taste of sun outside the jail.

There are worse ways to spend an afternoon. Especially in the middle of February.

The USSF AGM wasn’t until Thursday and in a bit of serendipity, the Seattle Sounders were holding their second phase of preseason training in Tucson, taking on the Portland Timbers on Wednesday. So after a day of enjoying the Sun (and cigar bars) in Scottsdale, it was a road trip a couple of hours to the Southeast.

The Sounders game against Portland was a fairly entertaining encounter; Coach Brian Schmetzer’s side was all reserves, but they more than held their own. For those who aren’t familiar with the Sounders’ academy system, Garth Lagerwey and the Front Office have invested millions of dollars improving the talent, and some of the players are starting to make an impact. It’ll be interesting to see if any are able to push through to the first team this year, but I think it’ll be sooner rather than later.

Anyway, finally we got around to Thursday, and the start of the AGM. Actually, not much of anything happened, as the conference proper didn’t start until Friday. But I was able to walk around and get a feel for the surroundings, and meet a couple of folks I had interacted with online.

Was great to be able to chat with Paul Kennedy of Soccer America. Fellow Richmond Spider alumnus.

This was my first AGM meeting. While I’d been to conferences similar to this, it was certainly a unique experience, especially as a media member. Interestingly, most people were quite friendly and happy to chat about what they thought about the Federation (good and bad). Most of the concerns of the individual associations (Youth, Adult) were “local” issues; one complaint I heard repeatedly centered around the fees they pay to the Federation. This is basically an annual complaint; last year there was an attempt to lower or waive the fee, but as with this year, it went nowhere.

Since there wasn’t much going on Thursday, I was able to record a Periscope just talking about the first day, as well as discussing the news that broke last week on the shenanigans that the LA Galaxy are trying to pull to keep Gio Dos Santos on their roster. It’s quite fascinating (and annoying if you’re a fan of literally every other MLS team), so give it a watch.

As the events moved into Friday, things really got interesting. First, I should compliment the Federation for granting access with almost no restrictions. I was able to go into any of the meeting I wanted to, and the only thing they didn’t allow was live streaming. But I was allowed to record to my hearts content, which provided the basis for my Athletic story on the event.

The once criticism I’d have (and this is as a media member) was that the schedule made it so it was impossible to attend some of the events, as they overlapped significantly. This is a minor complaint, as I know you can’t spread out each event, or the conference would take a week. Still, it was a bit unfortunate.

The Friday schedule of events.

In the morning, I ended up attending the US Board of Directors meeting, and in the afternoon, I picked the Athletes’ Council session. I definitely picked the right meetings. The Board meeting wasn’t particularly “newsy,” but it was nonetheless informative in a “behind the scenes” kind of way. As with most of the meetings, media was kicked out when they went in “executive session,” meaning they were discussing sensitive information.

US Soccer Board of Directors.

The Athletes’ Council was certainly the most interesting for me. There were presentations by US Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro and CEO Dan Flynn, among others. The presentation

s were basically unfiltered and very enlightening. I encourage you to read the Athletic article (or better yet, go subscribe!) for all of the details. Amusingly, I was outed as “the Tweeter” during one of the presentations, as I was basically live-tweeting the presentation. I may have to go underground in the future, in order to protect my identity.

The Athletes’ Council listening to a presentation from USSF President Carlos Cordeiro.

One thing that didn’t make it into the Athletic story–which I’m hoping to write a feature on–was the USSF presentation on the Federation’s efforts with Safe Sport, which combats abuse in youth soccer. The presentation from the Federation on what they’re dealing with was harrowing, and based on the reaction it got, it’s something they’re going to be struggling with for a while. However, I got the sense that the Federation is taking things seriously, as they should.

This basically concluded the Friday night events for me, and I was able to catch up with a few of the other soccer media luminaries who had attended the event. Unfortunately, attendance was sparse this year, as there was not an election to appoint a new federation president. However, a few of us were able meet up and chat about all things soccer in the US. We actually ended up recording a 2 hour podcast in the hotel bar, where we received no shortage of quizzical looks. But it was a fun time, and great to meet people who I had previously interacted with via social media.

Saturday brought an end to the conference, and I ended up bailing out of the National Council Meeting to head back down to Tucson, to watch the Seattle take on FC Dallas in the last game of the Arizona phase of preseason for the Sounders. Honestly, I should have attended the NCM, as the Sounders were extremely flat, and I’d have likely got more excitement watching Cordeiro and Flynn answer questions. There really wasn’t anything to take away from the game, except nobody appeared to suffer any injuries, and Nouhou scored for the Sounders.

Nouhou was his usual entertaining self, and scored a nice goal to boot.

Really, that was about it. Definitely not worth waking up at 5:30 a.m. to then make a 2 hour drive to catch a 10 a.m. kickoff. The players were as tired as I was (okay, maybe a bit more since they’d just played a game), and I got the sense they were just ready to be home.

Then it was back to Scottsdale, where I was able to catch the remaining portions of the conference, and attend a few moments of the closing dinner. After that, it was back to the hotel bar to mingle and do some “networking,” as they say.

So that basically was my week in Arizona. While the conference lacked the intrigue of a presidential election–and all of the politicking that entails–it was certainly a worthwhile experience. And I got a couple of interesting story ideas out of it too. Even if you’re not a member of one of the many organizations under the USSF umbrella, I’d encourage you to attend in the event the conference is in your town. Next year: Nashville.

Hope you enjoyed reading a bit of the behind the scenes on my trip. MLS is now right around the corner.

Home sweet home.
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