The number of candidates competing to lead the United States Soccer Federation could almost fill the starting side of a soccer team. On Saturday, they will all gather at a candidates forum in Atlantic Beach, Florida, to discuss why they deserve to become U.S. soccer president.
There are seven candidates vying for U.S. Soccer’s top spot, including U.S. Soccer’s current vice president, Carlos Cordeiro, and former U.S. national soccer player and NBC Sports commentator Kyle Martino. In September, Prince Lobel Tye partner Steven Gans became the first to openly challenge longtime U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, who had previously run three times unopposed.
Among the candidates is a second lawyer, New York-based Ropes & Gray counsel Michael Winograd. He said he has the mix of soccer knowledge and business acumen needed to fix organizational issues facing the sport, improve opportunities for professional women players and improve youth soccer.
“The overriding thing was to make U.S. soccer better,” Winograd said of his decision to challenge Gulati. “We’ve made great strides in soccer in this country over the last couple of decades, but we’ve lagged behind in some areas and the landscape has become really fractured.”
Like many of the other candidates, Winograd become involved with the sport from an early age. He played Division I college soccer at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, and then played professionally in Israel for three years before returning to the United States in 1995 as assistant men’s soccer coach at the University of Richmond, where he helped coordinate one of the largest National Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Soccer Final Four competitions to date. He also helped launch the Staten Island Vipers, a second division franchise.
Still, Winograd said law school had always beckoned, and he eventually enrolled at University of Pennsylvania Law School. After graduating in 2000, he joined Sullivan & Cromwell as an associate, and then practiced at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati before joining Ropes & Gray’s business and securities litigation group five years ago.
“We are confident [Winograd] would be as valuable an asset to U.S. Soccer as he is to our firm,” said Ropes & Gray managing partner David Chapin said in a statement endorsing his candidacy.
In his 17 years in practice, Winograd has handled a big range of high-stakes cases, including for Bank of America, FedEx and Gawker Media in its recent battle with Hulk Hogan.
He cited that experience—including negotiating for clients with complex needs—as part of the argument for his candidacy.
He said his vision for U.S. soccer is threefold: establish inclusive, transparent and merit-based decision-making, address inequities that the women’s national team faces, and tackle the costs affecting coaching education and youth soccer.
“These are fundamental to improving soccer and just intrinsic to the mission and spirit of U.S. soccer,” Winograd said.
Elections for U.S. soccer president aren’t until February 2018, but Winograd said that thanks to the support of Ropes & Gray he is ready and willing to jump in and tackle U.S. soccer’s problems head-on should he win.
“If I have the opportunity,” he said, “I’m going to do it with the energy and the determination and the focus that it warrants.”