Ex-U.S. international Paul Caligiuri to run for U.S. Soccer presidency

Paul Caligiuri has officially announced his candidacy to run for president of the U.S. Soccer Federation

The former U.S. international made the announcement via Twitter on Friday.

"I've always had an ambition for the best interest of this sport since I was a kid," said Caligiuri in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC. "It drove me to do what I've done on the field and now off the field, and it's never stopped."

Caligiuri, 53, is banking on his lengthy playing career to set him apart from other candidates. He is best known for scoring the only goal in a 1-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Trinidad & Tobago that clinched qualification to the 1990 World Cup. The win marked the first time the U.S. had qualified in 40 years.

Caligiuri started at UCLA during his collegiate years, and his professional playing career spanned 15 seasons, taking him to West Germany, East Germany and ultimately to MLS, where he finished with the LA Galaxy in 2001. He was one of the first Americans in the modern era to play in Europe, signing with Hamburg in 1987.

At international level, Caligiuri made 110 appearances for the U.S., scoring five goals, and was part of the 1990 and 1994 World Cup teams.

Following his playing career, Caligiuri spent time coaching collegiately at Cal Poly Pomona, where he took charge of the women's team from 2002-05 and the men's team from 2002-08. He is currently the manager of Orange County FC, which plays in the fourth tier National Premier Soccer League. He has also served on the USSF Athletes Council and on the USSF Board of Directors.

"I'm familiar with the system, and I believe that this is a great time to take soccer to the next level," he said. "Obviously there's a transformational change going on, and I believe in efficiency and reliability. We need to make some significant investments, open up new markets, and have the opportunity for great growth, and have multiple platforms for development."

Caligiuri's plan is one he's calling "Goal2019&2022" one that he hopes will see the U.S. women's national team defend its World Cup title in 2019, and the men win the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

"I think up to now we've set our goals too low," he said. "[The players] take the field every day, believing in themselves, believing they're going to be champions. And they put their pride on the line. Yeah, we came up short [with the men] this time, but there are a lot of variables that went into that. Certainly we can't ever let that happen again."

Caligiuri said he would spell out his positions on other topics in more detail in the coming weeks, especially in terms of addressing issues inherent to youth soccer. But he said two areas of emphasis would be culture and values.

"We need to develop a high-performance culture by setting clear expectations and defining better pathways forward for players and coaches," he said. "We're leaving some rocks unturned, and we need someone with a passion and vision to implement that, and be able to have meaningful conversations at higher levels.

"I think that the contributions that have been made at this stage for soccer in this country has been wonderful," he said. "And I do believe people have done it passionately to the best they can, but that's not the best we can do."

In terms of the business side, Caligiuri emphasized that he's there to chair the committees, not be a day-in, day-out person to run the business.

"A qualified CEO will run the business side," he said. "I'm not an attorney, and I'm not a banker. But that's not what this job is. This is to lead a country for the development of soccer to get us to the next level. My job is to find those people and hire them. And with my relationships, I know many people that would be interested in those positions, including people that manage billion-dollar corporations."

And like his old international teammate Eric Wynalda, Caligiuri is a proponent of promotion/relegation.

"When we speak of pro/rel we know it's exciting, we know that it works, and it's a great business model," he said. "We have Americans owning some of the biggest clubs in the world like Arsenal and Roma. But you have to bring the different parties together at the same table and it hasn't happened.

"MLS has made a huge contribution. The investments of its owners have been fantastic. To be at the same table with them [...] and lead a unified front, I think that's what needs to happen."

Caligiuri joins an increasingly crowded field that includes USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro, Boston attorney Steve Gans, former U.S. international and Fox broadcaster Wynalda, Springfield, Mass.-based businessman Paul Lapointe, and New York-based attorney Michael Winograd.

Other possible candidates include current USSF president Sunil Gulati, and former U.S. international Landon Donovan.

The vote will take place in February.