ONThe world’s most popular sport gains ground in the United States with a boost from Sunil Gulati ’81.
BY ROBERT STRAUSS
When the United States women’s national team was jumping and cheering and doing all sorts of celebrating, having just won the World Cup
in Vancouver, Canada, in July, there was, in their midst, a
somewhat short and slight middle-aged man, just as happy
as they were, though a bit more contained.
Sunil Gulati ’81 has been president of the U.S. Soccer
Federation, the national governing body of the sport, for
the last decade. His hand is at the tiller, guiding the sport
in an upward trajectory in the American consciousness.
“He’s the single most important person in the development
of soccer in this country,” Alan Rothenberg, one of Gulati’s
predecessors as U.S. Soccer president and a founder of
Major League Soccer, has told USA Today.
Gulati is modest and confident but well aware of the
complexity and daunting nature of his mission. He knows
that soccer is not nearly yet on a plane with baseball,
basketball and football in the national sports scene, yet he is
quick to point out each careful step the game is taking forward.
“We had an audience of 25 million-plus to watch the final
of the women’s World Cup. We won’t achieve those numbers
for anything but a World Cup, but the interest level in the
game across the board is thriving dramatically,” says Gulati.
He hopes the interest in that World Cup final, in which the
women’s team trounced Japan 5-2, will spur interest in both
the women’s and men’s professional leagues. “That is a sea
change from what it was 20 to 25 years ago.”
Twenty years ago, Gulati, now 56, was trying to figure
out his career path. He had recently landed a job with the
World Bank, which he admits would have been his dream
when he graduated from Bucknell and then from graduate
school at Columbia University.
He had just worked also, though, with the men’s World
Cup, hosted in 1994 by the United States, as the executive