JT Batson took his place on a state inside the United Soccer Coaches Convention’s sprawling exhibit hall on Friday and watched the crowds of attendees roll by like afternoon traffic.
Quite a few kept on going, but some of them stopped by after noticing that one of American soccer’s most powerful people was in front of them.
If they didn’t know Batson, who became the U.S. Soccer Federation’s CEO in late September, here was a chance to meet him. And if they stuck around, they learned a few interesting things.
Some things were about his background in soccer. Some were about his working relationship with president Cindy Cone, who sat in the next chair over. One was about the U.S. men’s national team, and it was news.
It was not about who the next manager will be. That decision likely will stay in limbo until after the outside investigation into the Reyna-Berhalter scandal and abuse threats toward other U.S. Soccer officials is concluded.
There’s no clear timeline on when the investigation will conclude, even though Cone would like it to be done quickly. U.S. Soccer has not given the investigators a formal deadline, in case doing so forces them to skip important details.
The governing body also is doing an internal review of Berhalter’s on-field work, with no deadline there either. But Batson revealed that the review isn’t just about the past. It’s also looking to the future.
Big game hunting
“By virtue of hosting [the 2026 men’s World Cup], we don’t have World Cup qualification,” Batson said. “So, what does that mean for the environments our men’s national team [will be] in from a competitive game standpoint over the next three and a half years?”
He reiterated the point to a small group of reporters after he came off the stage.
“We know we need to play against good competition in competitive environments,” Baston said. “We also know that other confederations are doing things that make that challenging. And so we have to be very proactive and partner with other parts of the soccer world to make it to where our team is playing in competitive environments.”
The challenge Batson referred to was how much of the global national team calendar is taken up by the UEFA Nations League for European teams and South America’s World Cup qualifying marathon.
But the push to find partnerships was as bright a message as the hall lights overhead.
Within days of the U.S.’ World Cup elimination in Qatar, rumors started flying about getting the team a guest invitation to the 2024 Copa América, the championship tournament for South American national teams. Mexico likely would take part, too.
There also have been reports about an expanded tournament akin to the 2016 Copa América Centenario, which the U.S. hosted to great acclaim — and great profit. A bigger field would get Canada and other important Concacaf nations involved too.
And all the better if the United States hosts it again, which the chatter also has put on the table. Scheduled host Ecuador has said it won’t be able to host the traditional version, which helped open the door.
Meetings have happened
Asked if he’d like to address the reports, Batson answered, “I don’t have anything to say, so that makes it easy.”
But he knew why he was being asked and even knew to frame it for a local audience. He attended a Copa América Centenario game at Lincoln Financial Field in 2016 with family members who are big Eagles fans.
“That was the first time my cousins thought I was cool, for taking them to where the Eagles play,” Batson said. “Copa América is a hell of a property and something that — you know, obviously, the South American teams are great team, and so …”
He paused before saying too much. But the next question came quickly: would the U.S. like to host?
“This is a CONMEBOL [the South American confederation], Concacaf, ultimate decision,” Batson said. Obviously, we know those parties, and we’ve — you know, we may or may not have been in Miami this week.”
That pulled the cat all the way out of the bag.
“We’re very proactive in terms of what what we’re trying to do, and Concacaf has been great,” Batson said. “They understand the challenges that Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. have in terms of competitive environments for the next three-and-a-half years. They’ve been really, really good partners and helping us figure out how to navigate that.”
It’s clear that it will be a while yet before anything official happens, but it’s also clear that fans should stay tuned.
“There will be more that will come out over the coming months in terms of some of the specifics there, because nothing’s quite final,” Batson said. “But we’ve been working on this for quite some time to ensure that our team is playing against really good opponents consistently and in environments that that are competitive.”
Source : Inquirer