U.S. Soccer chief says FIFA election will be close

Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

(Elise Amendola / Associated Press)

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said Sepp Blatter’s reelection for a fifth term as FIFA’s top executive is far from certain, saying he expects Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein to make a strong showing in Friday’s vote at the annual meeting of soccer’s governing body in Zurich, Switzerland.

“I think you will see a lot closer vote than people were projecting some weeks ago,” said Gulati, a member of FIFA’s executive committee.

Gulati has already declared he is supporting Al-Hussein and said on a conference call Thursday that Canada’s federation will also be supporting Blatter’s lone opponent. The vote comes two days after the U.S. Justice Department unsealed a 47-count indictment that included charges against several current or former FIFA executives.

Just a week ago, Blatter’s reelection seemed certain. But Gulati says that has changed.

“What’s happening on the ground here is certainly very different than what may be happening or is viewed from outside,” he said. “It’s an election. It’s a secret ballot. It’s impossible to know for sure.


“But the answer is yes. I think tomorrow will be a very competitive election.”

It’s unlikely Blatter has lost all of his support among the 209 FIFA nations expected to cast votes. Although many European countries -- some of whom called for Friday’s election to be postponed -- are likely to vote with the U.S. and Canada, members of the African and Asian federations -- who hold 100 votes -- appear firmly in Blatter’s corner.

On other issues, Gulati said July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup will go forward as planned despite the fact CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb was among those indicted Wednesday. However, there could be issues with 2016 Copa America, which was scheduled to be played in the U.S. According to the indictments, massive bribes were used to influence the decision to move the tournament from South America.

Gulati said Wednesday’s indictments won’t change his mind about pushing for the U.S. to host a forthcoming World Cup -- although he promised there are strict limits to what he’ll do to get one, saying the long-term integrity of FIFA and CONCACAF is more important than a single tournament.