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Jay Berhalter is leaving U.S. Soccer; USMNT's coach's brother won't become federation's CEO

In a statement announcing the departure of chief commercial officer Jay Berhalter, U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro (above) said that Berhalter "played an invaluable role in the growth of our federation and the evolution of the game in America." (Ira L. Black/Getty)

Jay Berhalter, the longtime soccer executive and older brother of United States men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter, is stepping down as U.S. Soccer’s chief commercial officer, the organization announced on Thursday.

The news comes a day after Sports Illustrated reported that the elder Berhalter was no longer a candidate to fill U.S. Soccer’s vacant CEO role, with the new chief executive expected to be recruited from outside the federation. Dan Flynn served as the USSF’s CEO for two decades before stepping down last year.

“My decision to leave U.S. Soccer was not an easy one to make,” Berhalter said in a statement released by U.S. Soccer. “But it’s the right one for my family and me at this time.”

Jay Berhalter served two separate stints at U.S. Soccer, close to 15 years in all. He originally joined the USSF in 2000 as its chief operating officer. That background made him leading contender to take over from Flynn, who took a step back from his duties after undergoing heart transplant surgery in 2016. But the hiring of the younger Berhalter as the coach of the men’s team in late 2018 — more than a year after the USMNT failed to qualify for a World Cup for the first time since 1986 — lessened his chances considerably. While U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro said at the time that they wouldn’t pass over a qualified person simply because his brother also happened to work within the federation, the appearance of a potential conflict of interest was not lost on anyone.

Still, Jay Berhalter remained in a strong position to succeed Flynn until a new round of scrutiny forced U.S. Soccer to take a hard look at the “toxic” culture he helped created inside the federation’s Chicago headquarters. A New York Times story last July quoted numerous employees who were critical of leadership. In December, former National Soccer Hall of Famer and former U.S. U-20 men’s coach Tab Ramos told the Wall Street Journal that Jay Berhalter had outsized influence at Soccer House. “It was clear that the technical message was coming from Jay Berhalter” over the last several years, Ramos said.

Jay Berhalter was not on the committee that lured Gregg Berhalter away from the Columbus Crew following the 2018 MLS season. But he was involved in the hiring earlier that year of Earnie Stewart as the USMNT’s first general manager. Stewart led the process that ended with Gregg Berhalter’s hiring before being promoted to U.S. Soccer’s sporting director, which oversees both the men’s program and the four-time World Cup champion women’s program, last August after just a year as GM.

That the new CEO will apparently come from outside U.S. Soccer makes sense. The federation has frequently been in the headlines for the wrong reasons over the last several years. The men’s team qualifying debacle led to the departure of then-president Sunil Gulati, who didn’t run for reelection as planned. Four months before winning the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, members of the USWNT filed a gender-discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in federal court. The USSF is also being sued by former USWNT goalkeeper Hope Solo; the now defunct second-tier North American Soccer League; match promoter Relevent Sports; and the U.S. Soccer Foundation, its former charitable parter.

It’s unfair to lay any of that at the feet of Jay Berhalter, however. And there’s no denying his successes. In addition to serving as the CEO of the successful USA-hosted 2003 Women’s World Cup and 2016 Copa America Centenario — which swelled the federation’s coffers by tens of millions of dollars — he was instrumental in helping create U.S. Soccer’s boys’ Development Academy system, which launched in 2007 and has since produced a number of senior national team players.

“Jay has played an invaluable role in the growth of our federation and the evolution of the game in our country,” Cordeiro said. “His deep understanding of all the technical, commercial, and business aspects of the sport will have a lasting impact on the game across America.”

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