With the long-awaited departure of Dan Flynn, U.S. Soccer’s CEO and general secretary for the past 19 years, now confirmed for next Monday, the big question remains: When it comes to the most important day-to-day job at U.S. Soccer, should the federation look to hire someone from the inside or from the outside?
And, given that the heavily favored internal candidate remains Jay Berhalter—the brother of U.S. men's national team coach Gregg Berhalter, Flynn’s right-hand man and the main reason federation employees went public with toxic-workplace complaints earlier this year—the answer should be: Of course, U.S. Soccer should hire a new CEO from the outside.
But that seems unlikely to happen. U.S. Soccer is a deeply conservative organization, one that responded to its greatest trauma of modern times—the USMNT’s failure to qualify for World Cup 2018—by electing the sitting vice president, Carlos Cordeiro, as the new president. Cordeiro, a former Goldman Sachs executive, now sits atop the U.S. Soccer board of directors, which will choose the next CEO, likely by December or January ahead of the federation’s next annual general meeting.
Berhalter is by most accounts someone who can make the federation money—he was in charge of its lucrative organization of the 2016 Copa América Centenario. But if he becomes the CEO, he would become the boss of the sporting director (Earnie Stewart) who could be in charge of recommending the potential firing of Gregg Berhalter someday as the USMNT coach.
That conflict of interest should be disqualifying in itself, but Jay Berhalter brings other baggage, too. People who have worked with him say he often comes across as someone who thinks he’s the smartest person in the room, and this year’s toxic-workplace complaints surfaced expressly because those federation employees fear Berhalter becoming the CEO.
Brian Remedi, the federation’s chief stakeholder officer, took over additional duties on Monday and will serve as chief administration officer (a kind of interim CEO) until a full replacement for Flynn is named. But Remedi is viewed inside U.S. Soccer as being less likely than Jay Berhalter to take over as CEO.
One issue with hiring an outside candidate as CEO, several federation insiders have told SI.com, is that interest in the job is low given how many current lawsuits U.S. Soccer is facing. Those include suits by the U.S. women’s national team players, the U.S. Soccer Foundation charity, Hope Solo, Relevent Sports and the NASL.
Flynn’s 19-year tenure will be remembered for his ability to turn around U.S. Soccer’s financial situation. When he took the job in 2000, the federation was in the red. As he leaves, U.S. Soccer is sitting on a surplus worth around $150 million. At the same time, though, the workplace complaints that surfaced this year were about the culture that has developed under Flynn and Jay Berhalter.
But the problems atop U.S. Soccer aren’t just about toxic workplaces. They’re also about what appears to be the willingness of the federation to shut out Latino soccer leaders in a country where the Latino soccer community has felt alienated for decades. As Soccer America’s Mike Woitalla reported last week, a 59-member task force established last year by the federation for youth soccer doesn’t have a single Latino male on it.
Tab Ramos, the only Latino head coach currently employed by U.S. Soccer, has taken his team to the quarterfinals of three straight Under-20 World Cups. But sources say Ramos hasn’t been involved in any federation youth strategy planning over the past 12 months.
When you take all that into account, you’re left thinking that U.S. Soccer needs to make some major changes in its most important job, the CEO. The federation needs to hire someone from the outside, and it would send a necessary message if that new CEO was Latino. Or Latina.