The polarizing consultancy that will help shape the 2026 USMNT

Jan 27, 2023; Carson, CA, USA; A USA Soccer logo at a press conference at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
In the coming months, U.S. Soccer will work with Sportsology to hire a new sporting director and identify USMNT coaching candidates. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

The consultancy now tasked with shaping the future of U.S. Soccer is the brainchild of a curious Briton.

Even before he churned through coaches as a top executive at Chelsea, around the time he befriended Big Sam Allardyce, Mike Forde developed a fascination with North American sports.

He was the performance director at Bolton Wanderers in the early 2000s, with fingerprints on a turn-of-the-century Premier League success story. But, with Allardyce’s blessing, he also began to branch out. He flew around the globe and across the United States, to visit the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco 49ers. He traveled to study the New York Yankees and New Zealand’s All Blacks. He escaped from the once-insular world of English soccer, first and foremost, to learn.

Along the way, though, and especially while director of football operations at Chelsea from 2007-13, he networked. He became, in the words of one American soccer executive, “one of the most connected people I know.” And he sensed opportunity, to apply his learnings as something of a front-office whisperer, a new-age corporate buzzword-spewing consultant who has helped championship-winning teams systematize their cultures and restructure their organizations.

That, first and foremost, is what U.S. Soccer hired Forde and his team at Sportsology to do, even before sporting director Earnie Stewart’s departure had been announced.

The company, which Forde founded when he moved to New York full-time in 2014, has become a go-to search firm for franchise owners across all five major American men’s sports. But much of its work extends beyond headhunting — where its track record is spotty. Its blueprint, according to Forde and people who’ve worked with him, is deep dives into franchises, their long-term missions and their day-to-day operations.

So yes, Forde and his team will work with U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone to hire a new sporting director and identify U.S. men’s national team coaching candidates. They’ll have a hand in decisions that impact the USMNT and its 2026 World Cup. But they’ll also “get into the weeds on the future of our sporting department,” Parlow Cone said.

“I think Sportsology will go in there and evaluate their core processes — because it's all about processes,” says Inter Miami sporting director Chris Henderson, who has known Forde for over a decade and worked with Sportsology in his current role.

“And I think it's gonna help [U.S. Soccer] benchmark against best practices around the world, other federations,” Henderson continues. “It will probably help them find the right structure, roles and people, really to take U.S. Soccer to the next phase of growth.”

The Sportsology blueprint

Henderson moved to Miami in 2021 after 13 years with the Seattle Sounders — and with Sportsology already retained by Inter, “I felt like I was doing a master’s [degree] at the same time as I'm walking into a brand new job,” he says.

Sportsology had conducted a full audit of the club’s sporting operations, likely similar to the “review” they’ll undertake with U.S. Soccer. “When I came in, it was about defining which departments we need, and the structures of those departments, and kinda the hierarchy,” Henderson says. “We didn't have a scouting department, really, per se. We didn't have a performance director and performance department. We didn't have a data analytics department. We didn't have an academy director.

“So all of these things needed to be put in place. Sportsology was great in helping in the recruitment for the interview process of some of these roles. They were also helpful just in roles and responsibilities, defining how each department would interact and work with each other.”

Their work often begins with information gathering, with interviews of staffers up and down org charts. They build an app, called a “corporate knowledge platform,” which every employee can access, and is “great for new players, new staff coming into market,” Henderson says. Forde and his team also work directly with ownership and top executives, running meetings and seeking to align a club’s people with its vision. “It was 2-3 times a week, we were spending hours on Zoom with them,” Henderson says. Forde, who declined an interview request for this story, sometimes speaks about his work as the “transformation” of an organization.

And his track record, in this respect, speaks for itself. His historical clientele is a who’s who of well-run teams, beginning last decade with the San Antonio Spurs and the Philadelphia Eagles, among others. Spurs general manager R.C. Buford was one of his first American disciples and advocates, after Forde helped him codify the vaunted “Spurs Way.” Over the years, according to a 2021 Ringer profile, Forde’s work even earned him recommendations from commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA league office. In total, he has worked with dozens of teams and other entities across five continents and nine different sports, he said on Sportsnet’s "32 Thoughts" podcast.

Where his track record sputters, though, is with executive searches. His NBA GM hires have thus far been hit-or-miss. Sportsology-aided Major League Soccer searches, meanwhile, have turned up names like Gerard Nijkamp (FC Cincinnati) and Georg Heitz (Chicago Fire), and failed to yield early success — hence the public skepticism when U.S. Soccer announced that it had chosen Sportsology to help lead the hunt for a new sporting director.

Nonetheless, some franchises swear by the company and its work. At least seven MLS clubs have now brought in Sportsology. Throughout a 20-minute interview, Henderson raved. “I just think they're a really high-level organization,” he said.

Others, though, feel that the highfalutin jargon masks a lack of substance, and fear that the months-long process awaiting U.S. Soccer will fail to yield tangible progress.

What Sportsology’s involvement means for U.S. Soccer’s search

The only certainty amid a raft of change atop the USMNT is that the multi-faceted search for new leadership will take time. Forde and his colleagues consistently advise thoroughness. He has spoken with pride about his 2019 work with the Washington Wizards, who spent over 100 days searching far and wide for a new GM before ultimately promoting one from within.

U.S. Soccer’s search may last even longer, because there are layers to its decision. It first must decide how its sporting department should be constructed; and then what type of leader the new structure necessitates.

“If an organization embarks on the hiring process with only a vague idea of the type of profile and experience they are looking for, then it’s likely that they will end up with a poor fit for the role,” Sportsology’s head of executive search, Patrick Manhire, wrote in 2020. “Conversely, a team that knows exactly what it is looking for will find it far easier to identify suitable candidates. Even if the mechanics of the process take a lot of time, their chances of finding a good fit are much improved.”

Those directional decisions, then, will guide the search. Forde doesn’t have a type. He and Sportsology don’t overreach into tactics and systems of play. Their criteria are dynamic, not rigid, and apply across multiple sports.

"When we advise a team on hiring a head coach, general manager or sporting director, there are four key themes which are crucial for any successful appointment,” Manhire told ESPN in 2021. “One. Are they coachable and prepared to take ideas from staff or ownership? Two. Are they self-reflective and open to change in terms of their approach? Three. Are they open-minded to feedback and prepared to get uncomfortable in order to progress? Four. Do they know what they are and what they are not? Basically, are they able to give staff, experts in their field, the autonomy to deliver?”

Forde has spoken of an openness to non-traditional, cross-sport hires. “Building this cognitive diversity into the management is really important,” he said on "32 Thoughts." “So, if we have 10 people, do we want the top four ranked people to be from outside that sport? Probably a bridge too far. But could we add one or two people into them four leadership roles, that have got experience in potentially another sector, or potentially another sport, or within the ecosystem of sport? Absolutely.”

He also believes communication is “a non-negotiable,” but on the subject of language barriers, which arise frequently in soccer, he said: “I do think having an overbias to a particular narrow language set as the only operating model reduces the market of talent. If you find someone that you like who doesn’t have the language skill set, I think you can supplement them in intelligent hires around them.”

His philosophical musings begin to paint a picture on what Parlow Cone called a “clean canvas.” U.S. Soccer, over the coming months, will likely evolve. Until five years ago, it had never even employed a sporting director or general manager. Its 2018 and 2019 moves to create those positions brought it up to speed with some European federations, but it has never stepped back and pondered, collectively, what the optimal org chart and workflow would be.

Since Parlow Cone ascended to the presidency in 2020, “we've already made a lot of significant changes on the business side of U.S. Soccer,” she noted last week. “Now, I feel we have the opportunity to do this on the sporting side.”

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