The polarizing advice that will help shape USMNT 2026


In the coming months, US Soccer will work with Sportsology to hire a new athletic director and identify USMNT coaching candidates. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

The consultancy now tasked with shaping the future of US football is the brainchild of a curious Brit.

Mike Forde developed a fascination with the North American sport around the time he became friends with Big Sam Allardyce, before he even worked his way through coaches as a top manager at Chelsea.

He was 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 world and across the United States to visit the Atlanta Braves and the San Francisco 49ers. He traveled to study the New York Yankees and the New Zealand All Blacks. He fled the once isolated world of English football primarily to learn.

He has networked along the way and notably as director of football operations at Chelsea from 2007 to 2013. He became, in the words of an American soccer executive, “one of the most connected people I know.” And he sensed an opportunity to apply his insights as a front-office whisperer of sorts, a catch-phrase-spewing New Age business consultant who has helped winning teams systematize their cultures and restructure their organizations.

That’s primarily what US Soccer hired Forde and his team at Sportsology to do, even before athletic director Earnie Stewart’s departure was announced.

The company Forde founded when he moved to New York full-time in 2014 has grown into a go-to place for franchisees in all five of America’s major men’s sports. But much of his work extends beyond headhunting – where his track record is patchy. According to Forde and the people who worked with him, the blueprint is an in-depth dive into franchises, their long-term missions and day-to-day operations.

So yes, Forde and his team will be working with US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone to hire a new athletic director and identify coaching candidates for the US men’s national team. You will be involved in decisions affecting the USMNT and its 2026 World Championship. But they will also “get in the weeds about the future of our athletic department,” Parlow Cone said.

“I think Sportsology is going to go in there and evaluate their core processes – because it’s all about processes,” said Chris Henderson, Inter Miami’s sporting director, who has known Forde for over a decade and has worked with Sportsology in his current role.

“And I think it will help [U.S. Soccer] Benchmarking against best practices around the world and other associations,” Henderson continues. “It will likely help them find the right structure, roles and people to really take US football into the next phase of growth.”

The sports science plan

Henderson moved to Miami in 2021 after 13 years with the Seattle Sounders – and with Sportsology already being acquired by Inter, “I felt like I was doing a masters [degree] at the same time I’m starting a brand new job,” he says.

Sportsology had conducted a full audit of the club’s sporting activities, likely similar to the “review” they will conduct with US Soccer. “When I started, it was all about defining what departments we need and the structures of those departments and the hierarchy,” says Henderson. “We actually didn’t have a scouting department per se. We didn’t have a performance director or a performance department. We didn’t have a data analysis department. We didn’t have an academy director.

“So all these things had to be set up. Sportsology was a great help with interview recruitment for some of these roles. They were also only helpful in terms of roles and responsibilities, defining how each department would interact and work together.”

Their work often begins with gathering information, with interviews of employees moving up and down organizational charts. They’re building an app called the Corporate Knowledge Platform that every employee can access and that’s “great for new players and new employees coming into the market,” says Henderson. Forde and his team also work directly with owners and top leaders, conducting meetings and trying to align a club’s staff with its vision. “It was 2-3 times a week, we would spend hours with them on Zoom,” says Henderson. Forde, who turned down an interview request for this story, sometimes speaks of his work as the “transformation” of an organization.

And his track record in this regard speaks for itself. His historic clientele is a who’s who of well-managed teams, beginning in the past decade with the San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia Eagles, among others. RC Buford, Spurs general manager, was one of his first American students and advocates after Forde helped him codify the vaunted “Spurs Way.” According to a 2021 Ringer profile, Forde’s work even earned him recommendations from Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA League Bureau over the years. Overall, he has worked with dozens of teams and other entities across five continents and across nine different sports, he said on Sportsnet’s podcast “32 Thoughts.”

However, where his track record stutters is in executive search. His NBA GM tenures have so far been hit-or-miss. Sports science-backed research in Major League Soccer, meanwhile, has unearthed names like Gerard Nijkamp (FC Cincinnati) and Georg Heitz (Chicago Fire) and brought no early success – hence the public skepticism when US Soccer announced it had chosen Sportsology had help finding a new athletic director.

Still, some franchises swear by the company and its work. At least seven MLS clubs have now incorporated Sportsology. During a 20-minute interview, Henderson gushed. “I just think they’re a really high-level organization,” he said.

Others, however, believe the high-sounding jargon hides a lack of substance and fear the months-long process awaiting US Soccer will yield no tangible progress.

What Sportsology’s commitment to US Soccer’s search means

The only certainty amid a series of changes at the top of the USMNT is that the multifaceted search for new leadership will take time. Forde and his colleagues consistently advise thoroughness. He has spoken with pride about his work with the Washington Wizards in 2019, who spent over 100 days searching far and wide for a new GM before eventually promoting him from within.

US Soccer’s search could take even longer because their decision is multifaceted. She must first decide how to set up her sports department; and then what type of leadership the new structure requires.

“If a company goes into the hiring process with only a vague idea of ​​the type of profile and experience they’re looking for, chances are they’re a poor fit for the job,” Patrick, Head of Executive Search at Sportsology Manhire, wrote in 2020. “Conversely, a team that knows exactly what they are looking for will have a much easier time identifying suitable candidates. Even though the mechanics of the process take a lot of time, their chances of finding a good fit are greatly improved.”

These directional decisions will then guide the search. Forde has none Type. He and Sportsology don’t delve too far into tactics and game systems. Their criteria are dynamic, not rigid, and apply to multiple sports.

“When advising a team on hiring a head coach, general manager or athletic director, there are four key issues that are critical to any successful appointment,” Manhire told ESPN in 2021. “One. Are they trainable and ready to take on ideas? Employees or personal responsibility?2. Are they self-reflective and open to changes in their approach? 3.Are they open to feedback and willing to make themselves uncomfortable in order to move forward? 4.Do they know what they are and what are they fundamentally capable of? Giving employees, experts in their field, the autonomy to deliver?”

Forde has spoken of an openness to non-traditional, cross-sport attitudes. “It’s really important to build that cognitive diversity into management,” he said in 32 Thoughts. “So if we have 10 people, do we want the top four people to come from outside of this sport? Probably a bridge too far. But could we include one or two people in these four leadership roles who have experience in possibly another sector or possibly another sport or within the sport’s ecosystem? Absolutely.”

He also believes that communication is “non-negotiable”, but on the subject of language barriers, which are common in football, he said: “I do think that a penchant for certain narrow language as the only operating model reduces the market of talent. If you find someone you like who doesn’t have the language skills, I think you can complement them with intelligent employees.”

His philosophical reflections begin to paint a picture on what Parlow Cone called a “clean canvas”. US soccer is likely to evolve in the coming months. Up until five years ago, it hadn’t even employed a sports director or general manager. Its moves to create these positions in 2018 and 2019 brought it into contact with some European federations, but it never stepped back and thought together about what the optimal organizational chart and workflow would be.

Since Parlow Cone ascended to the presidency in 2020, “we’ve already made many significant changes on the business side of US soccer,” she noted last week. “Now I feel like we have an opportunity to do that on the sporting side.”

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