Jay Berhalter, who
stepped down from his position as U.S. Soccer's chief commercial and strategy officer at the end of February, will work as a consultant on the new MLS player development project the league announced
on Wednesday minutes after the federation confirmed it was shuttering the Development Academy it operated in the boys side since 2007 and girls side since 2017.
Sources confirmed to Soccer America the reporting of The Athletic's Sam Stejskal and Paul Tenorio that Berhalter will help design the new MLS league.
In an interview with Soccer America on Wednesday, Todd Durbin, MLS's executive vice president of competition and player relations, said the league will concentrate on its own academy teams, non-MLS teams that were in the Development Academy and even teams not previously in the Development Academy. More than a dozen DA teams have already committed to the ECNL for the 2020-21 season. Durbin talked with directors of non-MLS DA teams about the program this week.
Just what form the new league takes remains to be seen. Durbin said the key age groups are U-17 and U-15 but MLS is also looking at the U-19 age group. One key difference in the U.S. Soccer circuit and MLS's new programming will likely be in its flexibility on playing outside teams, such as in the ECNL, and its interest in expanding international competition.
MLS operates the Generation adidas Cup at the U-17 and U-15 age groups with multiple international entrants. The 2020 competition was scheduled for April 4-11 at the Toyota Soccer Center at Toyota Stadium, home of FC Dallas, in Frisco, Texas. That is a one-week competition. Operating a full season is another thing.
All plans are
contingent on sports activities returning with a relaxation of shelter-in-place and social-distancing orders. On top of that, the future of many youth clubs is uncertain because of the economic
fallout of the coronavirus pandemic on clubs themselves fearful of the loss of key funding sources and the reluctance of families to commit to often-expensive programming in the short term.
Berhalter's responsibilities were primarily on the business side -- Berhalter served as CEO of the 2016 Copa Centenario, which earned U.S. Soccer a $75 million windfall -- but he was closely involved in all aspects of the federation's operations and often clashed with others on the technical side. He was one of the architects of the Development Academy though he left the federation two years after its launch to work at Kentaro Group, a now-defunct Swiss-headquartered company that handled media rights for many soccer federations.
Except for that five-year break at Kentaro Group, Berhalter has worked at U.S. Soccer for the last two decades, holding such titles as chief operating officer and deputy executive director. It once appeared Berhalter would be the successor to retiring CEO Dan Flynn, but then-U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro halted the CEO job search in May because he was not satisfied with the short list of candidates.
A new search firm came on board in September. Will Wilson was hired as the new CEO in March, shortly after Cordeiro quit as president and was replaced by vice president Cindy Parlow Cone.