Canada Soccer stays in-house in choosing Earl Cochrane as its new general secretary

·6 min read

TORONTO — After an "extensive global recruitment process," Canada Soccer stayed in-house to find a successor to general secretary Peter Montopoli.

The top job has been given to Earl Cochrane, who has been serving as acting general secretary since January after Montopoli stepped down to become chief operating officer for Canada FIFA World Cup 2026. Cochrane has had a variety of roles with the governing body over two stints dating back to 2001.

Montopoli took over as general secretary in April 2008 after two years as national event director for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada. The Canadian men were ranked 63rd at the time while the women were ninth.

Cochrane will oversee an Olympic champion women's side ranked sixth and a vibrant men's team headed to the World Cup with a current world ranking of No. 43. A domestic men's World Cup, along with co-hosts Mexico and the U.S., awaits in 2026.

Elite coaches are in place in John Herdman and Bev Priestman. Canada has a stellar reputation for hosting tournaments. The Canadian Premier League is in its fourth season

But there are also challenges.

Canada Soccer has yet to conclude a compensation agreement with the men's national team, with negotiations also continuing with the women. The governing body has to live up to its promise to launch a domestic brand of women's pro football and demonstrate it can truly reap the rewards of Canada's on-field success off the pitch.

The organization has made missteps recently, from choosing Iran as an opponent for a proposed friendly to properly explaining its position in negotiations with the men's team.

And there are questions over the merits of Canada Soccer's 10-year agreement with Canadian Soccer Business, a deal struck in 2018 that puts CSB in charge of all corporate partnerships and broadcast rights for the men's and women's national team programs as well as all of the CPL's commercial assets.

Looking ahead, Cochrane sees plenty of positives.

"I'm actually quite excited about what awaits me," he said. "I think the successes of this organization … have placed us in a position where we are in a different place today than we were say five-10 years ago.

"With that success, comes scrutiny, comes questions, about the directions of the organization. But I don't think that there's many other places globally where you can look at what we're staring at down the road … I think we should be proud of what we've built. But not just what we've built but what we're going to be building towards this next iteration of what is Canada Soccer."

Canada Soccer is awaiting word back from the players on its latest compensation offer.

It is also awaiting the results of an independent review by McLaren Global Sport Solution into the handling of convicted sex offender Bob Birarda, a former women's Vancouver Whitecaps and Canadian national youth team coach. Birarda is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty last month to three counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual touching while in a position of authority.

The charges, which involve four teenage soccer players coached by Birarda, span 20 years between 1988 and 2008. Birarda was dismissed by both the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer in October 2008.

The review, expected later this summer, is also to look at what Canada Soccer has done since then "to identify some of those gaps as it relates to safe sports and integrity matters," said Cochrane.

"We are (doing) and have done some significant work in and around that space. The question is going to be is it enough? I don't think so. I think there's a lot of work for us to do still."

As for the CSB agreement, Cochrane acknowledges "it might not have been explained as deeply as maybe it needed to be. But then again the questions weren't being asked of heat that relationship was back in 2018," he added.

He emphasized that the CSB agreement is "100 per cent" separate from the negotiations with the players over the World Cup prize money division. And he defends the CSB deal, saying it was all about investing back in the sport and "developing a partnership that allowed for the sustainable growth of the professional game and the infrastructure around that professional game in the country."

"I think it is a good deal. But I think it's also a deal that can allow for us to get better," he added.

Cochrane says launching a "robust, truly Canadian women's professional game in this country" is a key cornerstone for Canada Soccer with Breagha Carr-Harris, its newly appointed new post of head of women's professional soccer, "absolutely the right person" to lead that charge.

As general secretary, Cochrane is the "operational leader of Canada Soccer" working with the president — an elected, non-paid position — and the board of directors.

Deputy general secretary Joe Guest stepped down at the end of 2021.

Cochrane's hiring follows an "extensive global recruitment process" that began in January led by Lighthouse Search, an executive search firm specializing in sport, media and entertainment. His appointment was approved unanimously by Canada Soccer's board of directors.

Canada Soccer says it chose Cochrane over more than 70 applicants worldwide.

“His experience on and off the pitch across all levels of the game will be a huge asset for Canada Soccer,” president Nick Bontis said in a statement.

A centre back for Carleton University from 1989 to 1993, Cochrane was inducted into Carleton's Sports Hall of Fame in 2018. A first-team all Canadian in 1992 and Carleton University male athlete of the year in 1991-92, he went on to play professionally in Malaysia and Japan.

He served as a communications officer for D.C. United in 1999-2000 before joining the Canadian Soccer Association in January 2001. He served five years as general manager of the national teams program before becoming director of communications in January 2006.

In July 2006, he joined Toronto FC and spent the next seven years with the expansion MLS franchise, starting as director of team services before transitioning to academy director, general manager and director of soccer.

He left the MLS club in September 2013, part of the housecleaning that saw president and GM Kevin Payne fired.

Cochrane returned to Canada Soccer in early 2014, serving as chief strategic development officer. He also spent 21 months as a member of Canada Soccer's board, starting in April 2012.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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