Earl Cochrane steps down as Canada Soccer general secretary, becoming latest exec to exit

General secretary Earl Cochrane has followed former president Nick Bontis in leaving Canada Soccer against the backdrop of the lengthy, bitter labour dispute with the men’s and women’s national teams.

The governing body announced Thursday that “the federation and Earl Cochrane, general secretary, have agreed to part ways.”

Bontis resigned his elected position in late February, acknowledging change was needed to achieve labour peace.

One could argue their departure opens the door to potential peace given Cochrane and Bontis were the face of management in the labour fight.

“On behalf of the board, I want to thank Earl for his enduring contributions and the tremendous passion he has poured into our organization and our sport,” Charmaine Crooks, who took over as Canada Soccer interim president after Bontis’s departure, said in a statement. “Earl has built a reputation as a thoughtful and progressive leader, and has worked each day to ensure the growth and development of soccer across our country. We wish him all the best in the next chapter of his career.”

Crooks and Cochrane both represented Canada Soccer at a lunchtime reception Wednesday to showcase the Women’s World Cup trophy on the Toronto stop of its pre-tournament global tour.

Cochrane took over the job — the top staff position in the organization — last July after incumbent Peter Montopoli stepped down to become chief operating officer for Canada FIFA World Cup 2026.

He immediately found his feet being held to the fire by his own players. The men’s and women’s national teams issued a joint statement the day his hiring was announced asking for Sport Canada to investigate Canada Soccer’s governance practices “and of the circumstances by which Canada Soccer entered into its agreement with Canada Soccer Business.”

Cochrane was one of several Canada Soccer officials grilled by a parliamentary committee last month.

Canada Soccer said Cochrane will remain with the federation until May 12 “to assist with the transition.”

“I want to thank all of our staff, partners and the board for their support and trust,” Cochrane said in the Canada Soccer statement. “I am excited about the next chapter in my life and I am confident that through my work over the last 15 years of service, domestically and globally, I have left Canada Soccer in a better place.

“I am proud of the role that I have played in helping to stabilize this organization through its various periods of success and challenges.”

In its six-paragraph statement, Canada Soccer said Cochrane “successfully led Canada Soccer through a post-COVID landscape with a focus on getting participants back to play.”

“His experience in sport integrity matters has resulted in significant progress in safe sport governance. His tenure was highlighted by a historic [World Cup] qualification for Canada Soccer’s national men’s national team in Qatar, and the successful [World Cup] qualification of the women’s national team to Australia/New Zealand this summer.”

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It also credited him for “a complete organizational redesign and realignment, which included leadership training and skills development for all staff as well as fostering a more inclusive executive leadership team.”

“That process and outcome has strengthened the organization’s ability to grow and better service its membership, partners and the wider soccer community in the years to come,” the statement added.

Cochrane has had a variety of roles with the governing body over two stints dating back to 2001.

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

His hiring followed an “extensive global recruitment process” that began in January 2022 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 with Bontis calling “his experience on and off the pitch across all levels of the game … a huge asset for Canada Soccer.”

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 GM 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, GM 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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