A chance to travel and earn good money attracts many to cross the Atlantic. But the system they become part of is under scrutiny Youth soccer is popular across the US. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images How desperate are youth soccer clubs in the US to hire foreign coaches? And how desperate are UK coaches to land jobs in the US, with visions of Hollywood (or at least Boston) and good pay, courtesy of parents willing to shell out for an “elite” soccer experience? The answer to both questions: so desperate that one club, Global Premier Soccer (GPS) – which once operated in dozens of locations across the US – came up with a convoluted scheme to bring coaches across the Atlantic with the help of professional teams. The plan drew plenty of interest from coaches but also from law enforcement. Two former GPS employees have entered guilty pleas – one for conspiracy to commit visa fraud, one for obstructing justice – in a Massachusetts court. Its parent company, Legacy Global Sports, was forced into bankruptcy, and former Legacy CEO Stephen Griffin has written a tell-all book under a thin disclaimer of “fiction”. The accusations against GPS, spelled out in the visa fraud charges against former GPS chief operating officer Justin Capell, who has agreed to plead guilty, fall along two lines. First, that some coaches were brought to the US on P-1 visas, reserved for athletes and support personnel in professional soccer, saying they would work as scouts for a professional club even though they had been hired to coach for GPS, a youth club. One former GPS coach, Will Wilson, showed the Boston Globe a document instructing him and other visa applicants not to take their GPS contracts to their interviews at a US embassy. “We were told by GPS to never say we were coaching, even though coaching was our full-time job,” Wilson told the Globe. Second, that some coaches were brought to the US on H-2B visas, which can only be awarded if employers stipulate that the jobs are temporary, they don’t have enough US citizens to fill the jobs, and their wages won’t undercut US citizens’ wages. These require an employee to work for a specific employer in a specific area, which according to court documents, was not the case with GPS. The imported GPS coaches have not been charged with any criminal activity. The Capell case mentions but does not identify three co-conspirators – two GPS employees and an immigration lawyer – and accuses the quartet of providing false information to get P-1 visas and then violating the terms of H-2B visas. In the other case, former GPS marketing director Gavin MacPhee is accused of deleting the email account of “Individual-1” to throw off federal investigators. The legal questions will take a long time to untangle. The reasons for Legacy’s collapse and the whirlwind of ensuing lawsuits go beyond the visa scheme. For one thing, though GPS is out of business, the entity is still suing its former law firm, Burns and Levinson. The ethical question is who was harmed. “You’re saying you’re a scout, and you’re really a youth coach,” immigration attorney Jon Velie told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Who are you hurting?” Griffin and anonymous reports on job sites Glassdoor and Indeed point to one group of people being hurt – foreign coaches who were allegedly crammed into overcrowded houses and forced to work long hours for meager pay. The GPS suit against its former attorneys notes a coach who emailed the club to complain that he was unable to return to the US from Canada when border officials spotted an issue with his visa, and the same coach claims the club hired “coaches without certified coaching qualifications.” Beyond GPS, the case has far-reaching implications within US soccer. How far will youth clubs go to hire (and exploit) foreign coaches, and why would professional clubs help them? Two NWSL clubs, Sky Blue and the now-defunct Boston Breakers, are among at least seven professional clubs alleged to have been involved, though no one at any of the clubs has been charged with any wrongdoing. But why would youth soccer clubs go to such lengths to bring in foreign coaches, legally or otherwise? “I’m not sure why GPS was so focused on importing coaches from abroad,” said former DC United executive Kevin Payne, now heavily involved with youth soccer as the CEO of US Club Soccer. “We have plenty of coaches in this country who are more than qualified for their needs. If they had used American coaches we wouldn’t be reading these stories.” TV commentator and Hall of Fame player Alexi Lalas was just as direct in a Guardian story in 2014 on European clubs’ US interests that included the GPS partnership with Bayern Munich. “US soccer is littered with decades of people coming over with little more than an accent to their resume, and using the naivete we’ve had and the inexperience and lack of soccer history and culture to their advantage,” Lalas said at the time. NWSL clubs model that behavior, bringing in a steady stream of British coaches. Some, like Laura Harvey and Mark Parsons, have been very successful. Some haven’t. And the US still has large segments of the population that equate an accent with authenticity. TV play-by-play commentators are overwhelmingly English. Major League Soccer clubs have scoured the globe for coaches who have all failed to match the achievements of Americans such as Bruce Arena, Caleb Porter and Brian Schmetzer. At youth level, parents are in an arms race in the uniquely American “pay-to-play” system. Driven by the prospect of preferential college admission – not just scholarships, but getting in the door in the first place – parents push hard to get their kids to what they think are elite organizations, paying thousands of dollars each year for the privilege of having a “professional” coach barking at them and leveraging contacts with college coaches. Clubs are therefore racing to grab a piece of this large market. GPS alone operated in 25 states and elsewhere, considerably bigger than the US footprints of Liverpool and Barcelona but dwarfed by the global reach of Rush Soccer. Before folding, GPS was in a lawsuit – quickly settled before the club’s demise – against Surf Soccer, whose rapid sprawl answers the question of why a club situated next to many of the country’s biggest ski resorts is called “Utah Surf.” So this system creates plenty of opportunities for coaches who can’t latch on with a pro club’s academy in the US or elsewhere to land jobs. And plenty of opportunities for clubs to take advantage of them.