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Club América Femenil’s hiring of Craig Harrington raises red flags

Harrington takes the reins at América less than a year after a troubling tenure with Utah Royals ended with his dismissal.

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2020 NWSL Challenge Cup - Quarterfinal - Houston Dash v Utah Royals FC Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Last week, Club América named former Utah Royals FC head coach Craig Harrington as the club’s second permanent manager. Harrington was announced via the team’s social media account, however rumors had been swirling for the better part of the week about his imminent hiring. Harrington’s credentials were spelled out in the release from Club América’s English-language twitter account, including his time as men’s and women’s national team manager for Turks and Caicos Islands, time with the LA Galaxy youth system, and technical assistant for the Chicago Red Stars.

It’s worth noting however that Harrington was fired by the Utah Royals during a turbulent time for the organization as well as Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer, as both were part of the same organization. On August 26, 2020, players from Real Salt Lake and LAFC (as well as teams around Major League Soccer and other sports leagues in the United States) did not play to protest the police murder of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The next day, then Real Salt Lake and Utah Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen went on a radio station and talked about the decision to protest, saying “The disrespect was profound to me personally,” which ignited a firestorm. As the outcry against Hansen grew, allegations that the clubs fostered a toxic atmosphere came to light. The Athletic reported that Hansen had used the N-word as well as made other racist statements, eventually forcing Hansen to sell Real Salt Lake and the Utah Royals.

This atmosphere was what Harrington worked in, and allegedly helped make toxic. While Harrington was not alleged to have made any racist statements, a source close to the club alleges Harrington told an assistant coach a “joke” about her and her husband having sex in a minivan she had recently purchased. The assistant coach was made uncomfortable by this, and the source says it was reported to the team’s HR department and that there may have been other comments in a similar vein. It’s unclear if this was what ultimately lead to Harrington’s termination. This was seemingly corroborated by a tweet from The Athletic’s Meg Linehan on September 20, 2020.

The source also told me about an allegation that while interviewing for the Royals job with the Salt Lake organization, Harrington said he was close with Bruce Arena and had become a prominent figure in the LA Galaxy Academy, where he worked from 2010-13. Later an employee with the organization checked into Harrington’s story, and the Galaxy refuted a lot of it. The Galaxy reportedly emphasized that while Harrington was a coach at their academy, he and Arena weren’t particularly close and added that Harrington also had overstated his role with organization.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Harrington was largely viewed as being grossly incompetent. In an interview with the Sam’s Army Podcast earlier this year, former Royals player Lo’eau LaBonta described the situation in Utah in particularly unflattering terms. “You had to be there to truly understand but to put it into words it was the most unprofessional, hostile, inhumane settings. People were treated very poorly. It was so disrespectful.

LaBonta also went on in that interview to describe her and other Royals players meeting on their own time to break down film and game plan. “Our head coach maybe made a toxic environment for us, but our team would come together at our apartments and do film on our own.” The lack of preparedness showed in the results. Utah had one win, one draw, and two losses in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Houston Dash in penalties.

Harrington was also seemingly always on social media, liking articles and interacting with fans and journalists often while practices were going on. Harrington was placed on administrative leave for two months and then finally fired in November. The Royals ceased operations after the Hansen debacle, relocating to Kansas City in December of 2020.

Neither Club América nor Real Salt Lake returned requests for comment.

Harrington had remained largely out of view until the rumors surfaced earlier last week about his imminent hiring at Club América. While people should be given second chances, some América fans I talked to wondered if one of the most coveted women’s soccer jobs in the region was a redemption arc or simply failing upwards. One prominent NWSL writer remarked “If the rehabilitation of his career is warranted and necessary (questionable), at the VERY least it should not be in a head coaching position,” echoing the sentiment of a lot of others I’ve spoken with about this hire.

Hopefully for all involved, Harrington has learned a lot of lessons in the short time he’s been out of soccer and will at minimum create a professional working environment at Club América.