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U.S. Soccer cites FIFA guidelines over blocked Relevent Sports Miami match

U.S. Head Coach Gregg Berhalter joins the Heineken ESPN FC Boot Room to talk all things Gold Cup and his ambition to win the tournament.

The U.S. Soccer Federation said FIFA guidelines prevented it from approving an Ecuadorian league match in Miami one day after Relevent Sports sued the USSF over the its refusal to sanction the game.

In a statement given to ESPN, the USSF said it "reached out to FIFA and verified the FIFA Council's October 2018 confirmation stating the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association."

Relevent later issued a statement of its own asking FIFA to provide clarification on the matter after it had attempted to hold a league match between Ecuador top-flight sides Barcelona SC and Guayaquil City FC on May 5 at Miami's Hard Rock Stadium. As the national governing body for the sport of soccer in the U.S., it is the federation's job to decide whether to sanction the event.

When Relevent failed to obtain the needed approval from the USSF -- in part due to what Relevent deemed delay tactics over whether its CEO Charlie Stillitano was registered with FIFA as a licensed match agent -- it sued the federation, as well as Dan Flynn, the organization's secretary general.

The suit was filed on the grounds that the USSF violated its stated purpose "to promote, govern, coordinate, and administer the growth and development of soccer in all its recognized forms in the United States for all persons of all ages and abilities, including national teams and international games and tournaments."

The suit also alleged that the USSF withheld is approval in a bid to give an advantage to Soccer United Marketing, the marketing arm of Major League Soccer, and a competitor of Relevent's in the area of promoting international soccer matches.

Last October, Relevent was in the process of trying to schedule a league match from Spain's La Liga in Miami. In response, the FIFA Council issued a press release stating that it "emphasised (sic) the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association." The statement was based on a recommendation from the FIFA Stakeholders Committee.

Documents obtained by ESPN FC confirmed approval from the Ecuadorian league, LigaPro, the Ecuador Football Federation (FEF), as well as CONMEBOL to allow Relevent to put on the match. The USSF statement added that it then attempted to verify the approvals from the FEF and CONMEBOL "to confirm whether they were aware that the proposal involved a competitive league match."

The USSF asserts that it never received a confirmation from either entity.

"Due to this lack of clarity from Ecuador and CONMEBOL, U.S. Soccer was in direct discussions with Relevent about their application," the USSF statement read. "Considering our conversations with Relevent were ongoing, we were surprised legal action was taken on this matter before we provided an official decision.

"In the end, due to the fact that we did not receive any additional information from the pertinent parties and the application sought to allow two Ecuadorian teams to play a competitive league match outside their country, which would go against the FIFA Council's October 2018 confirmation, we informed Relevent on Monday that we would not approve the requested match."

Relevent responded by amending its complaint, countering the assertion that the USSF was bound by recommendations from the FIFA Stakeholder's Committee.

"Only FIFA's Congress may adopt or amend FIFA's statutes, the regulations governing the application of the statutes, and the standing orders of the Congress; the Football Stakeholder's Committee may not unilaterally implement any rule or formal policy-it can only recommend rules and policies to FIFA's Congress," the complaint read.

Relevent also issued a statement through a company spokesperson, asking FIFA for clarification on the issue.

"We have asked the court to ensure US Soccer is following their own process for approving international regular season matches, so that American audiences can see in-person, top soccer stars and clubs from across the globe. Countries all over the world have welcomed our leagues, teams and star athletes for decades, generating a shared passion for sports that transcend borders. We ask US Soccer to join us in seeking clarification from FIFA on this issue, which will ultimately be beneficial for the parties involved as we all work to grow and promote the sport we love."

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