(Reuters) – Sporting Kansas City midfielder Felipe Hernandez has been suspended for the remainder of the Major League Soccer season for violating gambling integrity rules, including placing bets on MLS matches, the league said on Friday.
MLS said it initiated an investigation on July 5 after Hernandez disclosed to Sporting Kansas City that he was concerned about his personal safety due to his gambling debts.
The independent investigation conducted by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP found that Hernandez had placed online bets on two MLS matches.
Neither of those matches involved Sporting Kansas City and there was no evidence he wagered on any MLS games involving his own team.
Hernandez, however, did engage in extensive “unlawful” gambling on other sports.
The report also said that there was no evidence the integrity of any MLS match was impacted by sports gambling activities.
“The integrity of our game and safety of our players is MLS’ top priority,” said MLS in a statement. “MLS would like to thank law enforcement, Sporting Kansas City, and the MLS Players Association for their cooperation and assistance in this matter.”
Hernandez will be eligible for reinstatement on Jan. 1, 2022.
Born in Colombia and raised in Nashville, the 23-year-old American said on Twitter that he is seeking treatment for his addiction and hopes to return to the MLS.
“This summer, I stepped away from soccer – the game that means so much to me – and began receiving treatment for a gambling addiction,” wrote Hernandez.
“Over the last several months, I have been able to reassess, take responsibility for my actions and get the proper care for something that has greatly affected me.
“I look forward to doing everything possible to get back on the field and will work harder than ever to help Sporting KC achieve its goals.”
Hernandez appeared in six games this season and scored his first career MLS goal.
Sporting Kansas City are second in the Western Conference standings on 52 points, two behind the Seattle Sounders with six matches remaining.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Christian Radnedge)