Felipe Hernandez can ask for reinstatement in January. (Rohman-USA TODAY Sports)

NEW YORK – In a first in the league’s 26-year history, Major League Soccer Friday suspended Sporting Kansas City midfielder Felipe Hernandez without pay for the remainder of the year due to violations of the league’s gambling integrity rules and standards of conduct, the organization announced.

Hernandez engaged in extensive and unlawful sports gambling while a member of Sporting Kansas City that included placing wagers on two MLS matches, in direct contravention of league rules.

MLS had 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 league and Sporting Kansas City immediately took steps to refer the matter to law enforcement and ensure that Hernandez received necessary support and counseling.

The league engaged the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP (Paul, Weiss) to conduct an independent investigation. Hernandez has been suspended since July, pending completion of the MLS and law enforcement investigations, both of which have been concluded. Paul, Weiss, in cooperation with law enforcement, undertook an extensive review, including conducting witness interviews, examining data from online gambling accounts and reviewing analyses of betting activity on certain MLS matches.

Based on that review, Paul, Weiss has made the following findings:

* Hernandez engaged in extensive and unlawful sports gambling while a member of Sporting Kansas City.

* Hernandez placed online bets on two MLS matches while a member of Sporting Kansas City. Sporting Kansas City was not a participant in either of those matches.

* No evidence was found that Hernandez possessed confidential or otherwise non-public information concerning those two MLS matches.

* No evidence was found that Hernandez ever bet on an MLS match involving his own team.

* No evidence was found that the integrity of any MLS match was impacted by the sports gambling activities under investigation.

* No evidence was found of any other gambling by MLS players on MLS matches.

MLS stated that Hernandez cooperated fully with the league’s investigation and will be eligible for reinstatement Jan. 1, 2022 on application to commissioner Don Garber, who will consider Hernandez’s compliance based on certain directives, including ongoing counseling.

If credible new information concerning this matter comes to MLS’s attention, the league reserves the right to revisit this investigation and the resulting discipline.

“The integrity of our game and safety of our players is MLS’ top priority,” the league said 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.”

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.