Earnie Stewart is the new United States men’s national team general manager, the man charged with hiring, er, recommending the hiring of the manager tasked with leading the nation back into international prominence following a horrible World Cup qualifying failure.
On the surface, he ticks a lot of boxes. Domestic success and international acclaim, a sense of the past and present. And, perhaps most importantly, the Dutch-born son of an U.S. Air Force airman and his Dutch wife, he knows that USMNT players can come from anywhere.
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And, unlike anyone in recent memory to hold such a coaching or management position with the team, he’s put on the USMNT shirt more than 100 times.
I reached out to a friend who’s worked alongside Stewart to see if I should be excited, nervous, or both about his hiring. Here’s what I was told:
“I’ll tell you this about Earnie. I’m a really big fan in terms of professionalism, order, hierarchy. Consummate pro. There will be more transparency with him as well.”
Andrew Helms’ and Matt Pentz’s story on the USMNT’s 2018 qualifying failure details how the order wasn’t there with Jurgen Klinsmann, and the professionalism at times was clearly as issue under Bruce Arena (see the Trinidad training field saga).
What the USMNT needs now, more than ever, is a man who can bridge the divide between administration and players, between the team and supporters.
There are so many reasons to be concerned about the status of U.S. Soccer. Whether Stewart understands what it means to grow the American game here and abroad is not one of them.
Stewart scored more than 100 goals in the Netherlands before playing a pair of MLS seasons and building the nascent league’s reputation.
He’s played in three World Cups for three different managers, with three very different results. There was the U.S. based tournament that built MLS in 1994, the disastrous run at France 1998, and the glorious if fortunate run to the quarterfinals (which could’ve met the semifinals, TORSTEN FRINGS) in 2002.
Along the way, he’s dealt with the hype of that first tournament, then monumentally awful intra-squad strife in 1998 before that wonderful ’02 run. He has seen it all.
There’s no guarantee he’ll hire the right guy. There’s no guarantee he’ll win over talented dual citizens.
But there’s little doubt he’ll be a proper sounding board for the man he hires, and that he’ll be invigorated to work with a wealth of talent and resources having been hamstrung in Philadelphia.
For everything that needs to be fixed in American soccer, and the uncertainty over whether anything’s really changed with the men and women who are tasked with fixing it, this hire means U.S. Soccer has taken a step forward with a sound decision.