Earnie Stewart hired as U.S. soccer general manager, likely delaying coach search until after World Cup

In this June 22, 2016 photo, Philadelphia Union sporting director Earnie Stewart waits for the start of an MLS soccer game against the Chicago Fire in Chester, Pa. The three-time World Cup veteran has been hired as general manager of the U.S. men's national soccer team, a new position created after the Americans failed to qualify for this year's tournament. (Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

New York • Former midfielder Earnie Stewart was hired Wednesday as general manager of the U.S. men’s national soccer team, likely delaying the search for a new coach.

Stewart has been sporting director of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union since October 2015 and will start his new job Aug. 1, the U.S. Soccer Federation said Wednesday. Stewart does not plan to attend the World Cup, a shopping center for federations and clubs seeking coaches.

Bruce Arena quit as coach after a loss at Trinidad and Tobago last October ended the Americans’ streak of consecutive World Cup appearances at seven. Dave Sarachan, Arena’s top assistant, has been coaching the team on an interim basis. After Saturday’s exhibition at France, the U.S. is off until September, when it likely will play a friendly against Brazil on Sept. 7 followed by a game against Mexico four days later.

“Making the right choice is the most important thing,” Stewart said during a telephone news conference. “It’s process over speed.”

After the World Cup failure, Carlos Cordeiro succeeded Sunil Gulati as USSF president in February, and the USSF board created GM positions for the men’s and women’s national teams. Stewart will recommend a coach to Cordeiro and USSF chief executive Dan Flynn. The choice must be ratified by the board.

“I don’t know many organizations where somebody can come in and just pick whatever he wants,” Stewart said. “I’m a person that’s always been known to collaborate, and that’s the way the U.S. Soccer Federation works.”

Gulati selected Bob Bradley to succeed Arena in 2006, brought in Jurgen Klinsmann in 2011 and re-hired Arena in 2016, picks that were approved by the board. Cordeiro, a former Golden Sachs executive who had been USSF vice president, wants more people with on-field soccer experience to be part of the process.

An early goal is to eliminate player whining, such as defender Geoff Cameron’s complaints when he didn’t start in the last two World Cup qualifiers.

“A lot has to do with the values that we deem very important for the players of the U.S. men’s national team,” Stewart said. “And you can think of some of those when it comes to team chemistry, when it comes to pride, to passion, and that leads to a style of play.”

Stewart said part of his job is “making sure with the head coach that everybody understands their roles and responsibilities” and “making sure that it’s really clear before anybody comes into camp what their role is going to be.”

“A lot of times we mistake ourselves with that the style is the same as the formation. The style is more — goes towards the values of what we want to see on the field from our players,” he said. “They have the autonomy within the style of play to play in different formations, and that is something that belongs to the head coach.”

The U.S. faced a similar situation in 1998, when veterans sniped at coach Steve Sampson over reduced playing time and the Americans finished last at the 32-nation World Cup. Arena was hired and led the U.S. to the 2002 quarterfinals, the best result for the Americans since the first World Cup in 1930. Arena was fired after first-round elimination in 2006. The Americans were knocked out in the round of 16 in both 2010 and 2014.

“We do believe in the long-term,” Flynn said. “At the same time we need to see progress between now and ’22, with no set goals that we have to do this, we have to go this far. But we want to see progress and we outlined the metrics.”

Arena, like Klinsmann and Bradley, had wide latitude to hire the team’s staff and select players. It remains unclear how much influence Stewart will have.

Stewart is the Dutch-born son of a U.S. Air Force airman and the first person with the GM title since Bill Nuttall from Aug. 15, 1991, to Aug. 15, 1994. Nuttall handled many of the team’s administrative tasks in the run-up to the 1994 World Cup.

Stewart scored 17 goals in 101 appearances from 1990-95 and played at the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups. After retiring as a player, he was NAC Breda’s technical director and AZ Alkmaar’s director of football affairs before moving to Philadelphia.

Flynn said the search for a GM of the women’s team will start by mid-July and he hopes to make a hire by the end of December. The Women’s World Cup starts on June 7, 2019.