With the announcement that Earnie Stewart will become the first GM of U.S. Soccer, we take a look at what his legacy in Philly might be.
When Earnie Stewart was hired in October 2015, Union fans were ecstatic. He was widely viewed as the best man for the job, a man who understood US Soccer and who understood how to operate a club on a budget thanks to prior experience doing so at AZ Alkmaar. Stewart stood for culture change and progress, becoming the first Sporting Director hired by owner Jay Sugarman after years of lack of personnel direction. We were hopeful.
Despite the air of change surrounding the club, as Earnie’s tenure moved on, much stayed the same: the Union were adamant about playing a 4-2-3-1, still had Jim Curtin as their manager, still collapsed at the end of matches. They still went on devastating losing streaks that torpedoed potentially successful campaigns, barely squeaking into the playoffs as a sixth seed on a tiebreak in 2016 despite being top or near the top of the table for a good part of the season, and finishing out of the playoffs in 2017 when the same losing streak stretched from one campaign to the next.
He was human. He made mistakes: he brought in players of questionable talent (Jay Simpson) or weren’t cut out for the Union play style of “everyone plays both sides of the ball” (Roland Alberg). But he also made good choices, such as bringing Alejandro Bedoya in during the 2016 campaign to try to steady a shaken team after the departure of Vincent Nogueira for personal reasons, and the acquisitions of Haris Medunjanin and Borek Dockal.
The most prevailing feeling about Earnie’s tenure here may be incompleteness. We’ll never get to see if the plan would work the way he wanted to see it through. We’ll never celebrate with him, or voice our full-throated opinion that changes need to happen and he needs to go. With that too comes the question of how credit or blame is assigned: we may see things go well in the near future or we may see them go terribly, but we’ll never know for sure just how much of that is on him, and how much is on ownership’s reluctance to spend instead.
Owner Jay Sugarman issued this statement today on Earnie’s hiring by U.S. Soccer:
“All of us at Keystone Sports and Entertainment are proud to see Earnie Stewart take this step in his career by becoming U.S. Soccer’s General Manager of the Men’s National Team. As one of the greatest players in the history of our National Team, Earnie has a passion for growing the sport in this country, and the opportunity for him to do so at the highest level is one that we certainly support.
“As a result of our youth development strategy, we are confident that others are recognizing the quality players that our Academy and Bethlehem Steel FC have developed. U.S. Soccer’s interest in Earnie is indicative of the work that our organization has done in building the sporting foundation of the Philadelphia Union – from our Academy, to a First Team seeing meaningful contributions from both Homegrown Players and established veterans. Earnie has earned this opportunity in every sense of the word, and we wish him the best at U.S. Soccer.
“Over the past two years, we have been very focused on creating a club-wide methodology and technical vision that we are confident will continue to guide us at every level of the organization, from the Pre-Academy to the Academy to Bethlehem Steel FC to the First Team, and we will continue to execute on that plan at all levels. As Earnie transitions out of his role over the next two months through July 31, we will be seeking a new Sporting Director who can help us build on this strong foundation.”