Earnie Stewart - close up

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After months of uncertainty, the first domino in the US men’s national team’s rebuilding process fell on Wednesday afternoon.


Earnie Stewart is the new general manager of the US men’s national team, with a start date of Aug. 1. He will, with input from the US Soccer board of directors, hire the USMNT’s next head coach. As someone with access to the internet and, at minimum, a passing interest in North American soccer, this news should not and almost certainly did not come as a shock to you.


Stewart’s resume speaks for itself. As USSF president Carlos Cordeiro emphasized, the hire means “soccer operations are run by a soccer expert.” Stewart boasts more than 100 caps for the US national team as a player, including three World Cups, and played nearly 500 professional matches in Holland and MLS before spending the past decade-plus in management with Eredivisie clubs VVV Venlo, NAC Breda and AZ Alkmaar and the Philadelphia Union.


A good resume is one thing, but Americans want results. They want to be inspired by their national team again. They want a clear vision and the collective cohesion needed to execute it at a high level in Concacaf and beyond. They want the future to be brighter than the past. They want to prepare for the next World Cup as giddy participants rather than jaded observers.


It’s Stewart and the next head coach’s job to make that happen. It won’t be easy. Here are three pressing questions as a new era of the USMNT begins.


What’s the job?


In three words: Establish the blueprint.


If that sounds a bit vague, that’s because the blow by blow of the job remains somewhat murky. Essentially, Stewart will be tasked with rebuilding the foundation of the team from the ground up.


Based on Wednesday’s conference call with Stewart, Cordeiro, CEO Dan Flynn, chief sport development officer Nico Romeijn and others, the general manager will be responsible for the following:


  1. Lead the hiring process and serve as counsel for head coach
  2. Establish a style of play and nurturing team culture
  3. Identify short- and long-term player pool
  4. Build relationships with players, clubs and leagues
  5. Facilitate internal player development


How exactly he’ll tackle those individual responsibilities remains to be seen, but Stewart must quickly construct an environment that gives the USMNT head coach and players the resources they need to grow individually and collectively. 


It’s not all nebulous, of course. Results matter, too.


Why was Earnie Stewart the right man for the job?


This job is about strategic vision, on the field and off, now and potentially through 2026. It’s about relationship building. It’s about straddling fences and finding common ground.


Stewart’s background and experience check all those boxes.


In management, the 49-year-old has always been a big-picture guy. Talent development is a long game, something Stewart learned heading the academy with VVV Venlo, taking on technical director roles with NAC Breda and AZ Alkmaar and finally leading the ambitious project he undertook with the Philadelphia Union to establish a pipeline from the academy to Bethlehem Steel in USL to the first team, a project just beginning to pay dividends in MLS.


It’ll be more of the same with the USMNT. The squad is rebuilding. Stewart must carefully plot the paths of the players available to him. He must connect the youth national teams to the first team. He must establish an underlying structure that gets the best from everyone around him. He must convince those with multiple options that they’d be best served in the US system.


None of that will be new to him. Certainly not the difficult decision elite players with multiple international options face as the world shrinks and the modern game demands a binding decision with lasting consequences. A dual national born in Holland to an American father and Dutch mother, Stewart knows that push and pull all too well.


He also knows that clear expectations and communication are the hallmark of leadership. On Wednesday, Stewart promised to eliminate grey area. Players will know their roles. They’ll know what’s expected of them. They’ll know it before they arrive to camp, during and after. Nobody will be figuring it out on the fly.


Their clubs won’t be left in the dark, either. Who better to grease the skids with clubs in MLS and Europe than a man who played for and managed teams on both sides of the pond? Stewart can credibly claim to be comfortable in every seat at the table.


And who better to reinvigorate the culture of a national team than a man who devoted more than a decade and countless cross-Atlantic flights to his country?


Stewart knows more than most what it means to represent the US. He’s seen the highs (1994, 2002) and the lows (1998) first hand. Now it’s his job to hire a coach that can return the US to where many assumed it had already ascended.


Who will be the next head coach of the US national team?


“Process over speed.”


That was Stewart’s mantra when pressed to reveal his short list of coaching candidates or the timeline in which a hire will be made. What that means in relation to the availability of World Cup or international coaches remains to be seen. Though his official start date is Aug. 1, it’s hard to imagine the process isn’t already moving along in some capacity.


Based on his rhetoric around style of play, more a set of values than formational dogmatism, it seems Stewart aims to return the USMNT to the committed, collective (and talented) unit that saw the team storm to the brink of the semifinals in 2002, wrest Concacaf supremacy away from Mexico and nearly win the Confederations Cup.


“We want to make sure that when we step on to the field that we know who we are representing,” he said in a Q&A released by U.S. Soccer. “We want to know that and create that environment with the will of going out there and fighting like lions every time. We might not win all the time, but it certainly can never be that when we step off the field, people can say we didn’t fight for it.”


Those values will guide Stewart in the hiring process, and it’s hard for me to imagine he’ll stray from candidates who understand the American player and mentality as intimately as he does. Frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine the next head coach of the national team will not be American.


No doubt you’re familiar with some of the leading candidates in MLS. The likes of Peter Vermes, Greg Vanney, Jesse Marsch and Gregg Berhalter.


I’m going with my gut. I expect Berhalter to be the choice, given his overlapping tenure in the national team with Stewart, his experience as a player and coach in both Europe and MLS, and his ability to wring the most out of a Columbus Crew SC team that doesn’t spend in the upper echelon of the league yet still competes with and often beat the league’s elite teams.


What do you think of Earnie Stewart’s appointment as USMNT general manager? Who should he hire to coach the team? Let us know in the comments section below and tune in to ExtraTime Radio on Thursday for Matt Doyle’s take on the big news.