Earnie Stewart leaving Union at end of July to become GM of U.S. men's team

After weeks of interviews and negotiations, Union sporting director Earnie Stewart was officially announced Wednesday as the U.S. men’s soccer team’s first general manager. He will leave the Union at the end of July, and begin his new job Aug. 1.

“I’m extremely proud and honored to be named as the general manager of the U.S. men’s national team,” Stewart said in a conference call with reporters. He thanked the Union for “giving me the chance and podium in the United States to show myself, and then making sure that I would be able to make this next step in my career.”

U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro said Stewart “better than anyone understands the pride, the passion, the commitment that comes with representing the United States. He’s also very, very focused on developing young talent, helping them reach their full potential, and establishing what we believe will be a winning culture and environment for our national team.”

Stewart’s potential departure has been an open secret for some time. Word of his candidacy for the national-team job got out in early April.

“When Earnie first interviewed with me, he said his highest aim was to really have an impact on U.S. soccer,” Union majority owner Jay Sugarman told the Inquirer and Daily News. “This is the only job I think he would ever leave us for, and he had told us up front when he came, ‘There’s only one job that’s better than what I have here.’ ”

Sugarman also noted that back in January, Stewart was a candidate to become the Dutch federation’s technical director, but he turned down that job to stay with the Union.

Did the Federation pay a buyout to pry Stewart away? CEO Dan Flynn took the question but sidestepped it.

“As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on contractual items in a public manner,” he said. “We had a very good relationship with the Union in our discussions, and Earnie was part of those. … Jay Sugarman was really very first-class.”

The question might be answered when the Federation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, releases its next set of financial reports.

Stewart’s main accomplishment with the Union was raising standards, especially in player development. The Union’s academy sent five players to the first team during his tenure and is seen as one of the best in MLS.

His track record with marquee signings wasn’t as good, though how much of the blame lies with ownership’s limits on spending might never be known.

Stewart won’t have to worry about salary caps and transfer fees anymore. His national-team work will be more philosophical and analytical. The first task will be hiring a head coach for the national team.

“This is really further a step to that commitment to ensure that ultimately, soccer operations at the U.S. Soccer Federation are run by soccer experts,” said Cordeiro, who spearheaded creating GM roles for the men’s and women’s national teams.

(The women’s national-team hire is coming next. Flynn said he hopes it’s done by the end of the year.)

Stewart’s resume certainly fits the bill for his new job. He played 101 times for the national team, including at three World Cups, and ran three Dutch clubs before moving to Philadelphia.

“These 2 1/2 years have been tremendous for me to see the landscape,” Stewart said. “You might know the country, but you’re looking from the outside in, and now I was internal. I could see what the processes were when it comes to MLS, but also the talent level that we have from a younger age up until our first team. That is something that I cherish very much, because that has set me up to be in the position that I am in right now.”