EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New U.S. Soccer men’s general manager Earnie Stewart has spent the past several years in Philadelphia (with the Union of MLS), so it’s a fair bet that he has heard the phrase “Trust the Process” a few gazillion times.
But while Stewart didn’t utter those exact words on Thursday in discussing his search for a new U.S. men’s national team coach, the message from his roundtable meeting with reporters ahead of Friday’s USA-Brazil friendly was clear: Even though it has been 11 months since Soccer Doomsday, when the U.S. failed to qualify for World Cup 2018, Stewart is going through a deliberate plan to make what he hopes is the best hire possible for the job.
Stewart, who started in his new role August 1, said he expects to have a decision made by the end of the year. He said he has completed a phase of defining the characteristics for his “profile” of the right coach that has included speaking to 15 to 20 people around the U.S. soccer landscape to hear their ideas and combining them with his own about the U.S. player pool and what sort of playing style the U.S. national team should have. (The phrases “aggressive in the right sense of the word” and “a bit in your face” came up.)
“It’s important that you first have a set profile of what kind of characteristics the head coach needs to have, and that starts with the values of the American player and what U.S. Soccer is about,” Stewart said. “Because it’s not about Earnie’s coach or anything like that. It’s about having a coach that’s good for U.S. Soccer and where we stand right now and where we want to go to. That profile has been done.”
When asked if speaking English is a requirement of that profile, Stewart said yes. He added that other aspects—knowing MLS and American soccer culture—weren’t necessarily required but were preferred.
U.S. Soccer is also big into data and metrics these days. Months before Stewart was hired, one insider said that Stewart was likely to get the job because he likes using data and metrics. Sure enough, Stewart said on Thursday that he will also employ data analysis in his coaching search.
“I have a profile now, but there’s also some extra layers that come into that,” he said. “I’ll name one of them: Data. The profile is connected now to data, and we’re going to have data points that show a little bit of that. … When we look at our style of play and the things that are in there, we believe in the United States that we are a country that are aggressive in the right sense of the word and a little bit in your face. You can imagine that if you say that, there’s also a way that could be implemented in a system and a formation by a coach. Then you can actually look at the coaches: Do they have that style? Some are not that way. Others are. That’s the data that would go into that as an example. Make sure that subjectiveness meets the objectiveness. The more information you have, the better it is.
“The way we look at soccer can be very romantic sometimes,” he continued, “and you see something in front of you and you have this certain idea about it, and then you find out later on when you see data points of that that the eye doesn’t really meet what is actually happening on the field, because for some reason you see it in a different way. And that’s not good. So I want to make sure it’s backed up with that. It’s always one and the other, it’s never one by itself.”
Stewart said he has spoken to “six or seven” coaches or their agents, usually when they have contacted him, not the other way around. (He said he didn’t want to specify any names when asked if one of them was Juan Carlos Osorio, who took the Paraguay job this week.) But Stewart emphasized that he is only now about to begin the process of formal job interviews—and that there won’t be a big pool of candidates in those interviews.
“Once you interview you are in a very, very serious phase,” he said. “I’m not going to sit down with 18 people … That’s why the profile is set. What I believe in is you sit down with the person that you want and then you have discussions with them—long and very hard discussions. And then it works or it doesn’t work. But it’s not going to be where I have like eight people sitting and I’ll make a choice after that.”
Stewart was asked specifically about Gregg Berhalter, the Columbus Crew coach who now appears to be the frontrunner to many observers.
“You mentioned Gregg, but people have also asked me about Louis van Gaal, that he was going to be the next one,” Stewart said. “I don’t see one or the other, and honestly I don’t pay much attention to it. I want to make the right choice.
“One thing I do want to say [about Berhalter] that is something that has been brought to my attention is that he’s going to be it because he’s a friend of mine. Now that part I don’t understand. We played together and we’ve communicated with each other, but friends is a little overboard, I’d want to say. I know Gregg from the past. When he was in Sweden he’d call me for advice, and I’d do that same. But we have a professional relationship and we played with each other. But I could say that about a lot of others at the same time.”
Stewart added that he had no concern about any potential conflicts that could arise if Berhalter were hired by U.S. Soccer, which also employs his brother, Jay, as one of its top executives. A U.S. Soccer spokesperson said that Jay Berhalter, who was part of the committee that hired the general manager, is no longer part of the technical side and is limited to the commercial side of the federation.
Otherwise, it was clear that Stewart views his role as one where he will be in regular, direct communication with the new men’s national team coach once he’s hired. The federation will now require that the coach and his staff be based in Chicago, where Stewart himself has moved. Stewart’s wife and their two children, aged 16 and 19, recently moved from Philadelphia back to the Netherlands.
“This is something that I have made a lot of sacrifices for in the sense that I’m apart from my wife and kids … and I’m full-heartedly in this and I want to be in this for a longer period of time,” Stewart said. “Because if you want to do what you love and what you have passion for, as I have for this country and for our men’s national team and soccer in general, I want to be here for a long time and make sure we become successful.”