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Monday, October 26, 2015

Meet the new boss: Odds and ends from Jay Sugarman on Earnie Stewart

News broke Monday morning that the Philadelphia Union landed Earnie Stewart as its technical director. First and foremost, it's a move that was widely hailed within American soccer circles, including many pundits who've found precious little in the past to be excited about in Philadelphia. This one is particularly pertinent:

Jay Sugarman held a conference call Monday, and lots of information was divulged in the 30 minutes he addressed the media. Some highlights:

- Sugarman was effusive in his praise of Stewart's work ethic and vision, in a lot of the areas that the Union have emphasized. Sugarman stopped short of deeming Stewart the perfect candidate, but when you consider the criteria listed by Sugarman last November and again Oct. 2 in the wake of Nick Sakiewicz's firing, Stewart fits the bill pretty comprehensively.
"I think I feel pretty strongly we needed a real firm direction, just in terms of our playing philosophy and how we’re going to go about building a competitive edge in MLS. What I saw at AZ is they really had a strong track record of finding players that fit their team system, and we’re counting on him to do the same here. I think we have obviously room to elevate the quality of our scouting and our recruiting and our player development across the board, and on each of those, what he’s been able to do, what he’s been doing, is a really good fit with how we want to approach the world. He’s a guy that’s very focused on development. He has a real sense of that. We're looking for players who not only think the system can make better but can also make the players around him better and a philosophical way of playing very quickly. As we went through a number of individual cases, it was very clear to me that he had a strong sense of how to find real players to fit his system, and that’s guided a lot of his thinking, and that’s kind of what we’ve been looking for. ...
"One of our key criteria, we wanted someone who really wanted to be here. Earnie is I think as far back as 2012 has said that one of his goals in life was to come back and have an impact in the U.S. Soccer stage, to really come back and do something special for the country that he played for and clearly has deep feelings or and wanted to help us succeed but also help U.S. soccer continue to grow. So that was really important to me. I wanted someone who took that commitment seriously, who was willing to make a long-term commitment to the Union but also see their place in helping to grow the entire sport in the U.S. I look back at his playing record, you look back at how he went about developing himself as a young player and that kind of intense work ethic, he told a lot of stories about going out after practices on his own with Brian Carroll in D.C, and going out after practices and working on their own to make themselves better players. That’s the kind of mentality we think not only do we need at the Union and want at the Union but is part of the maturity process that the entire U.S. Soccer program is going through. Earnie is a great figurehead for that, and we’re delighted that he can come to the Union to make that impact."
- Sugarman didn't say how Stewart's name came up as a candidate. He said that Jim Curtin and Richie Graham were among the many parties involved in the search. Stewart's name didn't come up through MLS headquarters, though Sugarman did say the team contacted MLS when vetting Stewart.

- Sugarman said the process went quickly over the last two weeks. That would seem to indicate a pivot around the time when Sakiewicz was let go. At that point, Octavio Zambrano was the leading candidate.

- Stewart won't have a say in who is hired as the USL team's coach, to be announced Tuesday. He will, however, have a big influence in that organization's building process. Given the Jan. 1 arrival date from AZ, Stewart will be in the loop but not the primary person deciding on contract renewals in December.

- Jim Curtin will be the coach for next season, per Sugarman, but with a caveat:

Jim is the coach for the 2016 season. I can make that very clear. But I can also make clear that Earnie is going to set a high bar. I know Jim is looking forward to the challenge. Throughout the organization, we’re expecting people to raise their games. I don’t think anyone’s satisfied where we’ve been, and I have no doubt that Earnie’s going to set a high bar and people are going to have to reach it.
- Sugarman is hoping for a long-term commitment from Stewart, which could be five or more years. Here's the quote on the matter:

Two things, one in terms of length of commitment, we kind of looked at our team and think about at least a minimum of five-year chunks. I’ve asked Earnie if he’s willing to commit at least five years, and he’s willing to commit as long as we want to. I think we’ll see something on the order of five years as a placemarker, but this is about looking in each other’s eyes and making a long-term commitment to make this team great. That’s the challenge he’s signing up for.

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