Transcript: MNT General Manager Earnie Stewart's Introductory Conference Call

Inaugural U.S. Men's National Team General Manager Earnie Stewart was introduced to the media via conference call on June 6, 2018.
Earnie Stewart
Earnie Stewart

U.S. Men’s National Team General Manager Announcement
Conference Call Transcript
June 6, 2018 

Carlos Cordeiro          U.S. Soccer President
Earnie Stewart            U.S. MNT General Manager
Dan Flynn                   U.S. Soccer CEO/Secretary General
Nico Romeijn              U.S. Soccer Chief Sport Development Officer 

U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro’s Opening Statement:
Carlos Cordeiro: “Good evening everyone from London. Tonight I’m here with our CEO and Secretary General Dan Flynn, whom you all know. I want to thank you very much for joining us today for this very important announcement and to let you in on what’s probably been the best kept secret at U.S. Soccer, the introduction of our new General Manager for the U.S. Men’s National Team Earnie Stewart, who is on the line as well from Philadelphia.”

“On a serious note, this is really a very, very significant step forward for the National Team program and we are really thrilled to have Earnie on board. Combined with the structural changes at the Federation which we announced back in April, this is really a further step in that commitment to ensure that ultimately soccer operations in our Federation are run by soccer experts.”

“Before I turn it over to Earnie for some opening comments, let me thank our Board of Directors for the support they have given us in establishing this critically important position for the Federation. Special thanks go to Carlos Bocanegra and Angela Hucles, co-chairs of our Technical Development Board Committee. That’s a new committee, and it also includes Don Garber from the professional side of the game, John Motta from the adult side, and Tim Turney from the youth side. Angela and Carlos for their role were co-chairs of our search committee, which included Dan Flynn, Nico Romejn, Ryan Mooney and Jay Berhalter.”

“Earnie doesn’t need much of an introduction to all of you, but you know that he has an outstanding record of success in his more than 30 years in a game, both as a player and in management. He’s someone that played for us in three FIFA World Cups and earned more than 100 caps. He more than anyone knows the pride, passion and commitment that comes with representing the United States. He’s also 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. Although I’m not with him personally tonight, I want to congratulate him personally and welcome him to U.S. Soccer in this new role.” 

U.S. Men’s National Team General Manager Earnie Stewart’s Opening Statement:
Earnie Stewart: “Thank you very much Carlos. I appreciate the very kind words. After an extensive interview process, having several conversations with the Board of Directors and the search crew, I can say that I’m extremely proud and honored to be named as the General Manager of the U.S. Men’s National Team. One thing I’d like to do is thank the Philadelphia Union and owner Jay Sugarman for giving me the chance and podium in the United States to show myself and then actually making sure that I would be able to make this next step in my career, so I’m very thankful for that.”

“As Carlos already mentioned, in the conversations we’ve had with each other, I’m looking forward to working together with everyone in creating that culture that Carlos was talking about -- that winning culture of the U.S. Men’s National Team with all the colleagues I’ve already spoken to. Also, in this statement, the conversations we’ve had with each other and the role that is there for the General Manager is something I’m extremely comfortable with moving forward. The part of collaboration that I’m used to from my time as a player with the U.S. Men’s National Team has carried on into this General Manager role. Once again, I’m extremely proud and honored to be named the General Manager of the U.S. Men’s National Team.”

On who he will report to at U.S. Soccer:
ES: “I will report to our CEO, Dan Flynn.”

On picking the U.S. Men’s National Team head coach and who has the authority to make the decision:
ES: “First and foremost, I don’t know many organizations where somebody can come in and just pick whatever he wants. Having said that, obviously there will be a process in that regard. I will be responsible in making sure that I give the recommendation to the Board of Directors and Carlos Cordeiro when it comes to the U.S. Men’s National Team head coach. That will be my responsibility and obviously in that process I’m a person that’s always been known to collaborate and that’s the way the U.S. Soccer Federation will work. In that, I will make sure to speak to those that are very important in the search process, and in the end, we’ll come to a recommendation towards our board in terms of making the best decision for the U.S. Men’s National Team head coach.”

On whether the August 1 start date will impact the timing of hiring a head coach, particularly for the MNT’s September friendlies:
ES: “The friendlies aren’t the most important. Making the right choice is the most important thing. It’s process over speed, and I’m sure it’s going to look a lot like the interview process that was done for the General Manager role. That will also happen for the head coach.”

On why the start date isn’t before August 1:
Dan Flynn: “When you think about it we’re basically almost in the middle of June, and we thought it was timely in our conversations with Jay Sugarman and the Union to make a smooth transition. Earnie has to move to Chicago, and so when you started factoring all the loose ends tied up for the Union and Earnie moving, it’s actually pretty normal to have a 4-6 week timeframe.”

On the shortlist for the U.S. Men’s National Team head coach and whether he will travel to the World Cup:
ES: “Part of the interview process was making sure there was a candidates list based on a style of play that we discussed with each other. Yes, there is a list of candidates. It’s a wide list, and it’s not based on geography. I will not be traveling to the World Cup because once again my start date will be August 1 and I still have work to do here until that moment. At the same time, it’s already in place that we’ve been talking about a candidates list and we will continue that search process. As soon as we have news on that, we will make sure to let everyone know.”

On what made him believe he was a good fit for this role:
ES: “In the interview process, obviously U.S. Soccer had questions for me, but I obviously had questions for U.S. Soccer. A lot has to do with the question you’re asking right now. In discussing all issues that have to do with soccer, I am more than comfortable with my role and the responsibilities I will have as a General Manager. Everything that’s been said in the outside world is fine. I understand that, but it’s how I went into these discussions and conversations that we had with each other, and once again I’m really comfortable with the autonomy that I have within that. It first revolves around the U.S. Men’s National Team, but at the same time when we’re talking about a head coach or even when we’re talking about a coaching staff elsewhere, that might be led by somebody else, but we will be having conversations about that. I think that’s normal in organizations and I don’t see anything wrong with that.” 

On players with dual citizenship and whether there is a stigma, and whether he’ll be working on that pool of players:
ES: “Anybody who is eligible to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team, yes, that is my responsibility. I only can speak about myself and my dual nationality that I had when I made the choice to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team. When it comes to the discussions that were there a while back about ‘should they?’, I don’t understand that. I played with a lot of pride and passion for the U.S. Men’s National Team, and it’s something that I loved to do.” 

On style of play:
ES: “When it comes to the style of play and the conversations that I had with [U.S. Soccer], the question was ‘how do you get to a style of play’? Not that we’ve already come to the conclusion, but how do you get there? A lot has to do with the values that we deem very important for the players of the U.S. Men’s National Team. And you can think of some of those when it comes to team chemistry, when it comes to pride, to passion, and that leads to a style of play. Once again, it’s not set in stone what that will be, but it has started somewhere with the values that we think are important for the players that will step on the field and represent our country.”

On the job description for Earnie Stewart:
Nico Romeijn: “When you’re looking at the job description of the general manager, it’s a long-term position. That’s important. It’s about overseeing the whole program when you’re looking at the Men’s National Team, and then it’s looking at things like style of play, it’s the player pool—not only the current player pool, but also we’re looking at 2022 and 2026 - and his first main task will be the hiring of the coach. With that said, the other thing is that he should be the soundboard and counterpart of the Men’s National Team head coach. He will also be involved in the daily environment, creating the best conditions for our players. And again, that’s collaborative with our head coach. 

On whether or not he will be hiring the head coach for the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team:
NR: “He is involved. We already talked about it - Earnie said that there will be an alignment when you’re looking at these programs. That’s really important for us, talking about alignment and making a collaborative process. We’re looking at hiring an Olympic team coach, so he will be heavily involved in that process. He won’t be the end responsible person but for sure he will be involved, and he will be part of that conversation and decision-making process.” 

On what he learned during his time with the Philadelphia Union that prepared him for the U.S. MNT General Manager position:
ES: “You know what, this has been some great two-and-a-half years. One, you are correct, when I came back to the United States I wanted to mean something for soccer in general in the United States. Having played for the Men’s National Team and seeing the environment, the facilities, the infrastructure, the know-how, I think we’re a country to be reckoned with. We’ve already proven that, and we want to take that a step further. That was one of the reasons why I jumped on board with the Philadelphia Union, and in that meantime this time here has been tremendous for me to see the landscape because you might know the country but from the outside you’re looking 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. When I look at the talent in the United States and more regionally here with the Philadelphia Union in the Academy that we have going through to the USL and then the first team, I think a lot of times it’s underestimated what kind of talent that we have in the United States. Taking that even further and seeing the player pool that we have with the U.S. Men’s National Team and these young, eager talents that are coming through, I can’t wait to get started. It’s something special I think, and it can turn out to be very special. This whole process before, with Venlo, AZK Alkmaar and the Philadelphia Union, has positioned me to be where I am right now and hopefully to be an important factor in success in the future.” 

On his influence over style of play, and whether that would deter potential head coaches from being interested in the position:
ES: “I think that’s normal for clubs, that they have a philosophy, that they have a view of the style that they want to see. A lot of times we mistake ourselves that the style is the same as the formation. The style goes more towards the values of what we want to see on the field from our players. Quite frankly -and I’ve done this now for 15 years in this role and it’s a discussion that you have with head coaches - I have to say I have not sat down with a head coach yet in the 15 years that I’ve done this that all of the sudden the style of play, the identity of a club is something that a coach would not want to be a part of. They have the autonomy within the style of play to play in different formations, and that is something that belongs to the head coach.

“For the other part of your question, no, I don’t think that will ever be a problem. One, when you sit down and have conversations with each other, I think you’ll get an understanding, and I think it’s a great part that the coach knows exactly what we want to see on the field.  That is something that you discuss with each other, once again, but that is his responsibility at that time. I think one thing that is unique and that we have in the United States is that everybody wants to work here. I see it as a great opportunity. I don’t think there are going to be many coaches that will say no because the United States has values in the way they want to step on to the field and what they want to see from their players, and that all of the sudden the job is not interesting. No, I don’t believe that at all. On the contrary. I think that when you come with a plan, a lot of people will jump on board for that because there is a plan, there is a vision, there is an identity of what we want to see.”

On how Earnie Stewart’s performance and success will be measured and judged:
DF: “The overall, overarching goal is Earnie lays out the blueprint. It is envisioned that it is a long-term, lasting culture. I think that’s first and foremost. There will be other factors. Clearly results do count, but there will be many other factors in terms of building our player development plans, our high-performance plans, nutrition, et cetera. So it’s an accumulation, or it’s a variety of very important technical points and our vision is very long-term with that as well. We obviously want to qualify in ’22; ’26 is a bigger goal, and I think in our conversations, and Earnie can comment on this, we were very upfront and very direct that we do believe in the long term. At the same time, we need to see progress between now and ’22 with no set goals that we have to do this, we have to get this far, but we want to see progress and we outline the metrics of that process in terms of our culture, our player development, our interface with the leagues in this country, which quite frankly in the past has not been as good as it needs to be. Things of that nature are all part of the package that Earnie will be measured by.”

ES: “I can comment on that as well on the conversations that I had with Dan and with the others. I mean, high performance sport is about results. It’s as simple as that. That’s part of the process. I understand that. That’s not different from anywhere else that I’ve worked, and progress was important, which I totally get and understand, so I see no problems in that.” 

On how he plans to build that culture and blueprint with the short amount of time he will have with the players during the course of a year:
ES: “It’s not only myself but with several others that will do this. Building a culture in the end is really simple. It starts with those values that we deem important, coming to a style of play, making sure with the head coach that everybody understands their roles and responsibilities, and there’s so much more that you can do outside of only being with each other. Making sure that it’s really clear before anybody comes into camp what their role is going to be during this camp is also important so that guys can already prepare before they come. And you can take that even a step further in your scouting and everything that you do looking forward to the games that we are going to play against certain opponents, that people are aware of who we’re playing and what we’re supposed to be doing. I think that’s an important part of that whole culture.”

On how pursuing an MLS coach would affect the timeline:
ES: “I don’t see that affecting it at all. Just as the process of the hiring of the general manager for the Men’s National Team was, I believe that the coach will have the same process. We’re not so much looking at ‘there’s a game coming up and it has to be done.’ Once again, process over speed. Then you get to a phase somewhere down the road where you’re going to have to have discussions. If these are coaches that already have a job, we’ll have to have discussions with those individual clubs and we’ll come to a solution just like Dan and Ryan have done with the Philadelphia Union for myself.” 

On the importance of the latino talent to the future of the U.S. Men’s National Team and for his vision of a style of play, and how to address the underrepresentation of the Latino community among coaches:
ES: “I’m not in place yet so I haven’t had time to look at all that and see the data on that. What I can say is, being a dual national, that I think it’s really simple: everybody that’s eligible to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team and falls within those values that we deem important when they step on the field to represent us, they are eligible. I know that’s a very short answer to your question but that’s how I view it. I don’t look at where they came from and how they got there. It’s more important that they’re eligible and that they have those values, and maybe even more importantly, the technical ability to perform at a high level.”

On the Latin style of play:
ES: “I like seeing the Latin style of play. I think it’s a lot like the Dutch style of play. I think it’s very much based on having the ball all the time. That’s part of what I like to look at. But at the same time, in international soccer there are different rules to the game to have success. Once again, I’m not in place yet, so to be very specific on the style of play is early. We will determine in the near future what that style of play will be after having our initial conversations.”

On what led him more towards front office type work than to stay on the field and coach:
ES: “Well, I was born in Holland and for coaches it's really cold in the winter! Having said that, throughout my career I've always been part of the team groups of representatives, and I've always felt very responsible of what happened within our team. That kind of carried on to later in my career when I started thinking about 'what next?' When I went to VV Venlo, I signed a contract and in my contract,  I had in there that I would be head of the youth academy when I finished my career. It went a little bit differently, because after six, seven games, I went into an operation that came out with cartilage damage and they told me it would be better to stop playing, and VV Venlo was actually searching for a technical director at that moment. So, from bad sometimes comes good. I did have my license already to be a coach that I did with the KNGB through a sport school as they call it in Holland, but I never really had that affection towards coaching on the field. It was way more in a management role, in coaching from a different perspective. I would want to say I pretty much rolled into this. I think it fits better with my personality and who I am and what I'm trying to do and accomplish than being a coach.

On whether there a buyout for Earnie from his Union contract:
DF: “Just as a matter of policy, we don't comment on contractual items in a public manner. I will say this: we had a very good relationship with the Union in our discussions. Earnie was part of those, and I would like to let everybody know that Jay Sugarman was really very first class in his approach dealing with U.S. Soccer.”

On the biggest challenge in this job:
ES: “Well, it's a huge job. One, it's new in the sense that this is the first time that this has been appointed. Finding your way within the organization that's already been standing for a long while and has done tremendous things, I guess you could call that a challenge, but at the same time with the conversations that I had I don't necessarily see that as anything that would hold me back from anything. I guess that the biggest challenge, together with everybody else, is making sure that we create this culture as quick as possible, and through that the style of play and making sure through that style of play that we hire the right coach. That's the first and foremost. I'd say that would be the challenge, but I'm up for challenges.”

On the development of young talent and what he plans to do to improve it:
ES: “That's also a big question that goes way further than U.S. Soccer. I believe that's a combination of everybody that's very much sports-minded within the United States and making sure that there's a connection between all these various entities that there are within soccer, because development is not only U.S. Soccer. Development is M.L.S., development is USL., development is everywhere that people love soccer. It’s making sure that we have the pyramid that is necessary to be able to influence all kids that have the same passion for soccer that I had in my past and still have right now. Giving them the right environment, the right education within soccer, you could actually put that as a challenge as well, but that is going to be important.”

On his thoughts on the new up-and-coming group of players, and whether the current focus on youth is the way forward or that the veterans will return:
ES: “First and foremost, the last games that I've seen where Dave Sarachan has had a lot of young talent in that can show what they're worth has been very exciting. I think there's a lot of talent out there. I won't get into individual names or anything like that, but I think there's a lot of talent out there, talent that has also gotten some results and have shown very well. In the end, it's really simple. We need to qualify for 2022, and once again there needs to be a good look at those young kids that have that potential to reach the highest level, but usually that goes hand-in-hand with those players that have already done it, have already seen it and have the experience to help these younger players even thrive more in the environment that that we're creating with each other. That's open once again, and once the new head coach has arrived those are discussions that we will have together. It's his responsibility, but also part of that collaboration and talking with each other and making sure that we qualify later on. We need to keep a good balance of development, and more importantly having success and winning games.

On the status of the equivalent general manager position on the Women's National Team side:
DF: “We have done some internal work already. I think the best way to say it is we will start no later than the middle of July in a pretty aggressive fashion. I'm hoping that we can stay on a similar schedule in terms of number of months, but we're not going to put an exact timetable. Earnie says process over speed, and I think that applies on the women's side as well. But we hope to have that done by the end of the calendar year.”

On whether the U.S. MNT has drifted too far from having a style and identity, and whether that is something that needs drastic changing:
ES: “I don't like looking at the past because that would mean implying a lot of times that things that happened in the past were not good, and that's not the case. I know it's always disappointing to not qualify, but that doesn't mean that everything that happened in the past was not good. I think we are here where we are right now and can have these conversations with each other because U.S. Soccer has, from the day that I started playing in 1992 to where we are today, progressed tremendously. I think it's more building on something, that style of play and those values that we want to see. That is one thing and we want to see that every single game. That's the most important part, that that style of play and the values that we want to see on the field, that we see that every single game. Even if you don't like soccer but you see the U.S. National Team play, you can identify yourself with what's happening on the field. I think that's always been there. Maybe not every single game, but that's our challenge together, to make sure that that happens every single time.”