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Earnie Stewart becoming US Soccer sporting director considered ‘natural next step’ in federation’s evolution

He will be U.S. Soccer’s first sporting director after a year as the general manager of the men’s national team.

Earnie Stewart walks the field during halftime of a game between the Philadelphia Union and the Vancouver Whitecaps at Talen Energy Stadium. (Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

The United States Soccer Federation restructured its soccer operations Monday by appointing Kate Markgraf the first women’s national team general manager and promoting men’s national team general manager Earnie Stewart. Beginning immediately, Stewart will take on the role of the federation’s first sporting director, head of the newly-launched Sports Performance Department.

I can tell you I’m extremely excited in working together on our overall goal of becoming the preeminent sport in the United States,” Stewart said during a conference call with reporters a few hours after U.S. Soccer announced the personnel changes Monday afternoon.

The move comes as the federation continues structural changes that were called for after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. One of the most visible changes was Carlos Cordeiro becoming the federation’s president in February of 2018 and subsequently creating general manager positions for both the men’s and women’s programs.

Cordeiro said the decision to name a general manager for the women’s national team was always scheduled for after the 2019 Women’s World Cup so there would be no distractions while the team prepared to defend its title, but Stewart joined U.S. Soccer last year as the men’s national team general manager.

One of the many changes that we’ve been bringing into U.S. Soccer over the past year 1/2 since I became president is really making sure that soccer operations are run by soccer experts,” Cordeiro said during the conference call.

As sporting director, Stewart is essentially the leader of the federation’s soccer operation. Cordeiro said Stewart will oversee not just the women’s and men’s national teams, but will also be responsible for the federation’s Paralympic teams and beach soccer teams. More specifically, Cordeiro pointed to “talent and identification, high performance, [and] our analytics departments” as duties tasked to Stewart.

Stewart will report to U.S. Soccer’s chief executive officer, for now the retiring Dan Flynn. The general managers of both the women’s national team and the men’s national team will report to Stewart, meaning his previous position as the men’s national team general manager is vacant. Cordeiro said the process to replace Stewart is underway, but that the federation is “only just beginning that search.”

As far as the CEO search — current chief operating officer Jay Berhalter is widely reported a frontrunner for the job — Cordeiro said, “I don’t really want to comment on that because that’s still ongoing. … We’ll come back to that in the weeks ahead.”

Perhaps Stewart’s most immediate tasks as sporting director will be filling the vacant coaching positions for the women’s national team and multiple youth national teams. Stewart said he will oversee the hirings for the youth teams and will assist Markgraf as she takes the lead on finding a successor for USWNT coach Jill Ellis.

The two general managers ultimately have the responsibility for managing the coaching position,” Cordeiro said, “so I don’t see this as anything other than a collaboration amongst three people, or two people when it comes to the women’s side or two people on the men’s side, with Earnie providing the overall leadership.”

Stewart described his role as ultimately one that relies on the collaboration of many to achieve overall success of individual programs and the federation as a whole.

“I look forward to the challenge of leading our Sports Performance Department and aligning our overall technical approach on both the women’s and the men’s sides,” Stewart said. “With the best practices from both sides, I truly believe that we can help each other.

“This is what we will strive for every single day when we come to work: creating high performance environments for our talent to develop.”

The joint effort was also something Markgraf referenced in her opening remarks as the women’s national team general manager. She said she will be “advised by some of the best soccer minds in the country,” including her new colleague Stewart, adding that his input will allow her “to help build a platform for continued success for many years to come.”

Cordeiro added that the creation of the role streamlined the entire operation at Soccer House, the name given to the federation’s Chicago headquarters.

“There were way too many people reporting to the CEO,” Cordeiro said of the previous structure, adding that Stewart’s performance as the men’s national team general manager over the last year pushed him to make the move.

Let me just say that Earnie has been doing a fantastic job as GM on the men’s side,” Cordeiro said. “As Earnie grew into that role, it became more and more evident to all of us that our national programs, women’s and men’s, would truly benefit from having a single sporting director, someone to bring even greater coordination across really all performance areas.

“Earnie was hands-down the best choice and he was already in house, so that was an easy choice, an easy decision for us.”

Ultimately, though, Cordeiro believes the role of sporting director will allow U.S. Soccer to making the type of long-lasting change many are looking for from the federation, which is dealing with a struggling men’s program, a gender-based pay discrimination lawsuit from the women’s players and reports of a toxic culture

This is such an obvious next step in the evolution of soccer, of the managing of our soccer performance,” Cordeiro said. “I think everyone’s embraced and everyone’s very excited about the structure.”

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