Jay Sugarman got his man.
Hours after officially naming Earnie Stewart as his club’s first dedicated sporting director on Monday (see story), the Union owner gushed over what he said was the first step in building a “great team.”
“I am super excited,” he said. “This is a piece of the puzzle. If we’re going to be a top-tier team, we need to be a top-tier organization led by a top-tier person. We want passion inside and outside the organization to really come back to the level we knew when we started the team in 2010. I really think this is the beginning of that. This is the beginning of something really good.”
Sugarman’s excitement spawns from his vision of Stewart’s Union — a team that develops from within and finds the right players, not the most expensive ones.
“It was really the right person and the right fit,” Sugarman said. “Earnie’s desire to do something impactful in the U.S., we really thought he lined up well with among our key criteria.”
A former U.S men’s national team standout, Stewart is coming from high-profile AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands, where he was director of football affairs. He is known for his crafty roster building and track record of success through development.
A bright and respected figure, Stewart possesses the exact skill set Sugarman wanted for his club.
“He’s achieved a lot of success where he is,” Sugarman said. “When we met him and kind of just spent time with him, we saw the qualities that we were looking for. We decided not to hesitate.”
Adding to the decision speed was the fact that the Union are staring down an important offseason that can’t move forward without a decision-maker. Coming off a 10-17-7 season, and currently holding the MLS lead for longest playoff drought, changes will be made.
“The sporting director was our highest priority,” Sugarman said. “We’re making significant investments and significant decisions and without that person in place, we’re really not going to make the progress we need to make.”
Yet one of those changes won't be involving manager Jim Curtin. But while Sugarman announced on Monday that the manager will be back next season, he reminded everyone that the leash will be short, not just with Curtin, but with everyone in the organization.
Expectations have been officially raised.
“Jim is the coach for the 2016 season,” Sugarman said. “I can make that clear. But I can also make it clear that Earnie is going to set a high bar. Throughout the organization, we are expecting people to raise their game. I don’t think anybody is satisfied where we’ve been and I have no doubt that Earnie is going to set a high bar and people are going to have to reach it.”