Earnie Stewart

Earnie Stewart leaving Union, hired as GM of U.S. men's soccer team

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Earnie Stewart leaving Union, hired as GM of U.S. men's soccer team

Earnie Stewart’s time with the Union is over.

On Wednesday, the sporting director accepted the men's national team general manager position, ending his near three-year stint with the Union. 

"These two-and-a-half years have been tremendous for me to see the landscape," Stewart said. "That is something I cherish very much. That set me up to be in the position I'm in right now."

The Union will utilize Stewart through July 31 and will begin looking for a new sporting director immediately. Assistant technical director Chris Albright is expected fill in during the interim. 

"Earnie has earned this opportunity in every sense of the word," Union owner Jay Sugarman said in an official release. "We wish him the best at U.S. Soccer."

Stewart, 49, left Europe, specifically an executive position at AZ Alkmaar, to join the Union for the 2016 season, with the ultimate goal of rising up the U.S. soccer ranks. The Dutch former midfielder earned 101 U.S. men’s national team caps as a player and spent much of his professional playing career splitting time between MLS and Eredivisie.

"When I came back to United States, I wanted to do something for soccer in general in the United States having played for the men’s national team and seeing the environment and the facilities, the infrastructure, the know-how," Stewart said. "I think we’re a country to be reckoned with."

Stewart provided a much-needed injection of stability, professionalism and behind-the-scenes infrastructure to the Union. But he couldn’t deliver the wins needed to move the Union into the top tier of the Eastern Conference.

The club did manage to make the postseason in 2016, snapping a four-year absence from the tournament but were easily dispatched after stumbling in without a victory in its final seven games.

Over Stewart’s three seasons with the Union, the club combined for a record of 27-34-21, posting identical 11-14-9 records in 2016 and 2017, marking limited growth in a rapidly improving league.

Stewart also wasn’t shrewd in his dealmaking. Although his legacy will be brightened by young homegrown players he cultivated in Auston Trusty, Mark McKenzie, Matt Real and Derrick Jones, Stewart, who proved an excellent draft talent evaluator, had his share of misses on the market, which contributed to the Union’s inability to thrive.

In 2017, Stewart, bound by a money-ball strategy, signed forward Jay Simpson to a pricey three-year contract totaling over a half million per season. Simpson has managed four starts, 24 games and one goal. Stewart also chased Charlie Davies — a late-season pick up in 2016 that cost the Union general allocation money, targeted allocation money and a first-round pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. The Union received two seasons and 104 total minutes from Davies.

Stewart also traded Union legend Sebastien Le Toux for cash in 2016 and whiffed on center back Anderson, left back Giliano Wijnaldum and youngster Adam Najem.

But it wasn't all negative. Stewart did hit on Fafa Picault, Roland Alberg, Oguchi Onyewu and Borek Dockal, but the productive additions weren’t common enough to get the Union over the talent barrier in the East. It’s a fact that will ultimately define the Stewart era to Union fans, as he becomes one of the most powerful people in U.S. soccer.

Earnie Stewart speculation no distraction for 'focused' Union

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Earnie Stewart speculation no distraction for 'focused' Union

With the Union on a two-game winning streak and facing the talented New York Red Bulls Saturday, talk around MLS should be about the team's opportunity to become a factor in the Eastern Conference.

Instead, the attention has been on sporting director Earnie Stewart.

“The club’s made a statement regarding Earnie,” Union manager Jim Curtin said during Thursday’s press conference at Talen Energy Stadium. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have him here.”

Stewart, 49, who is in his third season at the Union helm and has 101 caps for the U.S. men’s national team, has been a known candidate for the national squad’s open general manager position. But on Wednesday, New York's Metro reported that Stewart is the “likely favorite” and "in negotiations" for the role.

The team’s statement was roughly, “No comment.”

“For him to be in the conversation with U.S. soccer speaks to the pedigree and quality that he has,” Curtin said. “I can’t speculate or talk about what if this happens or this. I try to stay in the moment. Earnie is our leader and a guy who is focused on us beating the Red Bulls. That’s where we stand.”

With 23 games left in the season, news of Stewart’s potential departure is a surprising turn of events for the Union, who have just recently witnessed success by claiming back-to-back wins following a lengthy winless streak. 

Still, the 4-5-2 club is on pace for its third consecutive 11-14-9 season. Under Stewart, the Union are a paltry 26-33-20, with one playoff appearance. But despite news breaking prior to the important match against the 7-3-0 Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena, Curtin waved off any potential distraction.

“Conversations come up all the time during the course of the year,” he said. “There’s always reports and talented people get talked about a lot in the soccer world. Earnie is no different. He’s very good at what he does and with that brings attention from other areas."

If Stewart, who played in three World Cups for the U.S., were offered and accepts the USMNT GM position, it would be a natural fit. The Dutch-American midfielder left a personnel position at AZ Alkmaar, and likely turned down opportunities in Europe, to join the Union, where he was able to get his foot in the door of American soccer.

Now it appears like the top of the nation's soccer mountain is within his grasp. 

"That’s pro sports," Curtin said. "People who have a lot to offer are hot commodities and Earnie is one because he’s very good at what he does.”

Union believe they found their missing piece

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Union believe they found their missing piece

David Accam is a dream come true for the Union.

“At the end of the season, we talked about adding players and David was at the top of our list,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said. “I didn’t think that would be a real option. When it comes along, it’s incredible.”

Shocking as it was for Stewart, the Union pulled 27-year-old Accam from the Chicago Fire for allocation money at the 2018 MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 19. With his ability to create one-on-one opportunities and punish teams on the counter-attack, Accam, who had 14 goals and eight assists last season, is a perfect fit in the Union’s 4-2-3-1 system, and the exact type of “difference-maker” the team was looking for.

“David is known in the league for his speed, but when we scouted him we noted just how good he is on the ball,” Union manager Jim Curtin said Tuesday at the official introduction of Accam at Talen Energy Stadium. “The space he creates for others because he is so dangerous. When he gets one-on-one, his quality will take over games and it’ll create a lot of space for the rest of our players.”

From Accam’s perspective, he’s joining an established attacking group. Specifically mentioning Union leading scorer C.J. Sapong and winger Fafa Picault, Accam expects to have space to work.

“We have enough quality on this team already,” he said. “I just have to do my part.”

On top of his offensive acumen, Accam knows MLS. What attracted the Union to the speedster is not only his skill but his familiarity with the league. Unlike European players that take time to adjust to the climate, travel and style of play, Accam should make an instant impact on the Union.

“He’s been now, for multiple years, a top attacking player in our league,” Curtin said. “He’s got the statistics to back it up. The fact that he has a familiarity with the league, he knows the defenders will be grabbing and kicking him for 90 minutes, and that matters a great deal. It makes the transition more seamless. 

“He’s a great fit for us.”

But snagging that perfect fit wasn’t free. Acquired in one of the largest trades in Union history, the attacker was moved by the Fire in exchange for $1.2 million in combined allocation money. According to Stewart, the speedster, who was ripe for a new deal, signed an extension with the Fire before the team moved him to Philadelphia.

“Our understanding is that David has an obligation now with the Union through 2020,” Stewart said.

Despite scratching out a significant name off their wishlist, the Union aren’t quite done adding players, with the expectation that they bring in a playmaking midfielder. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be going on a shopping spree.

“I think we are in a better place than we were last year with the acquisition of David,” Stewart said. “There will be a little more happening but not much more because I believe the foundation is solid. With the acquisition of David and one more player in the near future, we’ll be in good shape to compete for the playoffs.”