EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – U.S. men’s national team general manager Earnie Stewart still hasn’t formally interviewed candidates to become the program’s next head coach, but that’s not to say that the former U.S. World Cup midfielder hasn’t talked to anyone about the job.
“No, I haven’t interviewed people,” Stewart said. “Have I spoken to people? I’ve spoken to people. There’s a difference.”
Chatting with reporters Thursday in the bowels of MetLife Stadium, where interim boss Dave Sarachan will lead a young Yanks squad against Brazil on Friday, Stewart provided his first public update on the coaching search. He’s spoken to more than two dozen people in all, most of them American soccer lifers who aren’t actually contenders themselves, but rather contacts who might be able to provide valuable input for Stewart to consider when it comes time to recommend a candidate to the U.S. Soccer Federation’s board of directors. But yes, some of the conversations he had were with coaches who want the job.
“Six or seven coaches,” Stewart said. “Some have called, some have called through their agents seeing if there is interest. People that call me, I can’t control that. But the interview process has not taken place.
“How I look at it, once you interview, you are in a very, very serious phase,” Stewart added. “I’m not gonna sit down with 18 people. That’s not going to happen. I don’t believe in that.”
The 49-year-old was vague at times during the almost hour-long conversation. He didn’t want to reveal the names of those he’s consulted with informally, or the people who reached out about the position, which has not been filled on a permanent basis since Bruce Arena resigned last October in the days following the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Despite the lack of specifics, the session did provide some clarity about what sorts of characteristics the new man must have, and when he might get started.
“Without going into too much detail, I think there’s a couple of things that are very important,” he said. “It has to be someone who wants to work together, because in this day and age I don’t think one person can do the whole job, especially in a country as big as this.”
Stewart said that while familiarity with MLS, the American player pool, and the CONCACAF region are pluses, they aren’t requirements. In fact, he mentioned only two things that could be characterized as non-negotiable: the new coach must be able to speak English, and he must be willing to move to Chicago, where he and Stewart would work hand-in-hand at the federation’s headquarters to re-shape the national team in their image. The former mandate is particularly interesting, as it would appear to disqualify Atlanta United’s Tata Martino, who previously led Barcelona and Argentina’s national team.
As for the latter requirement, “I realize that you can communicate through computers and on the phone, but it’s not the same as sitting across from each other in a room and having a conversation,” Stewart said.
“These are full-time jobs. We have to get the best out of our players and we have to turn over every single stone and make sure that we’re all collectively on the same page. I want to have a collaborate approach. The culture that I believe in is sitting face-to-face.”
Stewart insisted that right now, he has no one person in mind for the job. That includes Gregg Berhalter of the Columbus Crew, his former teammate on the U.S. team that reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. Several pundits (including this one) believe that Berhalter’s credentials, plus the Crew’s potential relocation to Austin, Texas next year, make him the odds-on favorite. Stewart certainly didn’t rule him out. If Berhalter is eventually named, though, it apparently won’t be because of their shared history.
“Something that has been brought to my attention [is the notion] that he’s going to be [the choice] because he’s a friend of mine,” Stewart said of Berhalter,. “That part I don’t understand. We played together, and we’ve communicated with each other, but ‘friends’ is a little overboard.
“When he was in Sweden, he’d call me for advice, and I’d do the same,” he added. “We have a professional relationship, and we played together. Then again, I can say that about a lot of others. That he’s a shoo-in is not the case.”
Stewart allowed that it’s unlikely any hire is made before the U.S. takes on Colombia and another unnamed foe (reportedly Peru) next month. It’s possible it could happen before November games against England and Italy.
He’s not worried that the delay will cause qualified candidates to sign on elsewhere. Juan Carlos Osorio, a former MLS coach who led Mexico to the second round at Russia 2018, inked a deal with Paraguay earlier this week. “I’m not going to make a decision based on the fact that someone might go somewhere else,” Stewart said.
Of course, before any announcement can be made, Stewart must conduct at least one proper interview. With a better idea of what he’s looking for five weeks into his new role as GM, he expects that to happen soon.
“Now we’ll go into the next phase of having a candidate or candidates and having candid conversations about the head coach job,” he said. “What I believe in is you sit down with the person that you want, and have discussions with them—long and very hard discussions. And then it works or it doesn’t.”
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