What's behind sudden departures at U.S. Soccer, and how will they impact USMNT in 2026?
The soap opera keeps running over at U.S. Soccer.
The federation announced Thursday that its sporting director, the person who oversees the men’s and women’s national team programs, is leaving to take a job in the Netherlands. It also confirmed the departure of the general manager of the U.S. men’s team. And, of course, the USMNT is still without a permanent head coach.
Which means the U.S. men, still reeling from a dispute involving the former (and maybe future) coach and the parents of one of his players that’s so petty it would embarrass grade schoolers, are without their three highest-profile leaders. And will be for at least the next several months, with U.S. Soccer saying the new sporting director will make the final call on the USMNT coach.
Less than ideal given the clock is already ticking on the next men’s World Cup, and the stakes for 2026 are massive for both U.S. Soccer and its MNT.
“We know this moment feels a bit uncertain. What it actually is is a clean canvas,” U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said during a call after the moves were announced.
“We did not plan it this way,” Parlow Cone added. “But we do find ourselves in this position and we’re going to take this opportunity to really do a deep dive on the sporting side to make sure we’re as effective and efficient as possible because we have a grand vision of where we want to go.”
Grant Wahl honored: U.S. Soccer honoring late journalist with press box tribute until 2026 World Cup
For sale: Pair of Chicago mansions known as U.S. Soccer House can now be bought for $4.2 million
Who left and why is it a big deal?
Earnie Stewart, who as sporting director oversaw both national teams, has taken a job at Dutch club PSV Eindhoven. His departure, combined with USMNT general manager Brian McBride leaving and no coach after Gregg Berhalter’s contract expired last month, leaves a significant void and creates as much uncertainty.
U.S. Soccer has hired Sportsology Group to both assist in the search for a new sporting director and review the federation’s sporting department, which could mean changes to the management structure. Will that entice or turn off candidates? If changes are recommended, will it delay any of the hirings?
The U.S. has eyed 2026 as an opportunity to supercharge the game’s appeal domestically, much like hosting the 1994 World Cup did. Having a team that can contend with the best of the world would help, but decisions on player evaluations, how the team will be constructed and even the style of play are now on hold.
Recruiting dual nationals could get trickier, too, because it will be several months before some basic questions – Who will I be playing for? How do you see me fitting into the team? – can be answered.
Is this related to Berhalter-Reyna debacle?
Officially, it’s not.
There’s a reasonable explanation for Stewart leaving; he grew up there and has maintained deep ties with Dutch soccer. His family also stayed in the Netherlands after he took the job with U.S. Soccer, and the Chicago-to-Amsterdam commute isn’t exactly convenient. McBride told U.S. Soccer last fall that he planned to leave when his contract expired, and agreed to delay the announcement until after the World Cup in Qatar.
However, U.S. Soccer has long been accused of being too insular – Berhalter’s brother was U.S. Soccer’s chief commercial officer when he was hired as USMNT coach – and the rift between Berhalter and the parents of Gio Reyna illustrated why the dynamic is so problematic.
Most parents upset with their son’s lack of playing time can’t do much more than grumble. But because Claudio and Danielle Reyna had ties to Berhalter, Stewart and McBride that date back decades – all four men were part of the 2002 World Cup team – they could, and did, make their feelings known to Berhalter’s bosses.
It’s actually worse than that, and has likely cost Berhalter any chance at a second stint as USMNT coach, but you get the idea. U.S. Soccer has operated like a bigger version of a youth soccer team, with all its cliques and cattiness, for too long, and this gives the federation an opportunity to finally break from that.
What is timeline for hiring replacements?
Parlow Cone said the hope is to have the sporting director in place before the start of the women’s World Cup, which begins July 20, and the USMNT coach by the end of the summer. As for the GM, whether that position even continues to exist depends on Sportsology’s review of the sporting department.
“We’re not putting definitive timelines on this. We want to do it right and make sure we have the right person in place,” Parlow Cone said. “This is not a short-term fix. We have to make sure they align with our vision and values as an organization. We’re going to move quickly but we’re not going to rush the process.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US Soccer loses sporting director, USMNT GM and 2026 clock is ticking