81016_isi_stewart_mlstq08061618 Tony Quinn/isiphotos.com

A look at possible USMNT GM candidates

The search for a the U.S. national team general manager is underway and in its early stages. While list of candidates is not known and will fluctuate over the coming weeks and months, Brian Sciaretta looks at the people most talked about at this time.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
February 16, 2018
6:05 AM
WITH U.S. SOCCER'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION now over, the federation can finally become more focused on the specifics of rebuilding the men’s national team. The first major issue that will be addressed is the hiring of a general manager – and some names are beginning to surface.

The position of the general manager is new and it will be similar to that of a traditional technical director. The general manager will be in charge of the big picture of the national team and have a huge role hiring the next coach. The national team has never had a true technical director before. Yes, Jurgen Klinsmann had the role, but while also being the team’s head coach, it doesn’t fit the norm of having separate people for the two jobs.

Some of the candidates have been identified as candidates by the media, while other candidates are simply in the general discussion among both fans and the media.

As Goal reported on Thursday, former national team captain and Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra was asked to be a candidate but withdrew his name from consideration. Instead, he will advise and help U.S Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro and CEO Dan Flynn with their search for the general manager.

While more candidates are likely to emerge, here is a rundown of the candidates that seem likely to be in the mix at the start of the search. 

Garth Lagerwey

General Manager, Seattle Sounders

Pros: As the current general manager and president of soccer for the Seattle Sounders, Lagerwey has a lot going for him and is was hardly surprising when Sports Illustrated reported him as a candidate. He has been a winner wherever he has gone. He has helped both Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders each become the best teams in their respective conferences.

Lagerwey’s teams have been built with a terrific blend of both players in the U.S. national team player pool as well top players international players. As MLS has evolved with regards to increased budgets and homegrown rules that allow teams to retain players that are developed internally, Lagerwey has been able to adjust and adapt.

Lagerwey helped to develop an impressive youth system at Real Salt Lake which the club still benefits from. It has produced a lot of top young Americans and youth internationals such as Justen Glad, Brooks Lennon, Danny Acosta, and now Taylor Booth (who will be signing with Bayern Munich).

In Seattle, Lagerwey has also been heavily involved in restructuring a youth pipeline for the Sounders. In addition to the USL team there are partnerships with local colleges for teen players, and is active scouting and recruiting players from outside Washington. Finally, he has worked with innovative coach Tom Byer on a pilot grassroots program between the Sounders, US Soccer, and the Washington Youth Soccer association.

Cons: The biggest concern over Lagerwey is that he hasn’t ever been seriously involved in a coaching search. He was hired as the general manager of Salt Lake in September 2007 – a few months after Jason Kreis had already taken the coaching job. Kreis and Lagerwey were successful together but Lagerwey was not the person to bring Kreis on board.

When Kreis left, the job went internally to Jeff Cassar, the long-time assistant at Real Salt Lake and a former teammate of Lagerwey at the Miami Fusion. Cassar was fired three games into the 2017 season - long after Lagerwey left.

In Seattle, Lagerwey inherited coach Sigi Schmidt. When Schmid began to falter in the 2016 season, Lagerwey fired him and long-time assistant Brian Schmetzer took over on an interim basis. Schmetzer ended up being a huge success – winning MLS Cup in 2016 (and becoming the permanent coach prior to the playoffs) and returning to the final in 2017. But again, there was never a coaching search.

Lagerwey has been remarkably successful in finding talent and improving development pipelines. But in a national team setup, the talent is known. Lagerwey is a smart guy, an accomplished lawyer and soccer general manager, but having never been involved in a coaching search, is it a concern for him that a coaching search is the first and most important task he will be need to undertake?

Earnie Stewart

Technical Direcotor, Philadelphia Union

Pros: A native of Holland, the dual-national Earnie Stewart is a veteran of three World Cups and has earned 101 caps as a player. Over his career he played primarily in the Eredivisie but also had two seasons with DC United. While not specifically liked to this job yet, his resume is unique and he could easily emerge as a serious candidate.

He stands out for the general manager job because he is one of the few Americans to rise high in the front offices of European clubs – first with NAC Breda and then AZ Alkmaar, both are in the Eredivisie.

In 2006 he became the technical director for NAC Breda where he remained in the role until 2010 when he moved to AZ Alkmaar to be the Director of Football Affairs. At AZ Alkmaar, Stewart’s teams were typically strong but rose as high as fourth in 2011/12. AZ also won the Dutch cup in 2013.

Stewart was also adamant about one day returning to the United States to take a job there to be part of the sport’s growth. In 2015 he did just that when he took the job with the Philadelphia Union.

At AZ Alkmaar, Stewart showed he was willing to make important and difficult decisions. In 2013, he fired manager Gertjan Verbeek midseason following an impressive win over PSV which sent AZ into fourth place. The club would cite chemistry issues as the reason for firing Verbeek.

At AZ, he had to oversee various coaching changes but most were impressive. After Verbeek was fired, he hired Dick Advocaat for a second stint with the team and advanced to the quarterfinal of the Europa League. He also brought in Marco Van Basten but Stewart was forced to deal with a crisis when Van Basten resigned early in the season due to health reasons. His successor, John van den Brom, remains there to this day.

Cons: Stewart was hired by the Philadelphia Union at the end of 2015. Over two years later, the club has still not won a playoff game. There are some promising young players in its system but none are breaking through as solid first team players.

If Stewart is in the mix, will the Union’s lack of success in recent years hurt his case?

Tab Ramos

U.S. U-20 head coach and youth technical director

Pros: There are quite a few reasons why Tab Ramos might eventually be considered for the technical director job. Despite the setback of the national team failing to qualify for the World Cup, the youth national teams have enjoyed a string of positive results recently. On these teams, a number of highly regarded youth prospects haved passed through its system and onto the full national team. 

As the U-20 national team coach, Ramos has worked with a significant number of the players who are expected play a big role for the national team in the upcoming cycle. If the technical director is going hire the next national team coach, Ramos knows the players better than anyone. He knows their style, their strengths, their weaknesses, and their chemistry. He seems as if he would be in a position to know which coaches would fit the upcoming group of players.

As an administrator, Ramos has also helped to implement major changes to the structure of the youth national teams. The most significant changes is that there are now separate national teams for every birth year from the U-14 level, all the way up to the U-20 level. That implementation has helped to substantial increase the youth player pool and cast a wider net to ensure more players are involved with U.S. Soccer.

Cons: For one, Ramos might want to be considered for national team coaching job. Unlike the other names on this list, Ramos is a coach. Is it tough for a person to take the technical director job if he wants to be the coach?

Also, Ramos has only been involved at the youth level. Yes, he assisted Jurgen Klinsmann with the full national team at times but his experience and qualifications for the general manager job rest entirely on what he has done at the youth level. He has yet to be tested at the adult level.

Finally, if Ramos is doing well at the youth levels right now and that is clearly an important area of concern for U.S. Soccer, why take him away from that role?

Claudio Reyna

Sporting Director, New York City FC

Pros: The legendary former national team captain needs no introduction from his playing career which included time in the Bundesliga, Scotland, and the Premier League.

He is not currently linked with the job but he has a resume that features front office status, knowledge of the U.S. national team, and is a career that commands respect. Since May 13, 2013 he has been the sporting director of New York City FC and helped build the team starting before its inaugural season in 2015.

The team has done well so far. The club’s youth teams look promising and some of the moves have shown a shrewd awareness of the American player pool – most notably the aggressive decision to arrange a draft day trade to acquire Jack Harrison.

Cons: New York City FC is a tough team to be a sporting director. Patrick Vieira has been a solid coach after replacing Jason Kreis but did Reyna really have much say in hiring the reserve coach of a parent team which is one of the strongest clubs in the world? So under Reyna’s tenure, his decision with hiring a coach is incomplete.

Also, New York City has not specifically worked with many U.S. national team players or had any homegrown players break through, just yet. Is working with NYCFC a reflection of what is required for the U.S. national team? Tough to say.

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