U.S. Soccer's future
A look at U.S. Soccer's future following McBride & Stewart's pending departures
January 27, 2023
U.S. SOCCER ON THURSDAY announced a major shakeup with the departures of both Sporting Director Earnie Stewart and USMNT General Manager Brian McBride along with the federation retaining Sportsology Group moving forward to help fill the vacancies and conduct a review the sporting department.
It was a lot of news to digest but here are the key points from the press release and the subsequent media call.
- Sporting Director Earnie Stewart told U.S. Soccer he was leaving the federation to accept a position with PSV Eindhoven in his native Holland. U.S. Soccer asked Stewart to remain with the Federation until February 15. Stewart’s contract initially ran through 2022 but was extended, without an announcement, through 2026. U.S. Soccer agreed to release Stewart from his contract.
- USMNT General Manager Brian McBride told U.S. Soccer prior to the 2022 World Cup that he would move on from U.S. Soccer upon the completion of his contract at the end of December. U.S. Soccer and McBride agreed to a one-month extension to handle the subsequent turnover.
- Cindy Parlow Cone said it is not yet decided if the federation even needs a general manager for the men’s national team. That will be decided in the coming months during the review.
- U.S. Soccer has retained Sportsology Group to head the search for the organization’s next Sporting Director and conduct a review of U.S. Soccer's sporting department.
- U.S Soccer staff will report to U.S. Soccer CEO JT Batson until a new Sporting Director is hired.
- Once the Sporting Director is hired, that individual will oversee the process of hiring the new USMNT head coach.
- Cindy Parlow Cone indicated that Gregg Berhalter is still a candidate for the head coaching job.
- Anthony Hudson will serve as the interim USMNT head coach until a new head coach is hired or Berhalter is brought back.
- Cindy Parlow Cone: "We would love to have the Sporting Director in place before the Women's World Cup, but we are not going to put a definitive timeline on it."
- Cindy Parlow Cone: "We would like to have our men's national team coach in place by the end of the summer."
Here are some thoughts on the developments
What is contained in the scope of the review?
It’s important to remember that as recently as 2018, U.S. Soccer changed its organizational chart substantially. It was the first time there was a Sporting Director and a General Manager (except briefly when Jurgen Klinsmann had the Technical Director and the head coach job at the same time). Prior to that, you had CEO Dan Flynn and President Sunil Gulati heavily involved in all areas.
But in 2018, U.S. Soccer had new roles for different people. The Sporting Director also sat over all the teams, including on the women’s side, and essentially separated the top levels of the federation (the board, the CEO, and the President) from the sporting side.
“I am extremely proud of what our sporting department has accomplished over the past four years to advance the next generation of players and increase participation in the sport across the country. "— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) January 26, 2023
-- Earnie Stewart pic.twitter.com/mlloaqawms
This review is essentially going to evaluate the progress of that restructuring and see if there are different positions needed or are there positions that can be eliminated.
Does either the USMNT or the USWNT need general managers? What are the needs of each team? There used to be a youth technical director. Does it need to be brought back? How will the youth teams be managed?
What will U.S. Soccer want in a new Sporting Director?
Earnie Stewart checked a lot of boxes to be the first Sporting Director. He worked extensively in the front offices in Holland and then had a similar role with the Philadelphia Union. He also played for the U.S. national team at World Cups and had a personal attachment to the program with an interest of seeing it succeed.
My guess is that U.S. Soccer and Sportsology will probably end up focusing on candidates who have at least some degree of knowledge of the American soccer landscape from higher levels. The unique nature of the sport here (from the youth levels, academy, and professional levels) is difficult to understand and is not something the federation can change.
“Brian will always be part of our family and continue to be connected to U.S. Soccer.” - Cindy Parlow Cone pic.twitter.com/QI5u5cT08V— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) January 26, 2023
But the Sporting Director will oversee the men’s and women’s national teams and the youth teams. That will entail hiring coaches, scheduling, scouting, and management etc.
U.S. Soccer is in a different place than in previous decades. More and more Americans, including many former players, are in front office positions domestically and abroad (Dane Murphy recently left Nottingham Forest but was the CEO during a time when it was promoted to the Premier League).
Sportsology, the board, and the CEO/President
There are three parties to follow as the decisions get made in the future: Sportsology, the board, and the CEO, JT Batson, and the federation’s president, Cindy Parlow Cone.
U.S. Soccer is bringing in Sportsology for a reason and the press release says they will be heading the search and will analyzing the head coach candidates for the future Sporting Director.
“U.S. Soccer has retained Sportsology Group to head the search for the organization’s next Sporting Director... The group will also analyze head coach candidates to accelerate the Sporting Director’s hiring process.”
The questions then becomes how likely will the board and the CEO/President be scrutinizing Sportsology or be likely to override a recommendation by Sportsology?
Sportsology has worked with MLS and NBA teams and are based in Manchester, England. The results have been mixed.
Seattle ???? Atlanta— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 22, 2022
After winning two MLS Cups with @SoundersFC and leading them to Concacaf Champions League glory, Garth Lagerwey joins @ATLUTD. pic.twitter.com/R41lDMzcQe
On the positive side, it helped Atlanta United recruit Garth Lagerwey as the team’s new CEO. Also, in 2020, Feyenoord began working with Sportsology and the club currently sits atop the Eredivise table.
But the Chicago Fire’s hire of Sporting Director Georg Heitz hasn’t been as successful, and the San Jose Earthquakes haven’t yet found success either.
Timeline for the USMNT coach
This is going to take some time. Cindy Parlow Cone said on Thursday that she is hoping that the Sporting Director is in place before the start of the Women’s World Cup this summer – which opens on July 20 in New Zealand and Australia. She also said, she doesn’t want the process to feel rushed and if it goes longer, they will accept it.
Once the Sporting Director is hired, he/she will hire the next head coach. She indicated by late summer, the goal was to have the new coach up and running.
Cindy Parlow Cone made it clear that Gregg Berhalter remains a candidate
Hudson’s team for a while
This summer, the USMNT will take part in the Gold Cup and the Nations League final rounds. Those are slated for June. Based on the timelines set forth by Cone, it seems very unlikely the next USMNT head coach will be hired by then.
Anthony Hudson was formally announced as the interim head coach in the press release (he had been identified as an assistant coach leading January Camp earlier in the month).
Unlike the Dave Sarachan-era, which was quite productive in bringing in a wave of new players, Hudson has a much more established team. But it will be up to him in terms of how to build rosters for two teams, whether to call in top European-based players for March or this summer, working with Mikey Varas to decide if a top teenager should be with the U-20 World Cup team or the U.S. national team this summer.