New York, NY – Monday was a good day for U.S. Soccer. In the morning, news broke that exciting 18 year-old Ajax fullback Sergino Dest had chosen to represent the U.S. and not the Netherlands, the country of his birth.
Central to all of the day’s good news was Earnie Stewart, U.S. Soccer’s Sporting Director, who played a significant role in both pieces of positivity for an organization badly in need of some.
WNT General Manager Kate Markgraf name-checked Stewart at Andonovski’s introductory press conference, saying of the final interview process, “It involved Earnie Stewart, the Sporting Director, and Earnie had already gone through the process once and was valuable support throughout the entire hiring search process.”
Earnie Stewart interview on Sergino Dest
After Andonovski had been welcomed into the U.S. Soccer fold, High Press Soccer grabbed Stewart for a few private words. Stewart and USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter had been pictured over the weekend at Dest’s match for Ajax. So I asked Stewart whether he and Berhalter had known when they flew over to the Netherlands that they had won the Dest sweepstakes?
“No,” Stewart said, adding “we had a certain feeling that was going to be the case.” Stewart admitted that the process to land Dest had not been easy but was happy to share the credit. “Yeah but not so much only by Gregg and myself, there’s a lot of hard work that’s gone on over the years.”
“When you have dual nationals,” Stewart, himself a Netherlands/U.S. dual national, explained “a lot of times we talk about moments, but it is not only the moments. In this case, he played for our U17s, he played for our U20s, so there’s a lot of coaches that have put him in positions that made him happy of a culture that there is within U.S. Soccer. And then obviously that trends towards a men’s national team for someone who has that talent level.”
Stewart also acknowledged the role played by Dest’s father. “Sitting down and having the conversation with him and his father, who has his heritage here in the United States, and is a very proud person and was very proud of Sergino making this choice, is something that helps.”
Earnie Stewart on filling US youth soccer roles
With Tab Ramos leaving the U.S. U20 coaching job to take over the MLS Houston Dynamo, a number of youth coaching jobs are currently unfilled we asked Stewart about filling those posts.
“There are a couple of positions that are underway.” Stewart began, “We have some legal issues to do when it comes to visas,” the Sporting Director said, continuing to say, “there are some conversations with some other coaches, some American coaches because we want to have a lot of American coaches.”
With so much recent talk of building an integrated U.S. “style of play,” High Press Soccer asked Stewart if MNT coach Berhalter would be involved with the upcoming U.S. Youth National Team coaching hires?
Stewart did not say, precisely, but the Sporting Director made it clear that he and Behalter are on the same page when it comes to “the system” and that system is not going anywhere.
“I know there are a lot of conversations going on about a rigid style of play and all that,” Stewart began,”but in the end consistency and continuity, I don’t care where you work, that can be in soccer, that can be in basketball, but that can also be from an operational level within an organization. Consistency and continuity is the most important thing. When things go wrong, you have to have something to fall back on and if you’ve never trained or developed a style or a system then you’re going to have big problems.”
“That’s not something that I believe in,” Stewart underlined, “that’s not something that we believe in and obviously there’s nuances, left and right. And then,” Stewart noted, “there is the difference between the men and the women, where a lot of times the women are the best in the world and the men are trying to get there and those are two different places that you come from. So with one you’ll see that style, that system come out a little bit easier than you will with another team.”
Earnie Stewart on Berhalter’s system
So, about that system? High Press Soccer asked Stewart if- in a must win game, like say the CONCACAF Nations League rematch with Canada in Orlando on November 15- the U.S. would consider tweaking that style and playing a bit more direct, for example?
“No,” Stewart said, “because you’re building for the future. It’s not that Gregg or myself or that anybody is saying we accept losing, but changing systems, like playing direct? I don’t know what that’s going to do.”
“It has everything to do with the players that you have in front of you,’” Stewart went on. “We’ve played several games in the year that I’ve been here where we were dominant in games and then you have the fact that playing within CONCACAF that the U.S National Team hasn’t won on foreign ground, in what is it three years now?”
“So all of a sudden, because of the coaching change, that doesn’t change the dynamic of the team, where it is right now. Building on the same principals that you have will lead to success, once again consistency and continuity is going to be the key in everything we do.”
“Yes,” Stewart conceded, “you’ll tweak it left and right, but to change total styles from one game to another? I don’t think that’s ever going to work at all. Sure it might work for one game or a period of time but if we do that over and over again I don’t that will work.”
“I hear everything,” Stewart said regarding reaction to the loss to Canada, “I went through it at the Philadelphia Union when we didn’t win a couple of games in a row. The exact same thing. It’s part of our job. You listen to it, you understand it from a perspective that you want to win, so that makes it really simple, that’s what you do.”