Stewart explains delay in hiring new USMNT manager

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The U.S. national team general manager gave his first public comments on the coaching search on Friday, laying out his hiring plan

Earnie Stewart is a busy man. The new U.S. national team general manager is in the middle of the process to select the team’s next head coach, and as he sat in the bowels of MetLife Stadium on Thursday speaking at a media roundtable, Stewart made it clear that the process to hire that coach will be a thorough one.

That Stewart has yet to interview a single candidate for the job is what has many U.S. national team fans worried about a position that has essentially been vacant since Bruce Arena resigned following last October’s World Cup qualifying disaster. That debacle cost the United States a spot in the 2018 World Cup, and led to Arena’s departure.

Interim head coach Dave Sarachan has been at the helm for all of the team's matches in the 11 months since the nightmare against Trinidad and Tobago, but his temporary status has done little to ease growing concerns about a process that has dragged out for almost a full year.

"The only thing I can say about that is I started on the first of August; that was it," Stewart said when asked about the prolonged delay in hiring a new U.S. coach to lead the next cycle. "Another part of that is they wanted to make sure that they put a general manager in place before, and I think that’s a normal way of going about it. You bring in your general manager or sporting director and that he then he makes the choice.

"I understand that from back then, when we did not qualify, that we are in a position right now where that is the case that it’s been almost a year that there hasn’t been the hired coach for the future, and Dave has been the interim," Stewart said.

"I want to make the right choice, and not a choice that is hasty. I don’t know what exactly I can say to [fans] more than the fact I’m putting a lot of thought, together with some other people, in making sure that we make the right choice for the future.”

Earnie Stewart Philadelphia Union

Stewart confirmed on Thursday that he has yet to interview any candidates for the position, but did admit that he had spoken to six or seven coaches, or representatives of coaches, who have reached out to express interest in the position. Stewart has been working on completing a profile of the ideal candidate for the position and while he wouldn't get into all the details of that profile, he made it clear that collaboration will be a key part of the new coach's job.

"It’s somebody that has to have a ‘we’ mentality," Stewart said. "Somebody who wants to work together. I think that’s important because this day and age I don’t think one person can do a whole job, especially a county as big as we are."

"I think it’s important that you first have a set profile of what kind of characteristics he needs to have," Stewart said. "That starts with the values of one, the American player, and what U.S. Soccer is about because it’s not about 'Earnie’s coach' or anything like that. It’s about having a coach that’s good for U.S. Soccer and where we stand and where we want to go to.

"It’s more style of play, principles of play. It’s an overarching view of soccer and what values we have in the United States. How we want to identify with our team that you see on the field."

There has been a sense ever since Jurgen Klinsmann was fired back in 2016 that the head coach chosen for the 2022 cycle would be American. That sentiment has only grown along with the delay in hiring a coach. Stewart wouldn't go as far as to say he plans on hiring an American, but made it clear that knowledge of American soccer and American soccer players is a big plus.

"When we talk about the profile, [knowledge of the region, MLS and the American soccer culture] is one of the things in our profile," Stewart said. "Some things are requirements, and other things are desired. I would say that's desired, a preference, but is it the ultimate thing that we're going to base decisions on? No, I don't necessarily think that, but I do think it's important to know the American player, the culture of the American player. But the region itself, and CONCACAF, I'd say that's a plus. Is it a must? That's something else."

Juan Carlos Osorio Mexico World Cup 06172018

One coach who looked like a good candidate for the position was former Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio. Sources tell Goal that Osorio was interested in the U.S. job, but with several national teams pursuing Osorio's services, the Colombian coach wound up taking the Paraguay job this week without having ever spoken to Stewart. When asked if the lengthy search for a U.S. coach could wind up costing the program ideal candidates, Stewart downplayed the suggestion.

"I don’t look at it that way," Stewart said. "We’re getting into a phase where we become very serious and we can start reaching out to those where we think that’s a right fit, and then they make their choices based on that. That’s just the way soccer works. I’m not going to get nervous that people are speaking to other people. It doesn’t work that way.

"I think it was important for U.S. Soccer, for myself, and the direction that we’re going that we make a good choice, and not a decision based on the fact that somebody might go somewhere else."

Another coach heavily linked to the USMNT head coach position is Columbus Crew manager Gregg Berhalter, who has been pegged as the favorite to be hired for months. There is a lingering belief that Stewart hiring Berhalter is already a fait accompli, along with suggestions that the former 2002 World Cup teammates are close friends. Stewart refuted the idea that Berhalter's hiring is a foregone conclusion, along with suggestions that their friendship will help solidify the hiring.

Gregg Berhalter MLS Crew 09102016

"That is something that has been brought to my attention, that [Berhalter] is going to be [head coach] because he’s a friend of mine," Stewart said. "Now that part I don’t understand. We played together, and we’ve communicated with each other, but ‘friends’ is a little overboard I’d want to say.

"I know Gregg from the past. He was a coach in Sweden and he’d call me for advice, and I would do the same, vice versa, but we have a professional relationship and we played with each other. Then again, I can say that about a lot of others at the same time.

"I haven’t had interviews. He’s not the coach that he’s the shoo-in. That’s not the case."

Though he scoffed at the suggestion Berhalter is a shoo-in, Berhalter does seem to fit many of the criteria Stewart is looking for in a coach. One flaw on Berhalter's resume is a lack of international coaching experience, but that may not necessarily work against him. When asked if international experience was a prerequisite for the position, Stewart sounded like a general manager open to bringing in a younger coach who may not have the resume and experience of some more established candidates.

"That’s the brilliant part that we have right now is that we have a very good runway towards those moments that it becomes very, very important and critical that we have to qualify for 2022," Stewart said. "It’s as simple as that. But there’s a runway there where you can gain experience.

"[Experience] a plus if it’s there, but I don’t see that as a negative if it's not because we have a pathway to go."

Stewart plans on having his new head coach hired before the end of the year, but not before November. That timetable would fit in well with Stewart pursuing an MLS coach, since some will be wrapping up their seasons in November and December. Stewart also confirmed that whoever is hired will be based in Chicago, where U.S. Soccer headquarters are located, and where Stewart and the U.S. technical staff is based.

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"That’s the intention, that they’re based out of Chicago," Stewart said. "One of the thing that’s very important is I think you have to communicate every single day. 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."

When asked whether potential candidates might be turned off by the requirement of having to live in Chicago, as opposed to the Los Angeles area, where the past three USMNT coaches resided, Stewart didn't see it as being an obstacle for him to find the right candidate.

"I don’t think it’d be healthy that somebody sits down at a table and we find a discussion with ourselves and he says, ‘I want to live on the beach and be there most of my time,'" Stewart said. "Then I don’t think it’s the right choice. Apart from him not wanting it, I don't think we'd want it either."

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