The Washington Post's Steven Goff has revealed one of the candidates for the Philadelphia Union's vacant Director of Soccer position, naming ex-United States National Team midfielder and current AZ Alkmaar Director of Football Earnie Stewart as one of the people being pursued by the Union.
AZ has had a decent run since the 46-year-old Stewart took over in July of 2010. The worst the club has finished under Stewart was tenth during the 2012-13 campaign - the same year the club won the KNVB (domestic) Cup. The club has qualified for the Europa League in four of the five seasons Stewart has been there, making the quarterfinals twice - in 2011-12 where they were knocked out by Spain's Valencia, and 2013-14 where they were knocked out by Portugal's Benfica. In the 2015-16 tournament, they are currently 1-1-0 in the Group stage, having beaten Athletic Bilbao 2-1 and lost to Serbia's FK Partizan 3-2.
It's the following part of a 2012 interview with ESPN.com's Leander Schaerlaeckens that brings about the most intrigue:
"One ambition I do have is to go back to the United States and to be of importance to soccer," he said. "It's not an ambition I want to do next year or in two or three or four years, but at some point that's something I would like to do." At that point, Stewart probably won't become a general manager in Major League Soccer. He's put off by the constraints, quirks and parity mechanisms that allow others to reap the benefits of your own work. More likely, he'll take an executive job somewhere. - Moneyball comes to AZ Alkmaar (January 5, 2012)
The interview is fascinating, and touches on Moneyball, the oft-cited (and even more oft-misrepresented) philosophy of using cutting-edge statistics and metrics to find players that are undervalued to build competitive teams at a low-cost - a philosophy both Stewart and the Union have embraced. Stewart's AZ teams have performed very well in one of Europe's better leagues without breaking the bank - how many Union fans would settle for being in the MLS top ten every year since 2010?
That being said, Schaerlaeckens' interview raises valid points about "the constraints, quirks, and parity mechanisms" in MLS and Stewart's ability - or willingness - to deal with them. The learning curve in MLS is steep, and the fans here aren't known for their patience - even if it's with someone who would undoubtedly be the biggest signing in the club's history.