This morning, the Philadelphia Union made perhaps the biggest move in franchise history by announcing the signing of their first Sporting Director to manage the team’s technical moves. Former United States’ national teamer Earnie Stewart was announced earlier today and via an email to the club's Season Ticket Holders. The move comes after weeks of speculation that Stewart was linked to taking the job in Philadelphia. Stewart has spent his post-playing career in the Netherlands working first as a technical director for Eredivisie club VVV-Venlo, helping them into a second placed finish in 2005-06. From there he worked within the Eredivisie to helped NAC to three successful seasons.
His success then moved him further up the Eredivise ladder to well-known club AZ Alkmaar. His work there has been labeled "moneyball". While that term is so often misused, there isn’t a better term to describe how Stewart ran AZ. A club with limited resources and in a league with such a high roster turnover rate, Stewart guided them to impressive finishes over the course of five seasons, consistently playing in Europe and finishing as high as third domestically, not to mention a domestic cup and a pair of trips to the Europa League quarterfinals in his time. His transfer dealings would see him often sell numerous starters in order to acquire younger, hungrier players. Once given the opportunity, those players would turn out to be successes and the system they were placed in only aided that.
With Stewart, however, don’t expect him to hop right into MLS and start sending players on their way (although some of us would think that would be nice). What I think Stewart will bring to the table is a thorough and extensive list of players that none of us in the States have ever heard of that will bring quality to our roster. In an article done with ESPN way back in 2012 (a different age really), Stewart was said to have a "shadow team" (a list of players for each position at all times) that Stewart can target to bring in. His scouting team was quite impressive at AZ and if given a tight budget here in Philadelphia (which will undoubtedly happen), look for Stewart to do similar things.
Stewart’s biggest attribute that will aid the Union is his ability to identify a given team’s needs. Identity is something the Union have not had in their six years of existence. They haven’t had a strong presence in the front office in six years, and haven’t had a strong presence at coach in four. Stewart brings that presence and he brings a savvy to the front office that has experience, and that should ultimately make Nick Sakiewicz’s time with the Philadelphia Union look even far more abysmal than we originally thought.
Stewart has been in this position before and has worked through a team with a limited budget. He’s had his successes in Holland, but now this may be his biggest challenge yet.
Welcome to Philadelphia, Earnie!
Philadelphia Union majority owner Jay Sugarman will be on a conference call with the media today at noon. Stay tuned to Brotherly Game for updates!