Jay Sugarman has tried to stay as behind-the-scenes as possible since Philadelphia was awarded an MLS franchise. It's not a case of hiding from bad times, or a lack of care for the franchise. He put people in charge he thought could handle the club on a day to day basis better than he could. We all know how that turned out with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in charge of operations.
When Sugarman became more active about a year ago it was obvious that things needed to change. "I think we feel pretty strongly we needed a firm direction in terms of our playing philosophy and how we're going to go about building a competitive edge in MLS," he said of what was the criteria of their search, in what could have been a statement from any Union fan's mouth. "What I saw in AZ was he really had a strong track record of finding players that fit his team's system. We're counting on him to do the same here."
Sugarman also continued a narrative that puts the Union as a smaller market team without the resources to compete monetarily with the LAs and New Yorks of the league, but try to "moneyball" their way to success. "He knew he was up against some clubs that probably have deeper resources, so they focused a lot on development. They focused a lot on making sure they were scouting and recruiting and acquiring people that fit his system." While it isn't surprising to hear this continued approach, fans will be pleased to have someone with a successful track record and firm grasp of building a core foundation in charge of the club.
Stewart will be transitioning slowly over the next two months with January first set as his official start date with the Union. "We certainly expect him to be in the loop, yes," Sugarman added when asked about if Stewart will be involved before that date. Starting well into the offseason and having just a few months before the start of the season when he arrives meant it was no surprise that Jim Curtin will be back in 2016. "Jim is the coach for the 2016 season. I can make that clear." Sugarman didn't stop there though adding, "I can also make clear Earnie is going to set a high bar."
One last point to make, if you want to take one last jab at He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, is how quickly this hiring came about. The former member of the Front Office in charge of hiring a Sporting Director had been looking for years, calling their search exhaustive, yet the closest the team came to hiring someone was Rene Muelensteen coming in as an adviser. Sugarman said that the hiring of Stewart came about "literally, in the last two weeks" and was "surprisingly quick." That speed speaks to a high level of desire from Stewart to come to the franchise and can only assume that he was never approached previously. With someone so qualified and so interested in the opportunity, how "exhaustive" could that search have been before?
The owner summed up everyone's feelings right now perfectly towards the end of his press conference. "It hasn't been much fun. We want passion inside and outside the organization to really come back to the level we knew when we started the team in 2010. I really think this is the beginning of that. Truly excited that this is the beginning of something really good."
We can only hope.