"For me, for fans hopefully, and certainly for the staff--Jim [Curtin] and Chris [Albright]--in particular, it feels like a new chapter."
You could sense the relief in Jay Sugarman's voice as he talked about the new direction of the Philadelphia Union. For much of the club's existence, it has been mired in controversy. Earnie Stewart just might be the man to change that.
"I don't know enough about the sport to tell you what didn't happen in the last five years," Sugarman admitted. "But I can tell you that having one guy, everyday, who's in charge, who's got the background, knowledge, experience, and discipline that Earnie has, is going to make a big difference."
Earnie Stewart comes to the Union after spending more than five years as AZ Alkmaar's Director of Football Affairs. When he assumed the role, the club was facing a bit of a financial crisis, as the owner could no longer afford to spend as freely as he did in years past. Since AZ could not compete financially with the likes of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven of the Eredivisie, Stewart instead utilized player development and extensive scouting as means to stay competitive. That thrift and diligence is what resonated with Sugarman.
"It's not that we don't have to spend to get great players - we will have to spend. But I want 125% of what everybody else sees in that player," Sugarman said. "I want a process to really identify that player and why they're going to fit and make the players around them better. And that's where I think we saw eye-to-eye very quickly and why the fit felt so right from the beginning."
Stewart preached a focus on the same ideals yesterday, making a commitment to player development at both the youth and senior levels. While he, like Sugarman, said that they will spend money, Stewart said what he's "high on" is the development of individual players.
"If we get a good understanding about what our roles are in the system that we play and can actually talk to our players about that - ask them questions about what their ambitions are in life, what their ambitions are as a soccer player, how he thinks to accomplish that and how to get there - we could make a plan to get there, and once we make an individual development plan with all these players...I'm pretty sure that we can get, with the academy that we have, we can make sure that they develop themselves," Stewart said.
In addition to his vision for the club's long-term success, Stewart preached constant communication among the technical staff, a key aspect that has been lacking in years past, to say the least.
"Communication is pretty important," Stewart proclaimed. "We have to make sure we're all on the same page. So that means we're going to be in discussions every single day, about being better as a team, and also when it comes to acquisitions and player personnel, we have to be on the same page too."
Both Stewart and Sugarman expressed an optimism in the club's big-picture prospects.
"There's really no reason why we shouldn't be a top-tier club," Sugarman said.