Earnie Stewart’s legacy with the Philadelphia Union is complicated. Brought in to replace the reviled Nick Sakiewicz and take the Union from punchline to powerhouse, Stewart was able to help the Union move on from some of the missteps of the previous regime. He also however wasn’t above making missteps of his own.
Stewart oversaw the team as its institutional vision took shape: the club would rely heavily on the youth academy while augmenting that with shrewd acquisitions of external talent. Whether or not you agree with that vision, that’s what happened - to a degree.
Thanks in part to a virtually non-existent scouting department, Stewart’s acquisitions were inconsistent. Players like Haris Medunjanin (his meltdown against Atlanta United notwithstanding) and Alejandro Bedoya (his tenure as a 10 last season also notwithstanding) have been solid contributors for the Union since their arrivals. Stewart however was also responsible for the signings of such flops as Giliano Wijnaldum, Josh Yaro, Roland Alberg, and Jay Simpson.
Some academy players like Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie have come in and solidified spots in the starting lineup. Others like Derrick Jones and Anthony Fontana however languish on the bench behind some of those external acquisitions they were ideally intended to supplant. But these players are products of a system that was largely in place by the time Stewart arrived.
Stewart had other positives, such as opening the world-class Power Training Complex and seeing the team make the playoffs in 2016. He was dedicated to the organization and hosted town hall meetings with the fans. But he also was insular, keeping even the smallest bits of information from the press until he deemed it time to release it.
Time will tell if Stewart’s time here in Philadelphia was a success. If players like Jones, Fontana, Keegan Rosenberry, Marcus Epps and others who either came up directly through the Academy or were acquired via the SuperDraft become solid MLS players or are flipped to other teams for assets, then partial credit should go to Stewart for signing them and seeing their progress through the system. If these players bust, David Accam doesn’t return on the $1.2 million dollars in allocation money the Union gave up to get him, and the Union continue to fail to make the playoffs, then most of that will also lie on Stewart.
His legacy will be as complicated as his tenure.