Earnie Stewart to leave U.S. Soccer, a move that deepens USMNT uncertainty

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 3: Earnie Stewart USMNT General Manager before a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Netherlands and USMNT at Khalifa International Stadium on December 3, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
Earnie Stewart is saying goodbye to the USMNT. (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart is leaving his post to join Dutch club PSV Eindhoven.

The move, which PSV and U.S. Soccer both announced Thursday, will deepen and prolong uncertainty surrounding the U.S. men's national team and its coaching future.

Stewart had been leading a post-World Cup review of the entire USMNT program. But he informed U.S. Soccer leadership weeks ago of the opportunity with PSV, which would take him back to his native Netherlands and closer to family.

Stewart's decision "firmed up" this week, U.S. Soccer CEO J.T. Batson said Thursday, and now leaves the federation with multiple leadership vacancies atop the USMNT. In addition to Stewart's role leading both the men's and women's national teams, Brian McBride has decided to leave his role as USMNT general manager. McBride said in a Thursday statement that he made his decision in October.

Incumbent head coach Gregg Berhalter, meanwhile, is in limbo, out of contract and subject to an investigation into a decades-old domestic violence incident.

U.S. Soccer leaders said Thursday that Stewart's decision was not impacted "whatsoever" by the scandal engulfing Berhalter and the family of young star Gio Reyna.

Just this past summer, Stewart had signed a contract extension through 2026. But "throughout his tenure at U.S. Soccer," federation president Cindy Parlow Cone said Thursday, "there have been many roles that have come his way." There were reports of interest from U.S. Soccer's Dutch equivalent, the KNVB. When the opportunity to lead PSV, the winner of 24 Dutch league titles, came about, "I could not turn it down," Stewart said in a news release.

Parlow Cone said U.S. Soccer leaders understood this and agreed to let Stewart out of his contract. He will officially depart on Feb. 15.

Prior to news of Stewart's departure, a decision on Berhalter's future seemed somewhat imminent. The investigation, which is close to concluding, seemed to be the primary impediment to either a Berhalter contract extension or a coaching search. Now, U.S. Soccer has retained Sportsology Group, a consulting firm, "to head the search for the organization’s next Sporting Director."

"Working with key U.S. Soccer leadership, Sportsology has also already begun a full review of U.S. Soccer’s sporting department," the federation said in a news release. "The group will also analyze head coach candidates to accelerate the sporting director’s hiring process."

Both of those searches, U.S. Soccer leaders said, could stretch into the summer. In the meantime, Anthony Hudson, a former Berhalter assistant coach, will lead the USMNT on an interim basis.

"I know this moment feels a bit uncertain — for you in the media, for our staff, for players," Parlow Cone acknowledged to reports. "What it actually is is a clean canvas."

Entire structure of U.S. Soccer and USMNT under review

Parlow Cone and Batson will work with Sportsology to not only lead the sporting director search but also, as Parlow Cone said, "get into the weeds on the future of our sporting department." Batson said they'd review the organizational structure, which has evolved considerably over the past five years. Stewart was hired in 2018 as the USMNT's first GM, and he essentially handpicked Berhalter to become head coach. Stewart was then elevated to sporting director, a role in which he oversaw both the men's and women's national teams.

Stewart then hired McBride in 2020 to take over as USMNT GM — which had become an exclusively off-field, behind-the-scenes role. In it, U.S. Soccer said, McBride "worked closely with the USMNT staff to help build the culture within the team, oversee the development and management of the player pool and forge and foster important relationships both internationally and domestically. He was essential in courting dual nationals and working closely with our high performance and medical staff. He was also involved in the hiring of youth national team coaches."

Parlow Cone and Batson seemed to indicate Thursday that, as part of their review with Sportsology, they would determine whether the GM role is necessary. Parlow Cone spoke about seeking "clarity on what that [sporting] department should look like moving forward."

She noted that she is "very happy" with Kate Markgraf's performance as GM on the women's side, but said: "We do recognize that the [men's and women's] teams sometimes have different needs, and so we're going to be evaluating that."

Timeline for the USMNT coaching search

The new sporting director, Batson said, "will choose our men's national team coach," regardless of the structure underneath them. But Parlow Cone also said that she, as president, will be involved. "I will work directly with Sportsology to continue to move [the USMNT coaching] search forward," she said. "And then as we bring the sporting director on board, that sporting director will then join me in leading that search."

She would not put a timeline on either of the concurrent searches but said: "We would love to have the sporting director in place prior to the Women's World Cup." That means that Hudson or another interim coach will likely lead the USMNT through March, into June and July, when it will contest the CONCACAF Nations League and the Gold Cup.

The summer, somewhat conveniently, will also be when certain club coaches become available. The protracted timeline could ultimately benefit U.S. Soccer, whose priority is not to win any secondary tournament this summer; it's the 2026 World Cup.

"We want to do it right," Parlow Cone said of the searches and specifically the sporting director. "We want to make sure we have the right person in place. It's not just a short-term fix. This is a long-term person that we want to put in place, and we have to make sure that they align with our visions and values as an organization. So we're gonna move quickly, but we're not gonna rush the process."