The way Earnie Stewart describes it, he and the U.S. Soccer Federation are searching for a new coach the same way some people search for a date online: They’ve compiled a profile and now they’re looking for a match.
In his first detailed comments on the coaching vacancy since he took over as general manager of the men’s national team last month, Stewart said he talked with 15 to 20 people in and around U.S. Soccer to develop a list of traits for a new manager. He has already talked to six candidates and plans to begin formal interviews soon, with hopes of filling the position before the end of the year.
First, however, he had to decide what he was looking for.
“It’s important that you have a set profile,” he said. “There are certain characteristics that we think are important.
“It’s a whole list and it just makes the search process a lot easier.”
The national team has been without a coach since Bruce Arena resigned last October, days after a loss to Trinidad and Tobago prevented the U.S. from qualifying for this summer’s World Cup. Dave Sarachan, Arena’s longtime assistant with the Galaxy and the national team, has managed the team on an interim basis since then and will be on the sidelines again Friday when the U.S. begins the new World Cup cycle with a game against Brazil at MetLife Stadium.
Stewart, who played in three World Cups for the U.S., declined to identify any of the candidates he has spoken with — or any with whom he would like to interview. Nor would he discuss the traits he’s looking for, except in generalities. But he said that identifying those traits was an important starting point.
“Once you sit down and talk to coaches about going forward, you have to give them an idea of who we are, what we want to be,” he said. “That has nothing to do with strategies, with formations, with systems. It’s overarching.
“What is the American player? What do we want to see on the field and what do we want to identify with? Then we’ll go into the next phase of inviting a candidate and having a candid conversation about the job.”
In a break with tradition, Stewart said the new coach and his staff would be required to live in Chicago, where U.S. Soccer is headquartered, because he believes that personal, daily communication is important. As for a style of play, Stewart said he wants it to reflect his vision of the American player.
“What are we? What can we do?” he said. “We’re a country that [is] aggressive in the right sense of the word. We’re a little bit in your face. There’s a way that that could be implemented in a system, in a formation, by a coach.”
Juan Carlos Osorio, a Colombian who coached in MLS before taking Mexico to the knockout round of the recent World Cup, was expected to be considered for the U.S. vacancy. But he took himself out of the running this week when he accepted the job as Paraguay’s manager.
Other names that have been mentioned include Tab Ramos, coach of the under-20 national team; Bob Bradley, a former national team coach now managing the Los Angeles Football Club; and MLS coaches Gregg Berhalter (Columbus Crew), Greg Vanney (Toronto FC), Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City) and Tata Martino (Atlanta United).
Stewart appeared to eliminate Martino, an Argentine who is not comfortable speaking English, when he said fluency in the language was a job requirement. Stewart was also dismissive of Berhalter, his former teammate with the U.S. and a rumored front-runner.
Stewart said that he would talk to Sarachan, whose contract as interim manager expires at the end of the year, but didn’t promise an interview.
“From a profile, from a style of play, there’s going to be somebody that jumps out in everybody’s mind,” he said. “And then you’ll sit down with the candidate.”
Stewart said he will conduct the interviews alongside U.S. Soccer executives Ryan Mooney and Nico Romeijn and then make a recommendation to the federation’s board, which must approve the hire.
The general manager position, which bridges the technical and business sides of U.S. Soccer, was created by the federation board at the beginning of the year as a response to the failed World Cup qualifying campaign. Stewart, who played 17 years in the U.S. and his native Holland and served as technical director or director of football affairs for three Dutch clubs and the Philadelphia Union of MLS, was named to the general manager post in June but didn’t start work until Aug. 1.
That makes Friday’s game the first of his tenure and it comes against a five-time world champion that is 17-1 against the U.S.
“When you look this roster, pound for pound they’re as good as any soccer-playing country on the planet,” Sarachan said of the Brazilians. “When you measure up against quality, it’s a challenge. You have to be at the top of your game.
“Is it intimidating for guys? It may be for some.”
Sebastian Lletget’s return to the national team after a 17-month absence ended prematurely Thursday when the Galaxy midfielder, who suffered an abdominal strain last month, was sent back to Southern California to continue treatment for the injury.