If Earnie Stewart departs, what legacy does he leave in Philadelphia?


Earnie Stewart has been in the press recently. The Union’s sporting director has emerged as the front-runner for the US Soccer General Manager position. His interest in this position has been previously stated. However, his departure from Philadelphia would leave many asking, what legacy does he leave?

The good, the bad and the Ugly of Stewart’s two years:

In his two-year tenure as sporting director Stewart has done some good things, some bad thing, and some things that were down right ugly. His legacy will be based off of all three things should he leave Philadelphia’s MLS side for the opportunity to help rebuild US Soccer. Most of the hype about Stewart possibly taking a job with US Soccer is that his role would be similar to that of what he was brought in to do at Philadelphia. Let’s take a look at the good, bad and ugly of Earnie Stewart’s time with the Union so far.

The good:

When Earnie came to Philadelphia, the Union were coming off of a season long tailspin with a rookie head coach. Philadelphia showed promise, some talented players made up a group of scrappy veterans hungry to take on the growing MLS. Stewart knew he had to help create an identity after the club had endured much inconstancy over its first six seasons. Stewart worked closely with coach Jim Curtin to create how the entire Union organization would play.

Once the two had figured out what they wanted, the systemic birth of the unchangeable 4-2-3-1 formation was born. This created the Union’s identity as a team who wanted to pressure the ball at all costs when their opponents possessed it, and also ensured that the Union could out number their opponents when on the ball. Getting numbers forward on the wings with their outside backs, while utilizing the ability of a playmaking number 10 to find open passes or scoring chances. This system was implemented at the academy level, and at the, then, newly established USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC.

This system brought instant success because the players in the team fit the system. In May of 2016 it looked like the Union had found a system and style that could sustain them for years to come. Some player departures, and an inability to acquire the correct players to fit their system, tarnishes the god things Stewart did creating the Union’s identity.

The Bad:

As mentioned before, Much of Stewart’s early success in Philadelphia was creating an identity for a club that sorely needed one. This identity has turned out to leave a bad taste in many of Union fans mouths. This is mainly due to an inability to allow for a change of the 4-2-3-1 formation in the 2017 season when the players did not fit that formation. The reasoning behind this inability to change makes sense organizationally; you wouldn’t change an entire identity based off of a small sample size of poor performance. Instead, small tweaks to it were made, like the brief flipping of the midfield triangle in 2017. This inability to change the formation, fell on the identity Earnie created, and his inability to push for a change in coaching strategies.

Jim Curtin has been Stewart’s coach his entire tenure. While it’s good to have “your guy”, there was very little that proved Curtin was the right man. During the Union’s during 2017’s decline, Curtin did little to instill confidence. He followed the plan laid out by Stewart, and tried to get the most out of what he had. Stewart did not want to go away from Curtin, and did not want to change a team in free fall. It’s easy to see that the 2017 season is a dark smudge on Stewart’s Philadelphia career.

The Ugly:

What has turned out to be Stewart’s Achilles-heel with the Union was what many praised him for when he got the job. Stewart was lauded as a smart spender. He was praised as the moneyball playing sporting director who could use little funds and get a huge return from bargain players. This rarely paid off for Stewart with Philadelphia. Roland Alberg scored, but was a second striker, not a number 10. Jay Simpson was not the second coming of Bradley Wright-Phillips. Trading fan-favorite, and soul of the team Sebastien Le Toux, to get allocation money didn’t pay off. Charlie Davies was a waste of a draft pick. David Accam and Borek Dockal both have a tremendous upside, but they don’t make the Union a true competitor with the likes of Atlanta United. These moneyball moves all backfired, and never seemed to help fit the Union’s identity he helped create.

Should Stewart not get the US Soccer GM position it is likely to be more of the same for Philadelphia. While he could find a diamond in the rough for the Union going forward, he will get little credit from fans that had to endure his poor moves over the last two years. Whether or not he does stay on with the Union, will directly affect the Union’s coaching staff as well. This is all because of a major defining aspect of Earnie Stewart’s Philadelphia Union legacy.

The lasting legacy of Earnie Stewart with the Philadelphia Union will forever be connected to Jim Curtin:

How Earnie Stewart has single handedly changed the trajectory of the Philadelphia Union

It was so easy to write articles, like the one above, about Earnie Stewart back at the start of 2016. The team was rebuilding with a strong core of players that would eventually start the season on fire, only to fizzle out late on. The fizzling was mainly due to moves made by Stewart and inability to manage the players by Curtin. Earnie Stewart through all of his chips behind Jim Curtin back in 2016. Back then Curtin was a young moldable coach who in his first two years in the head coaching role lead the Union to tow US Open Cup Finals. This was the perfect coach for Stewart to work with.

Curtin has done a good job to tack his fate onto Stewart’s. While he is a good coach, and a very nice person. His choice to stay true to Earnie’s vision has made him almost more hated than Nick Sakiewicz was before he was forced out. If Earnie Stewart is offered the new position with US Soccer, it will no doubt bring the end to Jim Curtin as well.

What’s Next?:

Only time will tell what will happen for Stewart, Curtin, the Union and US Soccer. However it seems like the decision will be made before the upcoming World Cup, which is only three weeks away! Coming with this decision will either be the solidification of a disappointing end to the legacy for Earnie Stewart in Philadelphia. Should US Soccer go in a different direction, then expect Stewart to continue to operate how he has these past two years.

From the looks of things, this could be the ending needed for Stewart, the Philadelphia Union and for US Soccer. Stewart gets the chance to start fresh in a new higher stakes position. The Union will be able to move on and look for a new sporting director, and subsequently a new coach (probably towards the end of the season would be my hunch on the end to Curtin’s tenure). US Soccer would gain a General Manager that wore the US Jersey on the biggest stage as a player; someone hungry for a fresh start.

How and when this goes down is still yet to be seen, but this decision will be a defining moment of Earnie Stewart’s legacy with Philadelphia Union. He either leaves the club he tried to fix by instilling an identity while filing to get the correct players for the identity, or as a person who needed a reason to jump ship after he failed to get the type of results he promised. whichever it is, It’s not the way many thought his time would go with the Philadelphia Union.

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Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports