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Earnie Stewart out as USSF sporting director: What does it mean for USWNT structure?

Sporting director Earnie Stewart is out and USSF hired a consultancy to review its reporting structure. Will the USWNT model break off from the USMNT chain of command?

Cara Owsley/The Enquirer-Imagn Content Services, LLC

Earnie Stewart is out as the United States Soccer Federation’s sporting director. The federation made the announcement on Thursday as part of widespread changes on the men’s side that include the subsequent exit of U.S. men’s national team general manager Brian McBride and the ongoing vacancy of the men’s team’s head-coaching position.

Stewart will officially exit his role on Feb. 15 as he leaves to return to Dutch side PSV Eindhoven. His departure comes amid a tumultuous month for the U.S. men’s program following the team’s round-of-16 exit at the World Cup in Qatar, which includes an ongoing investigation involving out-of-contract coach Gregg Berhalter and the Reyna family, and a decades-old domestic abuse incident.

U.S. Soccer announced it has hired Sportsology Group to consult on the search for the federation’s next sporting director, and that could have implications on the women’s side.

Sportsology will conduct “a full review of [U.S. Soccer’s] sporting department,” U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said on Thursday.

United States women’s national team general manager Kate Markgraf previously reported to Stewart. After Feb. 15 and at least until a new sporting director is hired, Markgraf and other sporting staff members will report to U.S. Soccer CEO JT Batson.

The previous reporting structure always made little sense for the women’s side. All of Stewart, McBride and Markgraf were hired within the past five years as part of a new sporting structure that Batson — who only joined U.S. Soccer in September — acknowledged was always known to be one that would need to evolve.

Stewart and McBride are former men’s national team players and have little experience in the women’s game. Yet, technically, Stewart was the previously highest-ranking sporting official on the women’s side. The setup implicitly was built with the men’s program in mind.

On Thursday, Parlow Cone was noncommital about exactly what the structure could look like next, and how the women’s team could be affected.

“We’re gonna be working together with Sportsology to evaluate our entire sporting department,” Parlow Cone said. “And once we have more clarity on what that department should look like moving forward, we’ll determine the leadership and support that is needed. We do still have a GM on the women’s side and we’re very happy and think we have the best team in place for our women’s national team as we head into the Women’s World Cup.

“We do recognize that the teams sometimes have different needs, and so we’re going to be evaluating that over the next period of time alongside with Sportsology to determine what is the best structure for our men’s national team. Is it the same as the women’s national team, or does it need to be slightly different?”

Parlow Cone later said the entire existence of the men’s GM role would be evaluated as part of the “holistic review” taking place. Markgraf took over as the general manager of the U.S. women’s team after the 2019 World Cup.

“As I said before, we’re not dead set on having the exact same structure on the men’s side as we do have on the women’s side. We’re going to be evaluating that and seeing what changes we need to make. So, more to come on that front.”

Batson and Parlow Cone said they hope to have a sporting director and general manager in place before the Women’s World Cup, which kicks off on July 20, but that they don’t have a definitive timeline yet. The search for a full-time men’s national team coach could extend into the summer given the other hiring uncertainties.


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