When Earnie Stewart was hired in 2018 as the first general manager of the national team, men’s or women’s, in the history of the United States Soccer Federation, he was a pretty obvious choice.
Stewart was a unicorn. No other potential candidate came close to ticking so many boxes. The former American midfielder had spent the previous 12 years establishing himself as a successful and respected executive with clubs in both Europe and MLS. He had played in three World Cups for the USMNT and, as a dual citizen (Dutch mother, US military father) who grew up in the Netherlands, had extensive contacts on both sides of the Atlantic. When Kate Markgraf became the first female World Champion GM the following year, Stewart was promoted to sporting director overseeing both programs.
Stewart left for PSV Eindhoven last month. His replacement is anything but obvious. Former American defender Oguchi Onyewu is an intriguing name in the mix, FOX Sports reported Monday. But several more experienced potential candidates, including Philadelphia Union sporting director Ernst Tanner and Sporting Kansas City counterpart Peter Vermes, declined to be interviewed. Garth Lagerwey, the most successful soccer executive in the country, just became Atlanta United’s CEO, and it’s likely he’s not leaving.
There are also several other possibilities that are salaried MLS or European clubs and may not want to leave their current jobs and/or move to Chicago, where US Soccer is based. Although Sportsology, the consulting firm hired to spearhead the search, has cast a wide net, there aren’t that many viable, attainable candidates. A final decision is expected early this month, according to multiple sources.
Here are a few that might be considered.
Current/Last Job: General secretary of Belgian second tier club Royal Excelsior Virton.
Why it makes sense: Smart, young and ambitious, Onyewu began gaining front office experience as soon as his decorated 15-year playing career ended in 2017. Like Stewart, he has also played and worked in the United States and foreigner
Why maybe not: The 40-year-old might be a little too green at this early stage of his executive career. According to a source, he has not yet been interviewed for the job.
Current/Last Job: USWNT CEO
Why it makes sense: If Stewart can go from men’s GM to USSF soccer czar, why not Markgraf? A member of the iconic 1999 World Cup winning team, Markgraf has been exceptional in his role.
Why maybe not: With Australia/New Zealand just four months away, the timing couldn’t be worse for Markgraf to hire a men’s coach.
Current/Last Job: Sporting Director, Hertha Berlin
Why it makes sense: The German has managed three Bundesliga clubs since 2010, knows the USA well, speaks perfect English and, above all, is available.
Why maybe not: While clearly qualified, there would still be a significant, possibly insurmountable, learning curve for Bobic.
Current/Last Job: Vice President and Technical Director, Atlanta United
Why it makes sense: The longtime USMNT captain has held one of the top MLS jobs since 2016, helping lead Atlanta to the 2018 MLS Cup title.
Why maybe not: Bocanegra’s recruitment record includes a pair of massive failures in Frank de Boer and Gabriel Heinze. With Stewart’s successor tasked with filling the vacant USMNT coaching position, this is a red flag.
Current/Last Job: President, Columbus Crew
Why it makes sense: Bezbatchenko, 41, has won the MLS Cup in Columbus and Toronto and is considered one of the league’s brightest young executives.
Why maybe not: Although he negotiated deals with top European clubs while with TFC, Bezbatchenko has never worked outside of North America or within the international game.
Current/Last Job: Director of the German national team
Why it makes sense: Bierhoff oversaw Die Mannschaft’s World Cup victory in 2014. He is also available, having been sacked following Germany’s group stage exit in Qatar 2022.
Why maybe not: Back-to-back first-round exits at World Cups have taken some of the shine off the 54-year-old. It would also be expensive, and it would take time to learn the nuances of the American game.
Current/Last Job: Competition SVP, MLS Next Pro
Why it makes sense: The Duke graduate replaced Bezbatchenko as Toronto’s general manager and had a successful two-year stint as sporting director of the New York Red Bulls, for whom he signed future USA World Cup players Tyler Adams and Aaron Long, before that.
Why maybe not: Like Bezbatchenko, Curtis has spent his entire MLS career and has no ties to previous domestic teams.
f Chris Henderson
Current/Last Job: Chief Football Officer, Inter Miami
Why it makes sense: Henderson, the youngest member of the pioneering 1990 World Cup squad, has been a successful executive in Miami and Seattle, helping the latter win MLS Cups in 2016 and ’19.
Why maybe not: Working for Inter owners David Beckham and the billionaire Mas brothers, Henderson is in a good spot in South Florida. He also has a young family that he may not want to uproot.
Current/Last Job: Technical Director, Nottingham Forest
Why it makes sense: Murphy’s resume is intriguing. Forest, who left last year, achieved promotion to the Premier League on his watch, and the former DC United and Real Salt Lake employee also previously managed Barnsley. He is both from the US system and a complete outsider to the federation, which could be an advantage.
Why maybe not: At just 36, Murphy is a real up-and-comer in England, no small feat for an American. I might choose to wait and look for other opportunities there.
Current/Last Job: General Manager, Los Angeles Football Club
Why it makes sense: LAFC has won two Supporters Shields, an MLS Cup and reached a CONCACAF Champions League final under Thorrington. He spent time with clubs in Europe and MLS during his playing career and also won four caps for the USMNT.
Why maybe not: The 43-year-old runs a billion-dollar business in his current position, one considered among the most desirable in North America.
Current/Last Job: Chief Soccer Officer, FC Dallas
Why it makes sense: A notable talent mill, FCD produced current national team players Kellyn Acosta, Reggie Cannon, Jesus Ferreira, Weston McKennie and Ricardo Pepi, and Dallas’ style of play under Zanotta closely resembles the USMNT’s scheme during the 2022 World Cup cycle.
Why maybe not: The Brazilian has no silverware to show for his nearly four years in Texas.
Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a writer for ESPN and Yahoo Sports and has covered the US men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @By Doug McIntyre.
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