When Earnie Stewart was hired in 2018 as the first national team general manager, men’s or women’s, in United States Soccer federation history, it was a fairly obvious choice.
Stewart was a unicorn. No other potential candidate came anywhere close to checking so many boxes. The former U.S. midfielder had spent the previous 12 years establishing himself as a successful, respected executive with clubs both in Europe and MLS. He’d played in three World Cups for the USMNT and, as a dual citizen (Dutch mom, American serviceman dad) who grew up in the Netherlands, he had extensive contacts on both sides of the Atlantic. When Kate Markgraf became the world champion women’s first GM the following year, Stewart was promoted to sporting director overseeing both programs.
Stewart left last month for PSV Eindhoven. His replacement is anything but obvious. Former U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu is one intriguing name in the mix, FOX Sports reported on Monday. But several more experienced potential candidates, including Philadelphia Union sporting director Ernst Tanner and his Sporting Kansas City counterpart Peter Vermes, declined to be interviewed. Garth Lagerwey, the country’s most successful soccer executive, just became the CEO of Atlanta United and isn’t likely to leave.
Several other possibilities are also gainfully employed either by MLS or European clubs and might not want to leave their current jobs and/or move to Chicago, where U.S. Soccer is headquartered. While Sportsology, the consulting firm hired to spearhead the search, has cast a wide net, there aren’t that many viable, gettable candidates. A final decision is expected as early as this month, according to multiple sources.
Here are some that could be considered.
Current/most recent job: Secretary general of Belgian second tier club Royal Excelsior Virton.
Why he makes sense: Smart, young and ambitious, Onyewu begangaining front office experience as soon as his decorated 15-year playing career ended in 2017. Like Stewart, he’s also played and worked in the U.S. and overseas.
Why he might not: The the 40-year-old might be a little too green at this early stage of his executive career. According to one source, he has not yet been interviewed for the job.
Current/most recent job: USWNT general manager
Why she makes sense: If Stewart cango from men’s GM to USSF soccer czar, why not Markgraf? A member of the iconic 1999 World Cup-winning squad, Markgraf has by all accounts been exceptional in her role.
Why she might not: With Australia/New Zealand just four months away, the timing couldn’t be worse for Markgraf to have to recruit a coach for the men.
Current/most recent job: Sporting director, Hertha Berlin
Why he makes sense: The German has led three Bundesliga clubs since 2010, knows the U.S. well, speaks perfect English and, not least, is available.
Why he might not: Although he’s clearly qualified, there’d still be a significant learning curve for Bobic – possibly an insurmountable one.
Current/most recent job: VP and technical director, Atlanta United
Why he makes sense: The longtime USMNT captain has occupied one of the highest profile MLS jobs since 2016, helping lead Atlanta to the 2018 MLS Cup title.
Why he might not: Bocanegra’s hiring record includes a pair of massive flops in Frank de Boer and Gabriel Heinze. With Stewart’s successor charged with filling the USMNT’s coaching position vacant, that’s a red flag.
Current/most recent job: President, Columbus Crew
Why he might not: While he negotiated deals with major European clubs while with TFC, Bezbatchenko has never worked outside of North America or within the international game.
Current/most recent job: Germany national team director
Why he makes sense: Bierhoff oversaw Die Mannschaft’s 2014 World Cup win. He’s also available, having being fired following Germany’s group stage elimination from Qatar 2022.
Why he might not: First round exits at consecutive World Cups have taken some of the shine off the 54-year-old. He’d also be expensive, and would need time to learn the nuances of the American game.
Current/most recent job: SVP of competition, MLS Next Pro
Why he makes sense: The Duke graduate replaced Bezbatchenko as Toronto’s general manager and had a successful two-year spell as the New York Reds Bulls sporting director, for whom he signed future U.S. World Cup players Tyler Adams and Aaron Long, before that
Why he might not: Like Bezbatchenko, Curtis has spent his entire career in MLS and has no previous national team ties.
Current/most recent job: Chief soccer officer, Inter Miami
Why he 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 he might 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 he might not want to uproot.
Current/most recent job: Technical director, Nottingham Forest
Why he makes sense: Murphy’s resume is intriguing. Forest, which he left last year, earned promotion to the Premier League on his watch, and the former D.C. United and Real Salt Lake staffer also previously ran Barnsley. He’s both of the U.S. system and a complete outsider to the federation, something that could be a plus.
Why he might not: Just 36, Murphy is a bona fide up-and-comer in England — no small feat for an American. He could opt to wait and seek other opportunities there.
Current/most recent job: General manager, Los Angeles Football Club
Why he makes sense: LAFC has won two Supporters Shields, an MLS Cup and reached a CONCACAF Champions League final under Thorrington’s leadership. He spent time with clubs in Europe and MLS during his playing career and also earned four USMNT caps.
Why he might not: The 43-year-old runs a billion-dollar business in his current position, one considered among the most desirable in North America.
Current/most recent job: Chief soccer officer, FC Dallas
Why he makes sense: A noted talent mill, FCD produced current national teamers Kellyn Acosta, Reggie Cannon, Jesus Ferreira, Weston McKennie and Ricardo Pepi, and Dallas’ playing style under Zanotta closely resembles the USMNT’s scheme during the 2022 World Cup cycle.
Why he might not: The Brazilian has no silverware to show for his almost four years in Texas.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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