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Earnie Stewart, former Team USA player, named Union sporting director

Known for his innovative ideas with Dutch pro soccer team, Stewart will take over for the fired Nick Sakiewicz.

UNION MAJORITY owner Jay Sugarman said he was not necessarily out to please his fan base when he hired former U.S. national team player Earnie Stewart on Monday to be the team's sporting director. But having a person with a high national and international profile for creating success doesn't hurt.

"We certainly hope the fans embrace Earnie," Sugarman said of the man who will take control of the Union effective Jan. 1. "I can't see any reason why he won't fit in immediately with the type of passionate fans we have.

"The decision was really made around what we need as a team, what we need as an organization, how we are going to move forward. The fact he is who he is and how his recognition might help make that role easier for him is fantastic. But this is really based on the criteria, and we've really tried to drill that down and get this right."

Stewart, 46, takes over for Nick Sakiewicz as the person who will set the agenda for Union soccer, from the players on the roster to the running of the youth academy. Sakiewicz was relieved of his duties this month.

Stewart, a three-time World Cup performer, brings a wealth of experience to the role, as his current job is director of football affairs at AZ Alkmaar, a Dutch League club he has guided to Europa League qualification the last six consecutive seasons.

Under Stewart's technical guidance, AZ has developed a reputation for its innovation, player recruitment and player development methodology. In 2015, AZ Alkmaar was honored with the Rinus Michels Award for having the best youth academy in Dutch football.

Stewart, who is of Dutch and American descent, is also familiar with MLS, having played two seasons for D.C. United, including the 2004 MLS Cup winner.

The Union has made the playoffs only once in six seasons, the 2011 season.

Sugarman made a commitment to a new era when he fired Sakiewicz.

"We've been looking for a director for a long time; lots of names have come forward, as we've really brainstormed and refined the process around key criteria," Sugarman said. "Some new names came to the fore, and this was the case where it was really the right person and the right fit. Earnie's desire to do something impactful in the U.S., we really thought he lined up well with (our) key criteria.

"I think we feel pretty strongly we needed a firm direction, in terms of our playing philosophy and how we're going to go about building a competitive edge in the MLS. What I saw in AZ was he really had a strong track record of finding players that fit his team's system. We're counting on him to do the same here."