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Earnie Stewart optimistic about Union, but feels he didn’t finish job as sporting director

There's no question that Earnie Stewart leaves the Union in better shape than he found it, but he admits his legacy here is incomplete.

Philadelphia Union sporting director is in negotiations with the U.S. Soccer Federation to become the men's national team's general manager.
Philadelphia Union sporting director is in negotiations with the U.S. Soccer Federation to become the men's national team's general manager. Read moreKait Moore/Staff Photographer

Earnie Stewart's time as Union sporting director will end on Tuesday, when he departs Chester to become the U.S. men's national team's new general manager.

There's no question that Stewart leaves the Union in better shape than he found them. He spearheaded major increases in investment in the team's front office and training facility, and helped build the Wayne-based youth academy into one of Major League Soccer's best. But he didn't win a trophy, or sell any academy products to foreign clubs for big money.

It feels like an incomplete legacy, and Stewart feels the same way.

"Building for the future is not something that happens in two and a half years. That takes a lot more time than it's been," he told the Inquirer and Daily News. "I wanted to be here for a longer time, because you can't just build in two and a half years. You can build, but you're not going to get the fruits from what you build."

Of course, it was no secret that he also wanted to work for the national team. It's why the Union let him go amicably. And of course, there's a mutual hope that Stewart will see Union players in his new job too. His goal here was to develop players of that caliber. The first validation came when Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty played for the U.S. at last year's Under-20 World Cup.

"That means we went in the right direction," Stewart said. "There's a lot of talent coming behind that. Hopefully they hit some national teams and make a lot of minutes [played] within the Philadelphia Union, and ultimately win games."

They might also draw foreign clubs' interest. A big-money sale — such as Vancouver Whitecaps teenage phenom Alphonso Davies' recent $20 million move to Bayern Munich — is the ultimate validation that a team is developing players well.

That time is coming for the Union. In fact, it might only be a few months before calls come for Auston Trusty and other players. They won't command $20 million, but they should draw substantial offers.

"If there are 18, 19-year-olds playing in a very good league, and are playing week after week, there's alarm bells that go off in Europe," he said. "Are we close? Yeah, I'd say there's one or two that are actually pretty close."

Stewart has long championed the virtue of selling players. It's taken MLS as a whole a long time to agree, but it's finally happening. Stewart is happy about that.

"It's good for soccer in general in the United States that it happens: that you become not [just] an import country, but that you also export a product that you have," he said. "That means you're validated within the world of soccer. … To have everybody leave, that's not good for the league. So it's always a combination, it's a yin-and-yang."

He later added for emphasis: "Not selling, for sure, is not good, because that means you're not validated yet. Once we get to that place where that starts to happen, that's fantastic."

Away from the sidelines, Stewart has seen the Union's lack of resonance in the region, and the many empty seats at games that result. It isn't his job to sell tickets, but he does care about building a team that people want to watch.

"Does it hurt? To tell the truth, no, not really," Stewart said. "This is a very young club, and building a winning culture is not about only having a couple of good players. It's about the whole infrastructure, building a winning organization. And that takes time. … A couple of years from now, that's when it needs to be filled up: when the product has been put in place, and these kids that have grown up, and we've had a mixture of players coming in plus our young academy kids, and people can identify with that."

Asked what advice he'd give to his successor, Stewart said he wouldn't offer much.

"I'm going to give him an explanation of what we've done in the past, but the future is his," Stewart said. "If he asks me about certain things, I will give my opinion about that … He's going to be well-equipped and capable, and have his thoughts about what the future might bring."