Earnie Stewart, One-on-One: On Escobar's death, USMNT's culture and the Union's ambitions
FFT: Do you think the Union made advances from 2016 to 2017 that you can build upon with the changes that you'll make during the offseason?
I'd say we're years away from [competing for a title]. We're a development club, we're making sure that we give those talents that we have, we give them the chance to flourish. They need minutes, valuable minutes.
Earnie Stewart: You know, we are who we are, so we're not going to be that club that goes out and spends all kinds of money, so we have to do it in a different way, and from 2015 to where we are now, I would say there's been improvement. It doesn't necessarily always say that in the standings, but we were pretty close to reaching [the] playoffs. We reached the same amount of points as we did in 2016, and arguably you could say that the East has gotten stronger over 2016.
When you look at it in that regard, you can look at it in a positive sense, but it's not totally positive, so I have to look at the other side as well. What we did not do well, we're hoping that we can add to the club within our means that we can get better in those parts.
FFT: What's your assessment of head coach Jim Curtin and the job he's doing?
ES: I can only say that we have a certain plan and we have a certain way about going about our business here, and I see Jim working every single day on the field in trying to develop and implement our playing style. Obviously, I realize there's an output on Saturdays and Sundays that needs to be to a certain standard, but what I see and what I analyze, we're improving in a lot of spots. I would say Jim is doing an excellent job.
FFT: What are your primary aims ahead of 2018? Where do you need to upgrade, and how far away are you from being able to contend, not just for a playoff spot but to win championships?
ES: Well, let's start with the last one. I'd say we're years away from that. We're a development club, we're making sure that we give those talents that we have, we give them the chance to flourish. They need minutes, valuable minutes, with the Bethlehem Steel and with the Philadelphia Union. So that is ahead of us.
You always want to win tomorrow, so it's as simple as that, but at the same time, we have to be realistic about things and look a little bit forward towards that.
When it comes to this offseason, what we saw last season after Tranquillo Barnetta left was was that he was one of the players that was at a very high level for us. We're trying to find somebody that can fill his role as he did in 2016 for us, and we would like to add some more speed on the wings and make sure that we have more difference-makers. I believe that C.J. [Sapong, the 16-goal forward] has taken a big step in his career in the last season. Fafa Picault is always a threat to the opposition, and we'd like to add more of that to our roster.
FFT: We're seeing more and more teams spending more to acquire talent. How difficult is it to compete without those kinds of resources? Will it become harder as we go forward?
ES: Yeah, that's difficult, more short-term than long-term, because I believe that you can develop those players, but they're not going to be here tomorrow. So other teams can go out and pay transfer fees of millions of dollars, and we're not capable of that. That says something about the short-term.
But nonetheless, that does not mean we are not capable of [competing], and I think that's been shown in 2016 and 2017. That once you step on the field and you do the things in the right manner and the right way and you have a cohesive team, that a group of cohesive younger players that are on the same page could win against the bigger teams, and that's what we have to focus on, and there's nothing wrong with that.
But it does not make it easier to compete with those teams, because if they're very cohesive, more times than not they'll win the game. And that's for us to disrupt that and not lay down and die but stand up and fight.
FFT: What message do you give the Union fan base, and especially those fans that are losing patience?
ES: We're not going to have the [budgets] that others have, so we're going to have to do it in a different way, and one of those ways is making sure that we give those young talents that we do have, give them chances and make sure they can build themselves up to compete. And once you go out and give those kids chances -- and not so much give it, because you have to earn it at the same time -- you'll see that with those experiences, they get better and better and at that moment will be able to compete.
At the same time, and the truth of the matter, is that the fan base has been here longer than I have, so I understand there's a certain, if you want to call it, frustration or whatever that is, but I have to look at it from our perspective, [from] where we started now two years ago and where it is right now and look at that in all reality.
FFT: Is making the playoffs next year a must?
ES: Must? I don't think there's anything that there's a must. It's just when I look at myself and who I am, and that's what we shoot for every single time. I want to become MLS champs. That might not be the reality and the fact of the matter, but that's what you strive for every single day.
But I don't know what the must is on that. That's how we go about business here every single day: must win the next game, and that's just the way you work as an athlete.