Interviews

Earnie Stewart, One-on-One: On Escobar's death, USMNT's culture and the Union's ambitions

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FFT: How difficult will this coming World Cup be for you, with neither the U.S. nor Holland in the field?

ES: It's going to be a lot less fun, I know that much. At the same time, it's soccer and it's the best tournament in the world, so it would be a lot more enjoyable with the U.S. in, but it is what it is right now and I'm not going to be able to change that. And I just enjoy watching soccer, so I'll have to enjoy watching it without the U.S.

Big countries are really, really difficult at times. I think that's the best thing about Holland. It's really easy to play the best against the best.

FFT: What was your take on the U.S.'s failure to qualify? What do you think was missing?

ES: That's not for me to comment about, because I don't know internally what goes on. You only see the output of games. You only see the games themselves on TV, and, obviously, when I look back to the Mexico loss at home [in November 2016], that game could have gone both ways towards the end. It went lucky for Mexico, but the U.S. could have won that.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda doesn't really matter after that, but that did have an effect on the team. You could see that was a devastating loss in the mind; you could see that. And then I think they came back really well from that.

The main part was, I think, the Costa Rica [loss in September] at home. Everybody can talk about the game we played in Trinidad and that we didn't get that result, but there's things that led up to that, and you've got to try to keep away from those precious moments, the last moments and last hurrahs, because they can go right and they can go wrong.

Once we lost that game against Costa Rica at home, that was the game that kind of hurt us maybe most of all. But, once again, that's only the output what you see on TV. And there's a lot that goes on internally that nobody knows about.

FFT: It appears the fallout from that failure will be expansive. We'll have a new U.S. Soccer president come February, a new head coach and likely a new, full-time technical director. Your name has been bandied about for the technical director post. Would you consider that at this point?

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

ES: I don't know. That's another shoulda, coulda, woulda. If it would ever come around, that's the time to think about it, and not speculate on things that aren't there.

Yes, there are new things happening with U.S. Soccer. But about the presidency, it's never one person. It's a whole organization, and one person isn't going to change everything. As long as that person is open for new things, you're always going to be good. There are some challenges here in the United States that we're all part of. It's really easy to look at one person, but when you look at pay-to-play, when you look at college -- our college system and them having different rules -- you can all name them.

You can get away with [specialization], in my opinion, in the NFL and NBA, because this the the mecca for those sports ... But we [in soccer] have to compete globally, and there's a different way, and they have different cultures.

We've got to make sure that we have a good and well-built pyramid here in the United States, where everybody knows what we're working towards and creating those opportunities for young American players, so we can become world champion at one point.

Big countries are really, really difficult at times. I think that's the best thing about Holland. It's really easy to play the best against the best, because logistically it's a country that's very easy for my son to go play a game -- he can play 10 different games in a radius of 5 miles, where here in the United States you have to travel a little bit more than you do in those smaller countries. It's not a small issue at all.

FFT: Let's talk about culture. You grew up in the Dutch soccer culture, where the sport was everywhere within the culture. It was part of who you were. We've seen a soccer culture develop in the U.S., especially in the past decade, but it hasn't permeated the greater culture and our kids aren't subsumed with soccer the way kids are elsewhere. How great a handicap is that?

ES: I think you touch a great point. Culture, there's still a difference. And the way we grow up and having multiple sports and not specializing as soon as other countries do is also part of our culture, which also makes it very difficult.

When you grow up as a young kid, which sport are you going to play and how does that happen? In a lot of countries, it's really simple: You play soccer. That's it. So the specialization happens at an earlier age than we have, and you have a gap after that. I'm very happy to see the academies that have grown here in the United States. I think it's fantastic. It's really, really good.

But when they go to college, it becomes a different ballgame again, because the season is only three months, and then you have to find different ways to develop these kids at the same time. But keeping the options open and playing multiple sports and not specializing is something that's in the culture of the United States. You can get away with that, in my opinion, in the NFL and NBA, because this the the mecca for those sports. Your next-door neighbor grows up the same way you grow up and plays that same sports, so it doesn't really hurt.

But we [in soccer] have to compete globally, and there's a different way, and they have different cultures. It is different, but I can say that if you see the major, major difference from when I started with the national team and where it is now, I think this culture has grown rapidly, and that's what it's all about. At one point, we'll definitely get there.

It's very hard for Americans to wait for success, but it's also very hard to all of a sudden compete with teams and countries that have 100 and 125 years of history. That's not easy, either.

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