US Soccer plans to redesign its sporting director job
US Soccer plans to narrow the focus of its position as sporting director near the top of the association as part of a minor but significant reorganization.
The position has been vacant since Earnie Stewart left last month. In 2019, it was essentially created for Stewart, who expanded his responsibilities beyond the US men’s national team to all of US soccer’s national teams and even to the broader American ecosystem of sports.
But now, with US soccer leadership conducting what they call a “global search” for Stewart’s replacement, they’ve also changed the job description. President Cindy Parlow Cone said on Saturday that the new sporting director, who they expect to hire ahead of the Women’s World Cup in July, will “really focus on our national teams… and our technical plan at elite level.”
They essentially split Stewart’s job — which “was giganticsaid Parlow Cone — in two. They will create a new position to survey the wider landscape. This new executive, who will report to CEO JT Batson, will focus on everything from coach education to referee development and “the growing involvement of youth and adults,” Batson said.
This, in turn, allows the athletic director to work almost exclusively on elite player trajectories and the environments and structures surrounding U.S. Soccer’s 27 national teams – from the USMNT and USWNT down to the youth teams and what makes U.S. Soccer so special names extended national teams (beach soccer, deaf soccer and more).
The redefined role of US Soccer’s athletic director
It will also create a job description that better fits the skillset of many qualified sporting directors in global football. Batson, speaking at the association’s annual meeting in San Diego, told a small group of reporters that in interviews with would-be athletic directors, candidates had given “a lot of very positive feedback … around the narrowing of focus.”
“People appreciated that development pretty directly,” Batson said.
What US Soccer is looking for in its next athletic director is a “professional at identifying, attracting, retaining and making top sports talent successful and someone who can own our technical vision,” he said.
And while that description is vague and seems less influential than the role of sporting director at clubs – where executives can sign and sell players and shape the team instantly on the pitch – it will be more sophisticated than before.
Why US Soccer made the change
Batson said discussions about the “development” of the role began in Qatar between him and Stewart. He recognized in these and other conversations that “running our national team programs is more than a full-time job”. As a result, other areas of Stewart’s purview lacked the attention they deserved and needed. “We haven’t been able to focus – as we all think we want and should – on growing youth and adult participation, on increasing the number of referees in this country, on increasing the number the coach,” said Batson.
These discussions with Stewart led to further discussions with other US football officials and stakeholders across the country. And in her work with Sportsology, which the consultancy brought in to lead the search for sports directors, “we validated through the review, as other federations did [around the world] organized, as well as feedback from our team on what’s working well and where there are some challenges,” said Batson.
“So,” he said, “put all these things together, and that’s what prompted us to do this.”
He and Cone acknowledged there will be some overlap between the sporting director position and the new role — in the area of talent identification, for example. And of course both are extremely conceptual for now; both could evolve.
But the new demarcation, Batson explained, is that the sporting director “will look at player pools of thousands or low tens of thousands, [and] Trainer pools of hundreds” – the top of the pyramid. “As an organization, we also need to think strategically around player pools of millions, coaching pools of hundreds of thousands, referee pools of hundreds of thousands” – and that’s what the person filling the new position suffices for.
“These are very different skills, and these are very different types of things to think about on a daily basis,” Batson said.
Regarding the leadership structure at the top of the USMNT, and specifically whether the position of general manager will be filled or phased out, Batson said it has not yet been decided; the new sports director decides on this.
And he declined to elaborate on the search for the sporting director, except to say that he and US Soccer “have interviewed people from all over the world.”