As Earnie Stewart settles into his job as general manager of the U.S. men's soccer team, much is still unknown about exactly what the job will entail.
But Stewart makes his goals quite clear.
"One is really simple: qualify for 2022," he said recently, referring to the next men's World Cup. "Together with other people, build a roster that will be successful in 2022 and beyond that. And the ultimate goal is that everybody in the United States can identify themselves with the team that's on the field and the way they play."
A focus on 2022 is natural, given the U.S. team's failure to qualify for this year's World Cup and that North America will host the 2026 World Cup. Insiders and outsiders have set timelines for that tournament, wanting the U.S. team to be at its peak on home soil. Stewart doesn't object, but he's putting a high priority on 2022.
"First and foremost, I have a contract for four years," he said. "So, I can look all I want at 2026 … . I have to take that into account in everything that we do, yes, but, first and foremost, we've got to qualify for 2022, because 2018 I've heard enough about already."
Four years is plenty of time for lots of things to happen. It's especially true with the U.S. national team, which turned over its player pool this summer and brought in a raft of young talent. So in this context, it counts as a long time. The U.S. Soccer Federation has the same view and sought a long-term thinker for the GM job. That appealed to Stewart.
"That's me. That's who I am," he said. "That's my DNA. That's what I enjoy doing. That's where I get energy from. The short term is also important, because you never can put that aside, but I do like looking at longer-term solutions."
There are a few short-term matters on his agenda. One is hiring the national team's head coach. Sewart's job as sporting director of the Union ended Tuesday, and it's too soon to know whether the Mexican national team's Juan Carlos Osorio, the Columbus Crew's Gregg Berhalter, or someone else will be the choice.
No matter who gets the job, recruitment of dual-national players will be a priority. Stewart said he hopes to be involved in the process, too, and that he wants the door to be wide open.
"It's really simple: if you have an American passport, you're qualified," he said. "You want players that people can identify with what they show on the field. You have to have a pride and passion to play for our country, and that's the threshold."
The 2020 Olympics are another milepost on the way to Qatar. Though the tournament is limited to players under age 23 (except for three older players once a team gets there), the new crop of American players will be eligible. There will be pressure, too, because the United States failed to qualify for the 2012 and 2016 tournaments.
Officially, Stewart won't have hiring power over the Olympic team coach, which critics criticized U.S. Soccer over. But Stewart will likely have some role in the process, and he left no doubt that the Games matter to him.