U.S. midfielder Earnie Stewart has enjoyed an illustrious 13-year career with the U.S. National Team. En route to collecting 84 caps, he has become the USA's all-time leader in World Cup qualifying appearances (27) and tied for the most World Cup appearances (11) with friend and long-time roommate Cobi Jones. Most remembered for his goal against Colombia that propelled the U.S. into the second round of the 1994 World Cup, Stewart has finally returned to the United States to ply his trade in MLS with D.C. United. He continues to view his soccer life, and his career, one day at a time. On Wednesday, ussoccer.com caught up with Stewart in Portland, Oregon, as the team prepares for the upcoming friendly against Venezuela this Saturday in Seattle.
ussoccer.com: It must be nice having a shorter flight to get to a national team camp
Earnie Stewart: Actually, I think it took almost as long! It's great to be back in the States and finding out what American life is all about. I still don't love flying all that much, but when you want to do fun things you have to pay the price.
ussoccer.com: How have you adjusted to life in the United States so far?
ES: So far it's been pretty much the same. I've only spent a week in my house, and the rest has been hotels. That life is pretty much the same no matter where you play soccer in the world.
ussoccer.com: Despite the similarities, what have you noticed as some of the differences of playing professional soccer in the United States versus playing in the Netherlands?
ES: Soccer is a global language. Of course, there are little differences in training methods, styles, etc., but a lot looks the same. I would say the atmosphere around the game is different. Things like the size of the locker rooms, the training facilities, and other parts outside the lines. But once you step on the field, it's all the same.
ussoccer.com: Nine months after the World Cup in Korea, are American players starting to be viewed with more respect in Europe?
ES: There is certainly more respect for American players now than several years ago. But you always have to prove yourself at the highest level, and success in one World Cup is only the beginning. We have to demonstrate that we can consistently compete, both as individuals and as a team, and that is a slow process. I think people in Europe do recognize the progress we have made.
ussoccer.com: What was your reaction to being called into this training camp. Was it something you expected?
ES: Not at all. I could understand that Bruce would want to go in a certain way, needing to look at younger players with World Cup qualifying about a year away. The team has to keep going forward. I was pleasantly surprised that my name was still up there to be called in. I'm still very honored.
ussoccer.com: Did you think about retiring from international soccer after the 2002 World Cup?
ES: I thought about it. I think I even said to some teammates that 2002 would be my last year. Then again, I've had so much fun. If you can still do something for soccer and for your country, why retire? Even if it's only one or two more games, it's still something that I enjoy. I wouldn't say it's a decision making process; it's more of me letting things happen. I just want to go forward and enjoy life and soccer to the fullest. I've always had a great feeling representing the United States. In every one of the 84 times I've played for the national team, when they play the Star Spangled Banner I get goose bumps."
ussoccer.com: Do you think the decision to bring you in to camp was impacted by the fact that you're playing in MLS and are a lot closer to home?
ES: I don't think that's it at all. It's more of how I contribute on the field. I have a certain way of presenting myself, and I'm always trying to help out my teammates. When I talked to Bruce in Ft. Lauderdale a month ago, he said he'd still like to call me in, and I think that's a big reason why.
ussoccer.com: Portland is the site of the one of the great moments in U.S. Soccer history. What do you remember about that day?
ES: We were in the middle of qualifying in 1997, and we were a couple points behind Costa Rica going into that game. It was a must-win game, and it's always tough having to win, and then coming up with one. I remember Tab [Ramos] scoring that late goal from 18 yards out, and how the stadium absolutely erupted. Winning that game was a very big step towards qualifying for France 98. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to enjoy it. I had a game with my club team the next day, so right after the final whistle I had a police escort waiting to take me to the airport."
ussoccer.com: You mentioned that Bruce is looking at a lot of younger players, some of which you are seeing for the first time here in Portland. What's been your impression?
ES: After playing with Landon and DaMarcus, it was already known that there's a new generation of younger players coming through the ranks. MLS has a lot to do with that. For example, I played against Kyle Martino during preseason, and I was impressed with him already. He's shown in camp that he's very skilled and he deserves to be here. There's a lot of kids coming up that have national team potential, and that's great for U.S. Soccer."
ussoccer.com: Is it satisfying to know that a big reason why there is an environment for so many of these younger players to develop in the U.S. is thanks to you and other players of your generation paving the way?
ES: It's not something I focus on, but it's nice to think that we've done something good for soccer. You don't necessarily think about as having paved the way. They love to play soccer, just I like do. I hope that we've made the path a little bit easier for them."
ussoccer.com: On the whole, the group training in Portland has never been together before. How is the process of getting to know each other coming along?
ES: One of the interesting attributes of playing soccer is that you always have to adapt quickly to a new environment and make the best of it. With the national team it has always been the case that people get used to each very quickly. Even between the first and second day of training there has been a big improvement, and that says a lot. The first day is always about learning, seeing which players prefer which foot, what they like and don't like, and each session gets progressively better.
ussoccer.com: Do you think the success of the U.S. team in the 2002 World Cup will have an impact on the support of soccer in this country?
ES: I'd put it differently. I don't want it to be the case that the success of soccer in the U.S. is contingent on the national team doing well in the World Cup. In 1998, it was a disaster, and then all of sudden soccer in the United States doesn't mean anything. Then we do well in Korea, and suddenly soccer means something. Clearly, hinging the success of the sport on the results of the national team is way too fragile. As players, we just go out and play the game and have fun. Trying to win for yourself is already enough pressure, without thinking about the whole big picture. Of course the results of the national team will have an impact, but I hope that the support of soccer in this country will stand in its own without judging the results of any one team.
ussoccer.com: We know you don't care much about statistics, but you are currently the all-time leader in U.S. history for appearances in both World Cup and World Cup qualifying. Do you ever allow yourself to reflect on what has been an amazing career?
ES: As a matter of fact I did know those stats, but only because you guys told me. Like I said, it's really been a blast on and off the field. I've had so much fun. I had thought about retiring, which is an easy thing to say beforehand, but then the first time the national team comes together and you're not there it's a very weird feeling. My life has never been about decision making, it just rolls from one thing to another. I just go forward and see what life brings me. If this turns out to be my last camp, so be it. I've had a great ride.
*Members of the media using excerps of this transcript please courtesy ussoccer.com