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Earnie Stewart - Interview with the Scoring Leader

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Wednesday, June 27, 2001) - In addition to becoming the U.S. Men's National Team all-time leading goal scorer in World Cup qualifying play with his seventh career strike last week against Trinidad & Tobago, U.S. midfielder/forward Earnie Stewart is poised to become the team's all-time leader in World Cup qualifying games played with his 23rd appearance this Sunday in Mexico (he is currently tied with U.S. midfielder Claudio Reyna).

Below is an interview conducted today with Stewart from the USA's Ft. Lauderdale training camp as the team prepares for Sunday's showdown with Mexico at Estadio Azteca (live on Telemundo at 1:00 p.m ET / taped on ESPN at 4:00 p.m ET).

You haven't had much of a break from football...

ES: Not really. We stopped playing in Holland about June 1, and then I came to the U.S. camp nine days later. We had a 10-day break during the winter, but in terms of time off from soccer, it's been a long, long time. But I love playing, so it's fun.

You have been a very versatile player for both club and country. Where do you feel is your best position?

ES: In the position I'm playing now with both the U.S. national team and NAC Breda, which is a little bit more centrally in the midfield, more of an attacking midfielder. Since I run so much, I feel in that position I can get open wherever I want and be more dangerous in the offensive half of the field. I have the ability to run into spaces and get behind defenders.

Playing alongside Claudio Reyna and Chris Armas in the central midfield, it seems the team has become more fluid in that area. How is that relationship working?

ES: We have played together for a long time, and it seems like everybody knows what the other is going to do. Chris is always going to be more defensive-minded. Claudio and I interchange a lot. He takes my position at times, and I take his, much more than we used to. It makes us a bit more unpredictable in the center of the park.

With last week's goal against Trinidad and Tobago you become the all-time leader in World Cup qualifying goals for the United States. Were you even aware that you were close?

ES: Not a chance. If you asked me how many matches I've played for the U.S. I would have no idea. Numbers don't specifically mean anything to me unless that number is zero. I wouldn't be too happy with that.

You've had a fantastic run of scoring goals for the U.S., especially this year. Do you feel you have established a rhythm?

ES: When you're in a groove, you don't think about anything. Everything comes naturally, and you're in a flow. When I'm not thinking it's a good sign. When I start to play badly, I get on myself and start thinking a lot about soccer. That's not a good sign. Fortunately I haven't had to do much thinking lately.

This team has been remarkable success in the final round of qualifying, better than most expected. To what do you attribute the team's success?

ES: I think the most important thing is the way we present ourselves. Apart from playing well, we have a lot of talented players in our squad. I think the talent existed five years ago, but not nearly to this depth. The biggest core of this team takes so much pride in winning games. They have that attitude in their hearts and you can really see that in games. Everyone's fighting for each other. We have a lot of pride in not wanting to lose.

You've played for several coaches in you international career. What does Bruce Arena bring to the team that is unique?

ES: He allows the players to be themselves. For the most part, the players here know how to play the game. Bruce fine-tunes everything, but he doesn't go back and tell you how to head a ball, or how to place a cross. I've had a lot of coaches do that, and that can be very frustrating and a waste of time. So Bruce allows us to be ourselves on and off the field, off the field being equally important. It brings a sense of peace, and also a lot of confidence.

You've experienced a lot of memorable moments as you've grown with the national team. Anything stick out in particular?

ES: Scoring the goal against Colombia will always be special. It's pretty much an all-time for the U.S. national team.

What do you have left to accomplish with this team?

ES: I never think of accomplishing anything, I just try my best day by day. Having said that, I would like to play in another World Cup. This time not only be there, but play in it.

You've always displayed a special of amount of pride in wearing the national team kit. Since you've spent most of your personal and professional life overseas, does it mean something different for you representing the United States?

ES: It's very special to stand on the field with the national anthem playing. It makes you feel ten feet tall. You feel better about yourself. For me, it's a break from the daily grind of playing in Holland all the time. Sometimes when I'm not playing well in Holland, it's good to get away. Somehow when I come back from playing with the national team I feel taller, feel better about myself, and I start to play better. I have a lot of pride playing for the USA. My life is very much Dutch. I have a Dutch wife, a daughter who speaks Dutch, and most of my friends as well. So it's an opportunity for me, and for my father, to allow me to stay connected to the country where I have my citizenship.

The U.S. team has come along way since you began your international career in 1990. How has the look and feel of the team changed?

ES: It's just grown tremendously. With the advent of MLS and so many of our players gaining experience overseas, you come into camp and get the feeling that everyone knows what we have to do. Back in the days when we had problems playing smaller countries, we would have very difficult games. Right now we're learning how to control games, and it says a lot about how we approach soccer and how its come along. Soccer in America is evolving, especially since MLS has come around.

Speaking of MLS, would you ever consider playing here?

ES: Yes. As everyone knows I have a fear of flying, but that's gotten better over the years that's gotten better and better. I'd love to come play in MLS in the next year or two, and live here with my family. That would be fantastic.

Tell us about a day in life of Earnie Stewart...

ES: Very quiet. I'm always busy. I just bought a farmhouse in Holland. We have a dog kennel that my wife runs. I'm always working in the kennel, or doing things around the yard. I've got a very big yard. So I'm always working pretty much or playing with my daughter. I don't go out much. I drive an hour and fifteen minutes each way to work, plus travel with the national team, so I'm very happy to be home at certain times. It's a good busy. I can't sit still for too long.