A monthly feature about a U.S. Men's, Women's or Youth National Team player from the U.S. Soccer Communications Department.
This month, we turn the much-deserved spotlight on veteran U.S. Men's National Team midfielder Earnie Stewart, who at age 33 and after 12 years representing the USA is in peak form. Though best remembered for his goal that put the scrappy U.S. team into the second round of the World Cup ‘94, the Holland-born star has been perhaps the most impactful performer on the U.S. team over the last two years.
"Aged to Perfection"
He's 32 years old and flying faster than ever. Literally. As well as being one of the fastest players on the U.S. roster, he has overcome his fear of flying and is now playing more games for the USA than any point in his international career. And he's scoring. Big time.
Earnie Stewart, one of the veteran stalwarts of a reinvented U.S. team, claimed 2001 as his own, silently taking the reigns and guiding the side to its fourth-consecutive trip to soccer's most important stage. While injuries and suspensions threatened the World Cup qualification run, Stewart took his game to another level, scoring the most goals of his international career and entering the U.S. history books to boot.
Ten games. Five goals. He became the all-time leader for the U.S. in qualifying appearance (27) and goals (9). He scored 18 goals in the calendar year for NAC Breda. By the way, ask Stewart about any of this, he couldn't cite one statistic. And he couldn't care less.
"Not a chance," said Stewart, when asked if he knew of his estimable career numbers. "If you asked me how many matches I've played for the U.S., I would have no idea. Numbers don't specifically mean that much to me."
And that's the essence of what Stewart brings to the U.S. lineup. Despite being one of the most accomplished American players in Europe, despite his well-earned place of respect amongst his fellow international teammates, when Earnie Stewart steps on the field for the USA, it's about anything but himself.
100 percent unselfish. 110 percent effort. 110 percent commitment.
"It's very special to stand on the field with the national anthem playing. It makes you feel 10 feet tall. I have a lot of pride playing for the USA."
The son of a U.S. Air Force veteran and a Dutch mother, Stewart's international career began in December 1990. Over the next 12 years, he would compete in two World Cups, score one of the most memorable goals in U.S. history, and collect more appearances in World Cup qualifying play than any other American.
Until this year, Stewart's place in U.S. soccer lore had been housed on the field at the Rose Bowl. Before a capacity crowd in Pasadena some eight years ago, he scored the first goal in the USA's stunning 2-1 upset win against Colombia in World Cup USA '94, a victory that would propel the U.S. into the second round for the first time in over 60 years.
"Scoring that goal will always be special. It's pretty much one of the all-time great moments for the U.S.national team."
But Stewart chose 2001 to write a new chapter. The first part of the script began on the frozen pitch of Columbus, Ohio. In the opening game of the final round Hexagonal on Feb. 28 against Mexico, Stewart's indefatigable work-rate paid dividends in the 87th minute, his hurried run into the box put him on the receiving end of Josh Wolff back pass and providing the insurance goal in the 2-0 victory.
The story got better one month later, when the U.S. traveled to the unfriendly confines of the Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Facing unforgiving elements and hostile crowd, Stewart rallied the troops from the start, unleashing a bending 35-yard rocket that gave the U.S. the early lead. The U.S. would go on to claim the spoils, earning a crucial road victory and setting the tone for the qualification campaign.
Another insurance goal against T&T in Foxboro. A pair against Honduras in D.C. In the final tally, he scored five goals in 10 appearances, the most prolific in his international career. He played every minute of every match in final round qualifying, one of two U.S. players to do so. Add to that a sparkling 2001-02 season for NAC Breda in which he scored eight goals in the first half of the Dutch Eredivisie, and Stewart has already laid claim to an MVP season.
But perhaps his conduct during the troubled summer months best portrays the character of the man that will help try to shed the disappointment of 1998 and lead the U.S. into its most important moment of the new millennium.
With the U.S. facing the most difficult stretch of qualifying – away matches to Mexico and Costa Rica with Honduras wedged between – and Claudio Reyna sidelined due to suspension and injury, Stewart was handed the captain's armband. After a poor performance and a loss to Mexico that ended the USA's five-match unbeaten run in the final round, it was Stewart who was the last to finish talking to reporters, staying late to answer every question.
At RFK Stadium two months later, Stewart would net both of the U.S. goals, but the one that got away is the one that will be most remembered. With the score 1-1 and 42 minutes rolled off the first half stopwatch, the U.S. was awarded a penalty kick. With confidence, Stewart grabbed the ball. A last-second hesitation produced a poorly struck penalty, and Stewart was denied. Instead of having to chase the game from behind, Honduras would continue to counter-attack in the second half, eventually winning 3-2 and leaving a seemingly certain World Cup berth for the USA suddenly in jeopardy. At the post-match press conference, the reporters unanimously requested one player. And again, the classy veteran appeared.
"It's not so much missing the PK, because you miss chances," he would say. "It's just when you look back and you look at your teammates and you know you let them down; that's what hurts the most."
He gave credit to his opponents, vowed to persevere, and six weeks later on a rain-soaked field in Foxboro, he would be the first to receive the news that the United States had earned a place in the 2002 World Cup.
And he went looking for his teammates…
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (U.S. Soccer's Chevy 2001 Athletes of the Year)
2) Word Association (w/ MNT forward Ante Razov)
3) D.J. for a Day (w/ U-17 MNT forward Corey Ashe)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ WNT defender Kate Sobrero)
5) Big Woman on Campus (w/ U-21 WNT forward Christie Welsh)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ MNT midfielder Earnie Stewart)
7) Mark That Calendar (WNT vs. Mexico - Jan. 12)
8) From the Bleachers (w/ frequent-flying U.S. Soccer fan Andy Mead)
9) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (Gold Cup trivia)
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