He scored one of his country's most important goals and he might be U.S. soccer's most enduring figure of the last decade. But even after 16 seasons, three World Cups and 113 career club goals, well-traveled veteran Earnie Stewart just keeps on kicking.
Stewart will always be remembered for his game-winner against Colombia in the 1994 World Cup that sent the USA to the second round and won the hearts of an entire nation. But that is just one highlight of a career that began at age 17 with V.V. Venlo of the Dutch second division, way back in 1988.
Now 35, Stewart is D.C. United's most experienced player and a rock of stability for an incorrigibly inconsistent team. More surprisingly, he is still an active member of the U.S. national team, having earned his 100th cap against Grenada in last month's World Cup qualifying.
He sustained a right groin strain in practice just before the July 17 showdown with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and his absence has coincided with a slump in United's fortunes. D.C. has lost three of its last four games, including Saturday's 5-1 defeat to the Dallas Burn.
Stewart recently sat down for a conversation about D.C.'s season and his own future with the national team. Here are some highlights:
Could you talk about your recent injury? How do you feel right now?
Earnie Stewart: Not too great, I pulled my groin just before the L.A. game. It's gotten a little bit better, but it's not something that's really nice and easy. During the World Cup in 2002 I had something similar on my left groin -- that was a lot worse, but this is a little bit of the same feeling.
D.C. United is scrambling a bit lately. Could you talk about the team's injury crisis?
ES: It's not good, but it's a situation where other people have a chance to step up and show what they are about, and I think that's a good thing. When I was young I remember trying to get my first game, and with me it came along too that there were a lot of injuries, and once you get that chance, you should try to grasp it with both hands and make the best of it. That's what the situation is right now.
What is your evaluation of United's season thus far, with so much youth and inconsistency?
ES: There's been some inconsistency. We've played some fantastic games, and we've played some games that weren't good at all. Right now there's too much up and down, and that's what (coach) Peter (Nowak) stresses all the time; it's a little bit of a roller coaster right now, and we've got to try to stabilize that.
This definitely doesn't make it any easier, with all the injuries that we have right now. I guess that's where players like Nellie (team captain Ryan Nelsen) and Benny (Olsen) and myself fit in, maybe not so much to do with soccer, but more with talking on the field and trying to coach players and help them out in certain situations.
You've played under many coaches at home and abroad. How do you compare Coach Nowak's style?
ES: Refreshing, especially after last season where we didn't even have a roller coaster, we didn't hit the ups as much. The discipline he's brought to the team, they way he wants to play is so much more fun. Those things that he brings to the table you always can feed on. Everybody knows their role, their positions. It doesn't change much throughout the season, and I think that's (the mark of) a good coach.
The USA has World Cup qualifiers coming up soon. How do you see your role with the national team?
ES: I've always felt very proud to put on the U.S. national team jersey, and if I'm called up to do that again, I'll be the first one to get on the plane and help out. (Coach) Bruce (Arena) has been fantastic to me over the years, and whenever he needs my help, I'll make sure that I'm there and give it my best efforts to help him out, too.
We've spoken a couple of times, and he does feel that there's a role laid away for me. I love that team so much that every minute I can get and every trip that I can get with them, I always totally enjoy that and I continue to do that.
Are you considering staying around for the 2006 World Cup?
ES: Oh, that's so far away! Right now everything's year to year. I still feel very fit, so I still definitely want to play another season. Being here or somewhere else, whatever, I just want to play another year, because I feel so fit. And what happens from there, in the big boom, we'll see.
Bobby Convey has just gone abroad to try his hand in Europe. Having played on both sides of the Atlantic, what advice would you give him?
ES: Bobby doesn't have to work necessarily on his soccer skills, because they're very up to par-he won't have a problem. The way you grow up over here, and the way it is in Europe are totally different. You have to earn your respect a little differently than you have to over here.
Being a younger player, you have to do silly stuff sometimes, but therefore you gain respect with the older players. You swallow everything, you say nothing, and you do everything that you're told, and from there, things will certainly progress. (As for) talent, no question--he's an amazing player, he has a great left foot, and his running ability is fantastic. In that regard, he should do so very well.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.