The U.S. soccer team is set to open its 2002 World Cup campaign Wednesday against Portugal in Suwon, South Korea, near Seoul. The Americans have their training camp and hotel in Seoul, and VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer visited with veteran player Earnie Stewart this week.
This is Earnie Stewart's third World Cup with the U.S. Soccer team. The 1.76 meters tall midfielder, who can also line up as a forward, is the squad's all-time goal-scoring leader in the World Cup, qualifying with nine.
For this World Cup, the U.S. team began training together early last month, then had three home warm-up matches before coming here to Seoul on May 24. I asked the 33-year-old Stewart about the mood of the team.
"Well, we have been together about five weeks now, and everybody is very anxious and looking forward to the game that is coming up," he said. "And right now it cannot come soon enough since everything has started."
U.S. soccer team coach Bruce Arena had said he was glad his was the last of the 32 World Cup teams to see action in this tournament. Stewart shared his thoughts on that. "I guess, you know, you can see pretty much a little bit of the tendencies of how the referees are coming out and how they are refereeing a game," he said. "And maybe that is a little bit of an advantage, and things will settle down after that. On the other hand, everybody is looking forward to playing, so everybody would rather play today than tomorrow."
Earnie Stewart says in their spare time, he and his U.S. teammates are watching the other World Cup games on television. "Oh, yeah, I mean we are right smack in the middle of everything, which is just tremendous and great for us," he said. "And I know I have, and probably like all my teammates have, watched almost every single game there was [so far]."
Earnie Stewart makes his home with his wife and son in the Netherlands, where he plays professional soccer with the Dutch club NAC Breda. His mother is Dutch, and his father, who played American-style football, is a retired U.S. Air Force veteran.
Stewart is one of only two U.S. players to appear in every match of the final round of qualifying for this World Cup. And he played for the U.S. in both the 1994 and 1998 World Cups. So, I asked him if his younger teammates lean on him for advice.
"Maybe, you know, it is an outlet, that they can talk to somebody if they feel something," he answered. "On the other hand, when the game comes, it is a team sport, but everybody wants to do well for himself, and everybody is thinking about themselves and preparing for themselves. And once you step on the field, you are a team. And from there, you cannot help much anymore. You just encourage players and hope they do well."
And for the U.S. soccer team's opening match against Portugal Wednesday night in nearby Suwon, Stewart expects the U.S. to perform well. "We have watched a couple of things [in videotapes of Portugal], and we feel good about ourselves right now, and we are just looking forward to the challenge," he said. "And I think it is going to be a great game, and I think we can get a [good] result out of this game."