- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

To paraphrase the words of uninhibited NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, just give Earnie Stewart the ball.Stewart, D.C. United’s prized offseason acquisition, hasn’t been much of a factor in the first three games because he hasn’t touched the ball.Stewart, a starting midfielder on the U.S. team, has played professionally in Europe since he was 17; his 111 goals over 14 seasons in the Dutch League make him the highest-scoring American ever to play abroad.Apparently, though, his United teammates don’t know it. After three games and 292 minutes, all Stewart has to show for his immense soccer talent is three shots — none on goal.”He’s making some tremendous runs, and the ball just isn’t being delivered into him as quickly or as early as it needs to be for him to be effective,” coach Ray Hudson said. “That’s one of the demands that I’m putting onto the players.”It’s no coincidence that United is winless (0-1-2) while its best player has been shut out. The team has played well so far without Stewart being involved, so imagine what it could do when Stewart is no longer invisible. Tonight at RFK Stadium, United has another chance to get Stewart on track when it plays the Dallas Burn (0-1-1) in its second home game.Stewart, 34, is taking his early lack of production in stride. He knows his teammates aren’t intentionally freezing him out. With so many young players on the club, Stewart is patiently waiting for his teammates to figure out his moves.”We’re building and building right now,” he said. “If you want to do too much too soon and do too many things, it makes things a little more complicated, and we don’t need that right now.”It also helps to have a defined role. In United’s first two games, Stewart played a withdrawn central midfield. In last Saturday’s 1-1 tie in Colorado, he was United’s lone striker in a one-forward alignment.”Alone up top is never much fun. You do a lot of running, and you do it to help the team out, make depth and open and create space for others,” Stewart said. “I just love playing in midfield, but right now we have a lot of players that can play those positions. At forward, we’re struggling.”U.S. team coach Bruce Arena uses Stewart primarily in the midfield and allows him to roam. Traditionally, Stewart has been a right-flank midfielder, but he has played centrally and up top for Arena over the years. But it’s not fair to compare Stewart’s role on the U.S. team with his for United because he is playing with world-class players in one instance and basically with youngsters in the other.As soon as Stewart scores his first United goal, things probably will change. He’ll gain confidence knowing that his teammates are actually aware that he’s on the field and have learned that good things will happen if they get the ball to him.”We’re working on it. We know he’s vital to how we do, especially offensively, and we’ve got to find him the ball,” said midfielder Ben Olsen. “Maybe we’ve got to give him more options. When he does get the ball sometimes, it’s one against three. That’s my job, and Bobby [Convey]’s, and all the midfielders to help him out. He’s done such a good job and been so patient about it, it’s really a tribute to him.”

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