- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2003

For fans wondering where Earnie Stewart has been all season, D.C. United’s most decorated player displayed his world-class skills for all to see last night.

In 13 previous matches for United, Stewart had nothing to show for all the soccer he has played at the highest level. But that drought ended when he assisted on first-half goals by Dema Kovalenko and Ben Olsen as United held off the defending Major League Soccer champion Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 before 21,077 at RFK Stadium.

The win couldn’t have come at a better time for United (8-8-6) in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race. United maintained its hold on third place with eight MLS games remaining. The top four from each conference qualify for the playoffs.

“We have 30 points — those are the only points that count for me,” said Stewart, who played 14 seasons in Holland beginning at 17. “It’s obviously nice [to get the assists], but I don’t have any value on that.”

Stewart, whose 111 goals in Holland make him the highest-scoring international-based player ever from the United States, said his preferred position is centrally as a withdrawn forward. When United acquired Ronald Cerritos on Aug.19 in a trade with the Dallas Burn for Ali Curtis, he had a strike partner he could work with effectively.

“The acquisition of Ronald makes my job a lot more easier,” Stewart said. “We seem to think the same way.”

Before some of the spectators were in their seats, United bolted to a 1-0 lead on a third-minute goal by Kovalenko. It was a classic attack as midfielder Marco Etcheverry played a ball out of the midfield to Stewart working at the top of the 18-yard box.

Stewart, who has played in the last three World Cups for the United States, rolled a short square pass to right-flank midfielder Eliseo Quintanilla just inside the 18 on the right side. Quintanilla, United’s 20-year-old Salvadoran prodigy, alertly played the ball back out to Kovalenko once he saw he had nowhere to go.

With a quick one-touch to the left, Kovalenko set up his shot. When no Galaxy defender came out to challenge him, he unloaded a 20-yard left-footed blast that beat goalkeeper Kevin Hartman to the left post for his team-leading sixth goal of the year.

“Kovalenko for me was outstanding also in his football, not just his gritty performance,” United coach Ray Hudson said. “He’s a footballer; he’s got great feet. He’s a good link man, a great outlet, he challenges … he would stab his grandmother in the eye for another bowl of porridge.”

Defending the left post was a problem for Hartman’s 26 minutes later when Olsen beat him.

The attack started when Quintanilla played a 15-yard ball to Stewart on the right. Stewart carried the ball into the box and held off a couple of defenders as he tried to set up his left foot. When he realized he couldn’t get off a shot, he passed back out to Olsen who drilled a 20-yard, right-footed shot inside the left post to give his team a 2-0 lead.

It was Olsen’s second goal of the season and first in United’s last seven MLS games. Like Stewart, Quintanilla assisted on both United goals.

“Kovalenko’s shot was a good shot, Bennie Olsen’s was unsighted a little bit by Hartman until it got through,” said Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid. “We felt on the first goal that we didn’t get out there quick enough to block the shot. The same thing with the second one. Outside of that, I thought we gave away very little.”

The two-goal lead was not safe. The Galaxy (7-8-8) stormed back early in the second half when United decided to sit on its lead.

Galaxy forward Diego Serna scored off a Cobi Jones corner kick that cut the deficit to 2-1 in the 51st minute. On the goal, Jones served the ball into the middle of the box, where Galaxy defender Alexi Lalas headed the ball down from about 12 yards out.

Serna, who the Galaxy acquired in early August, controlled Lalas’ header with his right foot and finished from three yards out. The goal was Serna’s third in six games with the Galaxy.

Notes — Before the game, United honored the Galaxy’s Mauricio Cienfuegos with a framed photo of the playmaking midfielder. With strong local Salvadoran support, Cienfuegos has been directly responsible for four of the largest crowds in United’s history at RFK. Cienfuegos, 35, is retiring after the season, so this was his last trip to RFK. …

Midfielder Bobby Convey appeared in his first United match since his impending transfer to English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur was refused by the British government. Convey entered the game for Olsen in the 63rd minute.

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