That is precisely what the 28-year-old Stewart tries to do. Three years ago Stewart, who scored the winning goal against Colombia in the 1994 World Cup, developed a fear of flying that has become a central theme in his life. The son of an American serviceman, he lives and plays professionally in Uden, Holland, for NAC Breda of the Dutch first division. He got a publication from KLM that offered statistical proof of air travel's safety, but he didn't buy it. Then he hooked up with a man he describes as a "paranormal healer"—"He can tell the future, and you can put quote marks around future," Stewart says—who calms him down before some flights by reassuring him that the trip will be safe. Ernie's wife, Yvonne, usually drops him off at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, watches from an observation deck as his flight takes off and then goes back to the parking lot, secure in the knowledge that Ernie has overcome his phobia again. "Sometimes it's been 50-50 if I'd get on the flight, but I've never missed one," says Ernie.
For luck he touches the outside of the plane before he steps into the cabin. For reassurance when the team stays at a Miami airport hotel, Stewart will sit by the pool and watch takeoffs and landings for hours. He had hoped to bring Yvonne, a native of Holland whom he married on June 6, to El Salvador, but she remained in Miami after the U.S. players were advised by U.S. Soccer not to invite family members. "They stated that on a piece of paper," Ernie says. "I was thinking. My god, what's going to happen?"
Nothing. This was a match that ended with the Salvadorans applauding politely and Harkes throwing his captain's armband into the crowd. Stewart was long gone, having asked out 13 minutes from the end when he ran out of gas. The Americans, with Lassiter's fresh legs, kept pushing forward, but they still haven't learned to finish what U.S. soccer started about a decade ago.
Harkes will have to sit out the next game, against Costa Rica on Sept. 7 in Portland, because he picked up a second yellow card on Sunday. But forward Eric Wynalda, the U.S. team's leading career scorer, who missed the El Salvador trip with a groin injury, and midfielder Tab Ramos, who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last November and hasn't played for the national squad since, are expected to return for that game.
"Clearly we've shown we're in the top three of this group," says Sampson, whose team should advance to France if it wins its three home games. "We have to reinforce the positive. That's very important when we play Costa Rica. Our team can only get stronger. Now we have to work on going for the jugular."