In the Emmy-nominated “Massive Icons” special on Time Warner Cable Sports Channel, current Crew SC midfielder Wil Trapp said this about Stern John:
“He's almost like a myth because he scored so many goals and I felt like I never really saw this guy play.”
Unless they were there in the 1990s, many Crew SC fans feel just like Trapp.
Suggested to the club by his cousin Ansil Elcock, John joined his cousin on the Crew in 1998 and scored a club record 26 goals. He followed it up with an 18-goal campaign in 1999 and then was off to England. In just 55 games in Black & Gold, John tallied 44 goals, for a ridiculous career scoring rate of 0.89 goals per 90 minutes.
John’s brief but legendary Crew career was something that had to be seen to be believed. Sometimes, even John couldn’t believe it. He scored 16 goals in the final seven weeks of the 1998 season. That’s unfathomable.
“I’ve never had a streak like that in my life,” John said Saturday morning. “At that time, I was in a zone. I didn’t know how many goals I was scoring. I just wanted to score and to do well and we were climbing the table toward the playoffs. I just wanted to score goals for the Crew, and I think a lot of the credit goes to the guys who were around me. The service I had, it was because those guys played for the strikers.”
Brian Dunseth, then of the New England Revolution, had the unenviable task of trying to mark John in those days. It didn’t go well. John’s signature move was the Stern Turn, whereby he would play with his back to goal, then whip around on a defender and fire off an accurate shot.
“It was difficult,” Dunseth said of marking John. “All he would do is put his butt in my face and then wrap his arm around me and spin me like a top. Then he’d usually score when he shot the ball. I just tried to physically hit him as hard as I could. I always remember the Stern Turn as him in a white Crew uniform with yellow stripes, and he was wearing those bright-a** red adidas cleats. I was usually on the ground after he turned me. That’s what I remember.”
And now, 16 years after he finished obliterating the Crew SC record books, and after a 14-hour journey from Port of Spain, Trinidad, Stern John stood in the hallway at the Sheraton on Capitol Square, ready to be introduced to Crew SC fans at the meet and greet. As emcee Neil Sika rattled off the 44 goals in 55 games stat, Alejandro Moreno, who scored 52 goals…in 272 MLS games… calmly declared, “That’s a LOT.”
“Yeah, that IS a lot,” Moreno said a short while later. “Certainly by MY standard. I’m the striker who doesn’t score goals, so there you go. To compare teams and eras is so very difficult, but the numbers remain and they are impressive.”
Stern’s numbers were so impressive that Crew SC fans voted his 26-goal Golden Boot campaign as the 15th-best moment in Black & Gold history, despite some of them never even seeing it happen. But now, at long last, Crew SC fans got to see Stern John in the flesh.
Rosemary Cox, who became a Crew SC fan in the 2008-2009 timeframe, was delighted to meet the man who had only existed in the legendary stories told by earlier fans of the club.
“It was terrific,” she said. “We’d always heard about Stern John, but he was before our time. To meet him face to face was awesome. The people who sit behind us have been with the Crew since day one at Ohio State and they always say, ‘Stern John! Nobody compares to Stern John!’ So to meet him in person was very exciting. He was very nice.”
The man himself was all smiles after the event.
“I met a few people at the autograph event today that were like, ‘Yeah, I heard about you, but I’ve never seen you play.’” John said. “It feels nice to have people recognize what you’ve done in your career. The fans have been brilliant for me since day one when I signed here. They supported me. Even the ones who have never seen me play, they know my stuff. The fans play a major part of soccer in this country and with the Crew, so it’s fantastic. I’m just happy to be back and be part of it.”