D.C. United's prolonged search for an experienced forward came to an end yesterday with the acquisition of longtime U.S. national team player Earnie Stewart.

Stewart signed a two-year contract with Major League Soccer and was allocated to United, which had scouted forwards from Argentina to Honduras to Poland over the last six months before turning to one of U.S. soccer's most accomplished players. Terms were not disclosed, but it is believed his base salary will be about $200,000 and the deal includes an option year.

"He's a complete footballer with tremendous attacking instincts and qualities," Coach Ray Hudson said. "He has a wealth of experience to use and to pass on to our young players. The other appeal is his appetite for the game. He's a jovial person and player, and that's something we've needed and wanted."

United holds two player allocations -- one for missing the playoffs and one acquired in a trade with New York/New Jersey. The other one will be used on Bulgarian defender Galin Ivanov, with an official announcement planned next week.

Stewart, who will turn 34 in March, has played in the last three World Cups for the United States, including two starts and two reserve appearances last summer when the Americans advanced to the quarterfinals in South Korea. His professional career has spanned 14 seasons, all in the Netherlands and the last seven with NAC Breda.

"I've been thinking about coming to MLS for a long time, and the timing was right," Stewart said in a phone interview from his home in the Netherlands. "It's exciting to come to Washington. I've always had a good time playing at RFK [Stadium] and being in D.C. It's a great place to play and to raise a family."

Despite a 12-year association with the national team, Stewart has not lived in the United States since age 7. He grew up at Soesterberg Air Force Base in the Netherlands, the son of an American father and Dutch mother, and joined a Dutch soccer club when he was 17.

With his contract about to expire, NAC Breda allowed him to pursue other opportunities this winter. The Dallas Burn also was interested in acquiring Stewart, but because of the allocations, D.C. had the first option.

Hudson said Stewart will start upfront alongside 18-year-old Santino Quaranta, forming a unique combination of European sophistication and teenage rawness. "We wanted the right complement for Santino," Hudson said. "Would a big striker be the right partner for Santino? Probably not."

At 5 feet 9 and 145 pounds, Stewart is not a typical striker, but rather a versatile and quick player who is comfortable on the flanks, at withdrawn forward and in a playmaking role. If United captain Marco Etcheverry retires after this season, Stewart likely would move into central midfield.

"I've played a number of positions in my career, so I can really play anywhere Ray wants me," he said. "If he wants me at forward, that's fine."

Stewart said he is planning to move to the Washington area Feb. 3 or 4 -- a few days after United opens training camp at RFK.

Forward Earnie Stewart, 33, joins MLS after 14 seasons in the Netherlands and 3 World Cup campaigns with the U.S. national team.