SAN JOSE, Calif. – There was no question as to the highlight of Jordan Stewart’s debut for the San Jose Earthquakes: Defending a one-goal lead in the 58th minute against top-flight English side Norwich City on Saturday, Stewart belied his 31 years to leap into the air and deliver a scissoring clearance on Luciano Becchio’s deflected shot.
Yet there was another moment in the Quakes’ 1-0 exhibition win that better summed up what San Jose got with their acquisition of the English Premier League veteran earlier this month. In the 31st minute, Norwich tried to play down the right sideline to speedy winger Nathan Redmond, a 19-year-old wunderkind bought by the Canaries this summer.
Stewart, playing left back for the Quakes, simply walled off the teenager, steadfastly holding his ground until referee Kevin Stott finally whistled for a foul against Redmond.
“As you play more games, as opposed to running and trying to tackle as much as you can, you try to read the game more, try to save your legs,” Stewart told MLSsoccer.com Saturday. “That’s what I try to do.”
It was the exact opposite of highlight material – and exactly what the Quakes could use as they head into their final 13 matches of the MLS regular season. San Jose rank 15th in the league in goals allowed at 1.52 per match, and their defending has put a heavy burden on goalkeeper Jon Busch, who ranks second in saves with 73.
Those numbers must improve if the Quakes (6-9-6) are going to pull themselves into postseason contention.
“[Stewart] has played at the highest levels, played for a long time,” San Jose interim coach Mark Watson told MLSsoccer.com after training Tuesday. “His experience is something that was very attractive to us – the leadership qualities, the communication on the field and just having that old head. He knows the game, he knows the positional stuff, the game situation stuff, when it’s on to keep the ball, when it’s the right decision to play it forward.
"That’s just what comes forward with experience.”
Stewart could be asked to bring that experience to bear when the Quakes return to league play this weekend, hosting a Portland side that has only lost twice in 20 matches (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). With Nana Attakora out due to concussion symptoms, Jason Hernandez troubled by a strained groin and new signing Clarence Goodson likely still on international duty, San Jose will need a fourth starter to join Steven Beitashour, Victor Bernardez and Justin Morrow on the back line.
The leading options are to partner Brad Ring with Bernardez in the middle, or slot Stewart on the left and tuck Morrow inside.
If Stewart does play, could there be a reprise of that scissor kick? Maybe, he said.
“I used to do gymnastics when was younger, but as you get older, you don’t try to do it as much,” he wisecracked.