SAN JOSE, Calif. – If the gashed and bruised San Jose Earthquakes defense doesn’t improve over the final third of 2013, it won’t be for lack of bringing in new players to address the problems.
Two weeks after announcing the signing of US international Clarence Goodson, the Quakes – whose defense currently ranks next-to-last in MLS with an average of 1.6 goals per match allowed – followed that up Tuesday with another move that could bolster their back line, inking English veteran Jordan Stewart.
Stewart, a left-sided player with experience at defender and midfielder, spent several weeks training with the Quakes in September, with an eye towards a potential MLS move this year. The 31-year-old last played with Coventry City of England’s third-tier League One before being released at the end of this season.
“I always wanted to play in the MLS,” Stewart told reporters after training Tuesday. “I just felt it was the right opportunity and right time for myself. Obviously, it helped that I came in last season to train for three weeks. I really got a feel of the place and the players.”
Quakes coach Mark Watson said the club had stayed in touch with Stewart since his trial last year, and felt the comfort factor from that stint removed many of the doubts that can accompany a foreign player who’s new to MLS.
“He’s a very experienced player,” Watson said. “He’s played at the highest level, so he has the experience, just that little game awareness, game savvy, that we like. ... He’s a leader, he’s very vocal on the field. He brings that old head and organzies and communicates. And he’s a good guy. We liked his personality; he fit in well with our group. So all things combined, we’re delighted to have him.”
Watson wouldn’t give anything away in terms of where he sees Stewart potentially earning playing time, but made it sound as though left back would be the most likely choice. If that’s the case, the Quakes will soon have two full sets of veterans for each spot on the backline: Stewart and Justin Morrow at left back, Steven Beitashour and Dan Gargan at right back, and Goodson, Nana Attakora, Victor Bernardez and Jason Hernandez in the center.
That will provide critical depth as the Quakes enter CONCACAF Champions League play next month.
“He gives us a lot of versatility,” Watson said of Stewart, “and I think we’re going to need that with the games coming up.”
Stewart has the requisite paperwork to play, but said he still needs 10 days to two weeks to gain enough match fitness; Watson said the club would “give him a mini-preseason” to get him up to snuff. That means Stewart will watch the Quakes’ match Saturday against Seattle (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) but could be available for their next MLS match after that, July 27 against Portland.
Wherever and whenever he plays, Stewart wants to make an impact at both ends of the pitch.
“I feel like I’m comfortable on the ball,” Stewart said. “I try and create opportunities. ... As a left back, I like to bomb on and get forward and defend at the right times. If [I’m at] left midfield, then I’m obviously trying to create chances – crosses, etc. – and try to chip in a few goals as well.”