San Jose Earthquakes gutted to lose veteran fullback Jordan Stewart to season-ending injury

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The worst fears for the San Jose Earthquakes and defender Jordan Stewart were confirmed Monday when the team announced that the 33-year-old -- who went down in a heap without suffering any contact in the first half of a 1-0 win against Colorado on Friday -- had torn his left Achilles tendon and would miss the rest of the 2015 MLS season.

Stewart has been the club’s first choice at left back since arriving midway through the 2013 campaign, making 56 appearances (54 starts) out of 70 regular-season matches. He retained that spot through the Quakes’ coaching change from Mark Watson to Dominic Kinnear after crashing into last place in 2014.

“A big loss,” Kinnear said Friday about the then-unconfirmed possibility of losing Stewart. “He’s a good guy in the locker room. He’s a good player, good communicator on the field. ... You’d be really heartbroken for him because you know how much he puts into playing.”

Stewart’s ready smile quickly made him a fan favorite in San Jose, but the native of Birmingham, England, was equally beloved for being a steady, veteran presence on the Quakes’ roster. In addition to providing overlapping runs at left back, Stewart also gave San Jose cover in the middle when necessary, including earlier this month when Clarence Goodson was out due to injury.

“It’s extremely difficult,” Goodson told reporters Friday about seeing Stewart go down. “Honestly, I can’t say enough about the guy. He’s a great guy, an excellent soccer player, excellent in the locker room. It really, really hurts.”

Stewart was absent from practice last Wednesday, and underwent what appeared to be a fitness test before pre-game workouts Friday night. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until the former Premier League man was went down trying to suddenly change direction in the center of the Avaya Stadium pitch. Stewart immediately grabbed at the bottom of his left calf.

“Gutting,” Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski said Friday. “He’s a great soccer player, even better person, just a true professional in every sense of the word.”

Shaun Francis, Stewart’s primary deputy this season, would seem to be the most likely replacement. Francis stepped in at the 27th minute against the Rapids and helped San Jose goalkeeper David Bingham move into a tie for fourth place in the league with seven shutouts on the year.

“We’re going to need guys to step up, and I think Shaun’s done a great job of stepping in there,” Wondolowski said.

If Kinnear chooses to go a different route, jack-of-all-trades Cordell Cato has seen time at left back this year. And newly acquired Marc Pelosi gained experience at that position in the Liverpool academy program.

“It’s a big void for us to fill,” Goodson said. “[Stewart] has been excellent all season, when he’s played, whatever position he’s played. We’re really going to miss him. Genuinely going to miss the guy. It’s going to hurt not having him.”