Ward expected to beef up SJ's back line

Club also close to inking former KC midfielder Khari Stephens

The San Jose Earthquakes made a move to bolster their battered back line Friday, trading a conditional pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft to the Chicago Fire in exchange for sixth-year defender Tim Ward.

“With our injuries over the last week or so, we need a right back,” Quakes general manager John Doyle told MLSsoccer.com. “We’ve been looking to add depth anyway, and then you see the injuries, and you see that we can use Tim.”

Ward is scheduled join the team in time for its match Saturday at Colorado, although he is expected to open on the bench against the Rapids, since coach Frank Yallop has spent all week working out how to best fill the hole left by the absence of rookie center back Ike Opara, who is expected to miss six to eight weeks after breaking his left foot.

The likely short-term solution is to move holding midfielder Brandon McDonald back to his former position of center back, but in the future Ward could open at right back, affording Jason Hernandez the chance to move back into the center, where he’s more comfortable and natural.

San Jose’s two other right backs, veteran Chris Leitch (strained left hip) and rookie Steven Beitashour (surgery to fix broken right hand) are currently on the shelf.

“[Ward] has the ability to be a starter, to play and contribute to any team,” Doyle said. “He’s probably going to get a chance to play with all the injuries, that’s for sure.”

Ward, 23, was drafted by the MetroStars in 2005 and bounced from New York to Columbus, Colorado and finally Chicago, where he signed in March 2009. He started 25 matches over the last two seasons for the Fire, but missed the final third of the ’09 campaign, including the playoffs, after breaking a toe in his left foot during Chicago’s 2-1 loss in the SuperLiga final to Tigres UANL.

Ward became expendable in Chicago’s current outside-back rotation when the Fire brought back defender Gonzalo Segares, who left over the winter to briefly join Cypriot team Apollon Limassol.

“[Ward is] a player that we like and a player we always thought was a good young talented player,” Doyle said. “In the past, I don’t think they would have parted with him.”

The Quakes held their fire through most of the midseason transfer window, waiting on the right player to add to the mix that would push them from the edge of the postseason race to more solid footing amongst the contenders.

But with the injuries stacking up, they finally were forced to make a move – and it may not be their last. Former Kansas City Wizards midfielder Khari Stephenson, who spent the last four seasons playing in Scandanavia, trialed with the team last month and is in the process of signing with the team. Doyle said he hopes all the paperwork will be finalized in time for him to play next weekend.

In the long-term, Stephenson will probably have more of an impact on San Jose’s hopes of reaching the playoffs for the first time since being re-established. He’ll push second-year player Sam Cronin for ownership of the center midfield spot that previously belonged to Andre Luiz.

Since the Brazilian went out before the World Cup break with a knee injury, the Quakes have struggled to hold possession and build pressure offensively, depending instead on counterattacks and set pieces.

“Khari’s more of an offensive center midfielder, someone we hope he can dictate play in that role, always be an option offensively and help us keep possession,” Doyle said. “And he’s a got a big shot, both from his left and right foot. He’s a big guy, but very technical.”

The Ward and Stephenson additions mean the Quakes have used two of their three open roster spots. Doyle said the team plans on using the last one before the transfer window closes on Aug. 15.

“We have four or five options, and we’re just trying to negotiate as hard as we can to get a player we like,” said Doyle, who is targeting a playmaker to slot in as a withdrawn forward.

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com . On Twitter: @sjquakes