Earthquakes strike deal for Stephenson's return

Crucial MF to return to SJ after negotiations with Norwegian club

After weeks of cross-oceanic wrangling, midfielder Khari Stephenson and the San Jose Earthquakes are set to be officially reunited.

The Quakes have reached an agreement with the 30-year-old Jamaican international, general manager John Doyle confirmed Monday – and this time, it’s a permanent move.

“I’m very happy,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop said. “I didn’t want to lose him in the first place, but ... the patience has paid off.”

Stephenson joined the Quakes last August on loan from Aalesunds FK of Norway’s top league, and quickly established himself as a sorely needed playmaking central midfielder for San Jose, helping them to their first MLS playoff spot since the team was reestablished in 2008.

Yet even though Stephenson wanted to stay in San Jose and the club wanted him back, negotiations dragged on for months as Doyle and Stephenson’s agent slowly whittled away at Aalesunds’ initial demand for high-level compensation.

That kind of payout would have wrecked the Quakes’ delicate salary-cap balance, but San Jose and Aalesunds agreed on a fee for Stephenson's release, said Doyle, then struck a deal with the midfielder. Terms of Stephenson’s three-year deal with MLS were not announced.

“We were just trying to get him back on a good number for us and for him, where everyone’s happy,” Yallop said. “John’s done a good job of getting with their club and working the league, working with Khari’s agent to get it done.”

Stephenson’s reasons to return were simple, if still compelling.

“I enjoyed the style of play that we had,” Stephenson said. “It brought the joy back to me. I think Frank will be able to bring the best out with me.”

In his Quakes debut last year, facing Kansas City on Aug. 14, Stephenson announced his arrival with a perfectly weighted 25-yard pass to Chris Wondolowski for the only goal in a 1-0 victory. His precise passing, for a team that had lived on a long-ball diet to that point, was a revelation.

But Stephenson suffered to some extent in the wake of San Jose bringing in Designated Player Geovanni just a week later; Stephenson and the rest of the Quakes had to shift and adjust while Yallop searched for a position that would unlock the potential from the former EPL and La Liga player.

“When Geovanni came in, Khari had to make way a little bit,” Doyle said. “I think that didn’t help Khari out that much. This season, with it just being Khari, it’s going to be great.”

Stephenson said that after coming to the Quakes last year without much in the way of conditioning under his belt, he’s looking forward to seeing what he can do with a month’s worth of training camp and a full slate of games to play.

For his part, Doyle sees good things coming.

“I think he can be one of the elite center midfielders in this league,” Doyle said. “I think he has the physique for it. He had good vision, is a good passer on the ball. He’s a hard worker. I think he has it all. We saw it [last year] that he can do some great things for us.”

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