Q&A: Getting to know Khari Stephenson
Khari Stephenson is fresh off his first-ever MLS Goal of the Week win, a 35-yard blast to equalize against Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday in a 2-2 draw. The Jamaican midfielder sat down with SJEarthquakes.com to talk about his days at Williams College, the Reggae Boyz and life after soccer.
SJEarthquakes.com: Starting back with your college days, what made you decide to choose a Division III school (Williams College) rather than attend a big D-I program?
Khari Stephenson: Well, it’s a great academic school. At the end of the day, you never know if the whole soccer thing is going to work out. If you have a good education, it’s easier to find a job, so that was my number one priority at that point. I also had some childhood friends who were going to Williams, so that made the decision easier.
SJEQ: What was the jump like going from Division III College to professional soccer?
KS: It wasn’t that big of a difference because I had been playing with the Jamaican National Team, so I was used to a higher tempo and higher level. The transition wasn’t so bad for me.
SJEQ: After playing in the MLS for two years, you jumped over the pond to Europe. What prompted that decision?
KS: Actually, I was released by Kansas City. They wanted to sign some new players and they wanted me to go down to be a developmental player again. I didn’t see how that would help my career, so I made the decision and asked them to release me. My agent said he would take me over to Sweden. I had a few trials set up and the first one I did worked out. And everything has gone well since then.
SJEQ: Talk about your experience over there. What did you learn and how was it different from the MLS?
KS: It was a great experience. For me, it was the first time that I was playing regular first team football. At the time that’s what I needed. I had a really good season the first year and then got picked up by the top team in the league, so that helped my confidence a lot and actually showed me that maybe I do have something to add. It was a great confidence booster.
SJEQ: Outside of the footballing aspect, what did you like most about being in Sweden and Norway?
KS: I actually made some really good friends outside of football. I’m sure I’ll have these friends for life, so that was the best thing.
SJEQ: How did last year’s return to the MLS come about?
KS: Before the season started, I told my agent that I was looking to move on to something better. I got injured at the start of the year and missed the first two months. My agent asked what was going on, because I wasn’t getting a lot of minutes. I told him I was just coming off the injury, and he let me know that he had an opportunity for me, that San Jose needed a midfielder and he thought I was the guy. I hadn’t been thinking about coming back to MLS. I wanted to stay in Europe, but they wanted to have a look at me, so I came and ended up enjoying it. I hadn’t been enjoying football in Norway. The situation with my team at the time wasn’t the best, so I came here and was enjoying it. They had a great team with great guys, and I was having a good time, so I figured why not?
SJEQ: After having been cut by Kansas City and moving to Europe, did you feel any sense of vindication after returning and enjoying immediate success here in MLS?
KS: Coming back is always good, because I’m closer to home. The league here is much better than when I left. It has a much greater media impact and there’s much more hype surrounding the league. There are bigger players playing here now than back then. At the same time, it shows me that I’ve actually accomplished something in my life, being called a developmental player and then coming back and getting to where I am now. It’s a great feeling.
SJEQ: Touching on your recent call-up to the Jamaican National Team, it had been a while since you had played with them. Had you been expecting that call or did it come out of the blue? What were your immediate thoughts?
KS: I was surprised. But it’s always an honor to represent your country. It had been over a year-and-a-half, so it was nice to go back. There are some new players in the set up now and a different coaching staff, but it felt good. I’m an experienced player, and I’m being called a ‘veteran’ now, which sounds really strange to hear (chuckles), but it was still a really good feeling.
SJEQ: How do you like Jamaica’s chances in the Gold Cup?
KS: I think that Jamaica will do really well. We have more players in leagues outside of Jamaica now, with quite a few in England, Scandinavia and MLS, and if we’re able to put everything together, we should be one of the top teams.
SJEQ: Getting away from football a bit, where do you call home in the offseason?
KS: Jamaica (Kingston). For me, that’s home, and I like being at home. I like to see my friends and family and eat the food there. I don’t have a favorite dish, just a little of this and a little of that. Sometimes I go up to the mountains a bit with some friends or hang out in Negril or Montego Bay on the beach for a couple of days.
SJEQ: What would you list as some of your hobbies off the pitch?
KS: I like to relax, and I do a little bit of reading. I don’t have any particular favorite authors. If something looks good and piques my interest, I’ll pick it up and read it. I like to surf the internet a bit, as well, watch some TV and soccer.
SJEQ: You mentioned the importance of getting a good education. If playing professional soccer hadn’t worked out, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
KS: I actually had some investment banking interviews coming out of Williams with the now-defunct Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley, and they went really well. I told them I was going to try professional soccer and they told me that if it didn’t work out to give them a call.
SJEQ: Might you then go into investment banking when your soccer career is over?
KS: I’m really not sure. It depends where my head is at during that point in time. I’ve thought about doing an MBA or law degree at some point. You never know, we’ll see. There are plenty of options.