The best part of Khari Stephenson’s debut as a San Jose Earthquake? That he has even more to give.
No one in San Jose’s locker room was complaining about Stephenson’s initial performance in a Quakes uniform, during which he delivered a picture-perfect 25-yard chipped pass to the foot of Chris Wondolowski for the only goal in a 1-0 victory against Kansas City on Saturday night.
But both Stephenson – who estimated that he was playing at about 80 percent capacity – and coach Frank Yallop agreed that the Jamaican international would only get better over the final 12 matches of the season.
“There’s more to him than we saw tonight, but what we saw tonight was a clean player,” Yallop said. “I’m looking forward to working with Khari. He’s got clean feet for a big man. He’s sharp and strong.”
“I’m satisfied,” Stephenson told MLSsoccer.com. “I think I have a lot more to give, so there’s more to come.”
Quakes winger Arturo Alvarez was plenty happy with what he saw from the 29-year-old, who played at the tip of a diamond midfield in San Jose’s 4-4-2 formation and gave San Jose their best performance there since veteran Andre Luiz reinjured his knee before the World Cup break, necessitating season-ending surgery.
“We needed that kind of presence in the midfield,” Alvarez said. “You saw the pass he gave Wondo. That’s half a goal. If we’re all on the same page, I think we can definitely push for a playoff spot.”
Wondolowski’s 35th-minute tally was Stephenson’s first career assist in an MLS match, and it came against his former team, for which the Jamaican only played sparingly in 2004 and ’05 before decamping to Sweden and then Norway for five seasons.[inline_node:316013]
“I’m here to create things, to create chances for the other players and create opportunities for myself,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson hadn’t played in a first-team match with his previous side, Aalesunds FK, since May, yet he showed little signs of rust during his initial 45 minutes as a Quake, delivering exactly what Yallop and general manager John Doyle expected: An offensive-minded player to boost an attack that had grown stagnant.
The Quakes don’t expect him to score goals, simply to set up easier chances for a team that is not blessed with many tremendous finishers.
“He came in and in his first game with us, it feels like he’s been here the whole season,” teammate Joey Gjertsen said. “I think it was easy for him to come right in and maybe fill a void that we needed him to.”
Stephenson set the tone early when he delivered a touch pass to Alvarez on the right wing, creating a one-on-one chance against Wizards left back Roger Espinoza. He also chipped another deft delivery in the 29th minute to Cornell Glen, who pushed his header wide.
These were not the kind of passes the Quakes were making while suffering shutout defeats to Seattle and Colorado the last two weeks.
“When I came here first to train with the team, I showed them a little of what I can do, and in this past week of training a little more,” Stephenson said. “So they know to expect passes at any time.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Twitter: @sjquakes.