Defender Jordan Stewart, who stepped in admirably as Earthquakes captain for five games in Chris Wondolowski’s absence, wasn’t new to the role. He’d captained other clubs during his 15-year pro career in England.
He wore the armband well again.
“We had different people speaking before the games,” the 32-year-old Englishman said of his approach. “We had our few youngsters speak just to give them, not confidence, something new, to try to show that they can do that at a young age, speak in front of the boys. They all did a good job.”
He added that he was just trying to “lead on the field, really.”
Stewart understands that a team rises or falls as a group. It’s never all about one guy or one aspect of a team’s play. So he is not pointing fingers about the Quakes’ position. Players are working hard in practice and in games to improve as a unit, he says. It can be tricky breaking down a team’s play.
He realizes there's a tendency for people to gloss over a team's deficiencies when it's winning and to overanalyze things when it's coming up just short.
“I’ve been at teams where we’re flying,” he said. “I remember one time I was at Watford when we won the first 10 games straight after we got relegated. In my head I’m thinking, ‘We going to bound right back and go up again.’ And then we hit a slump where we couldn’t win games. … I don’t think it’s one particular thing. As a defender, you’ve got to keep more clean sheets (shutouts). We need to create more chances for the strikers.
"Obviously, people might say, ‘You’re not scoring enough,’ but it’s up to us as a team to create chances for the strikers.”
The return of Wondolowski and center back Victor Bernardez from the World Cup has strengthened the club. Bernardez entered in the second half of a 1-0 loss to Chivas USA on July 2 after nearly two months away with Honduras. Wondo is poised to start on Friday against Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United at Buck Shaw Stadium after returning to the Bay Area last week.
“It’s definitely going to be good for us,” Stewart said of Wondolowski and Bernardez’s return. “I still think we’ve got strength in depth. It’s not like we’re getting beat 4- or 5-nil every game. I think it’s definitely going to help the spine of the team.”
The Quakes had a 2-3 record with Stewart as captain, winning the first two games and dropping the past three, all by 1-0 scores. Stewart had a huge impact last season after signing on July 9, 2013, starting 12 regular-season games in which the club was 7-2-3. The back line, still one of the league’s very best units, allowed two goals in all competitions over the final two months of the 2013 season.
The Quakes’ team defending has been excellent this season, even with the roster shuffling. The club has allowed just 16 goals in 15 games to rank third-best in the league in the category.
But the time to make a move is now in the tough conference.
“Obviously, now we’re halfway through the season, so we’re at a crucial stage where we’ve got to put points on the board if we want to get in the playoffs,” Stewart said. "At the start of the season, I said our main priority is to be in the playoffs, and I still stand by that even though we’re near the bottom or at the bottom, I’ve not looked. We need to win games.”
- Richter Media