When San Jose acquired Tim Ward from Chicago in August, the injury-riddled Earthquakes were desperate for anybody to play fullback.
Now, as they look forward to their first playoff berth in five years, they can’t imagine anybody else in the starting lineup.
“Tim will be playing, I would think,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said of his plans for San Jose’s post-season XI. “He’s done well. For him to not be playing at this point would be a surprise.”
The numbers support Yallop. Barely 24 hours after joining the team in Colorado, Ward was pressed immediately into duty when Bobby Burling went out due to injury in the 41st minute. Ward stepped into the lineup the following week in place of injured Ramiro Corrales, and he’s started the Quakes’ last 10 matches, either at left or right back.
[inline_node:315278]“It’s definitely nice,” Ward said. “I came right over and started playing right away. After a couple of games, I started to feel more comfortable, and every game now, I’m feeling even more comfortable. [Playing every game has] given me confidence.”
As Yallop put it: “I needed a level-headed, clean, honest, hard-working player that was going to come in and just work hard for this team. He’s come in and done exactly that.”
As the Quakes have begun to play with more possession, Ward has blossomed. The 23-year-old is more of an asset when his team can take advantage of his offensive contributions.
“That’s his game,” Yallop said. “With Tim, he’s a good attacking fullback. We want him to [get forward]. He’s got good feet, both left and right. He’s a smart player.”
San Jose saw the results on the score sheet last weekend, when Ward, playing up on the right wing, sent in a cross past the far post that Chris Wondolowski pounced on for the first half of his game-winning brace against D.C. United. It was Ward’s first assist as a Quake.
Ward also made the run that forced an errant punch from DC ‘keeper Troy Perkins on a 55th-minute cross by Bobby Convey. Wondolowski gobbled up that chance as well.
“Some of the games, in the beginning, it wasn’t too easy [to get forward],” Ward said. “I didn’t know the players and I don’t think they knew me. But as the games have gone on, they know that I’m going to be coming forward quite a bit and there’s usually space there, so they can just play the ball out and I’ll run onto it.”
Despite being tabbed a Generation adidas player after one year at Saint Louis University, Ward has bounced from city to city as a pro, playing for five different franchises in six MLS seasons. He appeared to establish himself in Chicago last year until a broken toe ended his season, but the Fire’s coaching change from Denis Hamlett to Carlos de los Cobos over the winter left Ward on the outs.
Even with that checkered résumé, Yallop – who once coached a younger Ward on a Generation adidas trip to England – had no doubts that Ward could thrive in San Jose. That was especially true because of the Quakes’ propensity to forgive teammates for their lapses, which have occasionally cropped up for Ward.
“[Ward is] playing like I knew he can play,” Yallop said. “Confidence is everything. I think he feels that he’s in a great group of guys here that don’t get up and down on each other. I think it’s the environment that he’s thriving in.”
For Ward, it’s an environment that feels like home.
“I’ve really enjoyed playing for Frank,” Ward said. “Training is really good. He’s a players’ coach. So yeah, I’d definitely like to stay here.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes.