Veteran English pro Jordan Stewart has found firm footing in Earthquakes country.
The savvy left-sided defender with a midfielder’s skill set proved a perfect fit on a backline which sealed off the net in the final third of the season.
The Earthquakes were so impressed that general manager John Doyle met with the native of Birmingham, England, after the season when they mutually agreed to add another year to his contract through the 2015 season.
That would put Stewart dashing on the pitch in the club’s new 18,000-seat stadium heady stuff.
“He played terrific,” Doyle said of Stewart. “I thought he really solidified the defense for us and helped organize. He was everything that we thought he would be.”
How good was Stewart, 31, who has experience in three tiers of English pro soccer? The club had an 8-2-3 MLS record and allowed only 10 goals after he became a starter on a veteran-laden defense.
His future with the club secure, Stewart can now add some more furniture to his San Jose apartment. He is seizing his American opportunity with both feet.
“Yeah, it always helps,” Stewart said of being tied to his new club. “Obviously, I came here on a six-month contract, and I was up to my socks trying to prove my worth, really, and trying to get my extension.”
Doyle said Stewart approached the Earthquakes seeking a trial a couple years ago, and the club was immediately impressed with his versatility in training and in games, along with his ability to mesh with a well-bonded squad.
“I liked what I saw: He could play center back, left back...he’s athletic,” Doyle said. “And then I get to meet him, and he’s a 10 out of 10 character guy.”
Stewart, a 15-year pro whose “football” journey began with the Birmingham City youth academy at age 9, played 90 minutes in his Earthquakes’ debut – a 2-1 win over the Portland Timbers on July 27 at Buck Shaw Stadium.
In his second start, Stewart went the distance again in a 2-0 win over Chivas USA.
Stewart feels his three-week audition with the Earthquakes helped him succeed last season. He knew the MLS turf and the team.
“I didn’t have a team back home,” Stewart said of his reason for coming here. “It was a good indicator for me to see if I liked it in MLS. … I think that was a great advantage for me when the club decided to come and get me.”
Stewart had long thought of making the big move across the pond. He sees an increasingly bright landscape in MLS for international players.
“I feel like the MLS is growing every year,” Stewart said. “Obviously, David Beckham, when he came, he kind of put MLS on the global map, which was great for MLS and for the LA franchise itself. I feel like every year it’s gaining more and more, and it’s pushing boundaries, and you can see that from the players coming to the league.”
Stewart, the son of a Jamaican immigrant, made his debut in the English Premier League with Leicester City at age 17. He moved to Watford in 2005, helping it earn a promotion to the EPL. Stewart also had stints with Derby County, Sheffield United, Skoda Xanthi of Greece, Millwall, Notts County and Coventry City.
Stewart says his attack-minded style dates back to playing in the midfield as a youth. His ability to read the game and know when to make runs helped the Earthquakes keep opponents on their back foot, always having to account for him.
“He has a good pedigree,” Doyle said. “He became a pro at 18 years old. He’s gone through a lot of soccer training, and he’s had a lot of experience. Some people, it takes them some years to apply it, and he’s definitely taken all of the experience of the years he’s played and the knowledge, and when he gets out on the field he’s able to implement it. He gets it.”
Now Stewart hopes to help the club get an MLS Cup championship.
- Richter Media