SANTA CLARA, Calif. - While the 10,276 fans at Buck Shaw Stadium were enjoying an up-and-down, thrilling half of soccer in the first installment of the Heritage Cup between Seattle Sounders FC and the San Jose Earthquakes, Khari Stephenson was riding the pine.
“There’s no need to be negative about any situation,” said Stephenson. Coach Frank Yallop ran out the same starting XI that won convincingly at FC Dallas, 2-0, a week ago while Stephenson was away with the Jamaican national team. “All I can do is be a team player: support the players in training, support them on the field when they are playing ahead of me, and give my part if I'm called in.”
And did he ever.
Coming in at halftime for Joey Gjertsen with the team trailing 2-1, Stephenson pulled his side even with a 35-yard rocket to the upper 90, beating Sounders FC keeper Kasey Keller in what proved to be the final goal of a 2-2 draw.
“I got [the ball] and tried to make a pass to Ryan [Johnson] or [Chris] Wondo[lowski], made a bass pass and the ball ended up on my feet,” Stephenson said, explaining the play as it developed. “I had time and space, could’ve sent it wide to Bobby [Convey] but … I had a shot and I took it.”
Stephenson’s goal came in the 52nd minute, just seven minutes into the second half. While Frank Yallop is showing he can be a quality coach in Major League Soccer, he’s also showing signs of the potential of a career in prophesy. Yallop elected to put Stephenson in earlier than usual, deciding to thrust him into action with 45 minutes to play, rather than at the 70-minute mark, when he usually begins making his tactical, in-game changes.
“I felt, ‘let’s get him on the field,’” said Yallop of Stephenson, who he admitted had looked strong in the team’s opening loss to Real Salt Lake two weeks ago, as well as in practice. “Putting him on for 20 minutes is never easy, so I thought, ‘why not halftime?’
“He’s got 45 minutes to come into it. Obviously it’s not the goal of the season, but it’s going to be pretty close.”
Not only did Yallop make the out-of-character gut decision to put in Stephenson earlier than he would normally, but also, a day prior, at training, as Stephenson explained, Yallop told him this was going to happen.
“Yesterday, [Yallop] said, ‘You know what, Khari, you’re going to have the goal of the season, a 35-yard bomb.’” Stephenson said. “And I said [to Yallop], ‘And I’m going to be the leading goal scorer [in MLS].’ I did one of them, I’m just working on the second part.”
For now, however, Stephenson and the Earthquakes will happily walk away with a come-from-behind draw and a point in the standings.
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