Sandy • Khari Stephenson was causing problems.
It was April of last year and the San Jose Earthquake midfielder had already launched a 40-yard free kick just over the crossbar and later scored on a header that snuck past Real Salt Lake goalie Nick Rimando.
Position » Midfielder
Ht./wt. » 6-foot-2, 185 pounds
Hometown » Kingston, Jamaica
Goals (2012) » 2
Assists (2012) » 3
Acquired » Signed by RSL on Feb. 22
After RSL tried to claw back to earn a point, Stephenson found forward Chris Wondolowski for a goal that put the game out of reach.
It was the first of a three-game sweep for San Jose, a stretch that saw RSL pick up three red cards while being outscored 9-3.
So as Salt Lake prepares to open its 2013 campaign against last season’s winners of the Supporters’ Shield, RSL is hoping things will be different. At the very least, they won’t have Stephenson to worry about this time.
The 32-year-old Jamaican will be wearing claret and cobalt.
"They’ve always been a good team, won championships," he said of his new squad. "They’re always trying to win a championship every year."
The 6-foot-2 Stephenson made 27 appearances for San Jose last year, scoring two goals and notching three assists (two of which came against RSL). San Jose did not pick up Stephenson’s option at the end of last year, and he was not selected in the MLS Re-Entry process.
He joined RSL during preseason training in January and made an early impact. The midfielder scored a game-winner in a preseason matchup with New England earlier this month in Tucson, Ariz.
"We were surprised we could get him," captain Kyle Beckerman said.
Stephenson, who has 28 caps and six goals for the Jamaican national team over his career, is a two-way midfielder who is able to join in on the attack and get back quickly on defense. He has good feet and can keep possession and pass. His shot from distance, as RSL can attest, is another strong suit.
He also says he has quickly picked up RSL’s possession-heavy system.
"The philosophy is just a bit different than what you’ve been taught before," he said. "Once you understand what they’re saying ... that was the only challenge for me. It just seemed different at the time. Why would I do this when I’ve always done that? But it was explained to me, I understand it, I do it."
Stephenson has seen time at different positions in Salt Lake’s midfield this preseason and could see time on the field in the season-opener Sunday. San Jose went 19-6-9 last year, en route to a league-best 66 points.
"Last year was their year," Beckerman said. "They got results all season long, and they were scoring at an unbelievable rate."
The captain added: "We remember those losses we had against them. We hope to do one better this year and be where they were last year."
Stephenson, however, was coy when asked if he had given his new team the secrets to beating his old one.
"We’ll keep those behind closed doors," he said.
Briefly • RSL goalie Nick Rimando offered congratulations to San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski — whose 27 goals earned him MVP honors — on a new deal with Major League Soccer that gives him a substantial raise and makes him one of the league’s designated players. But Rimando’s well wishes only extended so far. "I love it. I think it’s great," Rimando said of the deal. "For him to prove he’s a great player and for the league to step up and for San Jose to step up, I think it’s great for the league. It’s great for him. He’s put his work in. I just hope he doesn’t do anything on Sunday." … Sunday’s opener should be the last regular-season match RSL will play at Buck Shaw Stadium. The home of Santa Clara University, Buck Shaw has also housed the Earthquakes. But San Jose has broken ground on an 18,000-seat, soccer-specific stadium that is expected to open for the 2014 season.
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