AIK in USA: Familiar Face of Khari Stephenson
While AIK have been the least familiar of the four clubs in this week’s Portland Timbers Tournament, the Gnaget will see one familiar face in Thursday’s match against San Jose Earthquakes. Khari Stephenson, the Jamaican international midfielder, spent two seasons in Sweden with AIK in 2007 and 2008, appearing twenty-five times and scoring twice. Though it is only three-and-a-half years since his departure from Solna, only five of Stephenson’s teammates remain at the club: Per Karlsson, Nils-Eric Johansson, Robert Åhman-Persson, Gabriel Özkan and Daniel Tjernström.
“It was in early December and I was at home [in Jamaica]. Lovel Palmer of the Timbers sent me a message and said you’re going to play against one of your old teams in pre-season. So I looked it up on the website and it said AIK! It’s exciting that I’m going to play against one of my old teams. Some of the old players are still there, the assistant coach is still there, some of the staff is still there. So it’s going to be a good experience. It’s going to be fun,” Stephenson said over the phone Wednesday morning.
Since joining the Earthquakes in 2010 after two-and-a-half seasons at Norway’s Aalesunds FK, Stephenson has been a consistent performer and important part of the 2010 San Jose side that reached the MLS Cup semi-final. He has scored six times in thirty-seven appearances in San Jose, including one of the top goals of 2011, a long-distance strike against Seattle Sounders:
Having played just nineteen minutes in San Jose’s first match of the tournament against the Portland Timbers (as a substitute for Steven Lenhart), Stephenson expects to start and play the majority of the game on Thursday against AIK. “I think I will play significant minutes, that would be the most likely scenario. Our season starts next week and there is some pressure to show up. I’m up there and should be one of those players to start the season with San Jose. Plus, playing against old teammates you always want to produce. It is a great organization. They play good football. I learned a lot there and it taught me to round into a good player,” the 31-year old said.
Despite the marked turnover at AIK over the past few years, Stephenson’s former teammates remember him well. “Khari is a nice guy. I remember him as a strong player with a really powerful shot. I’m happy to see him doing well for San Jose,” said Johansson after training on Wednesday.
Though the pre-season is about preparation for the coming season, Stephenson hopes to catch up a bit more before the week is over: “I spoke to the assistant coach, Nebojša Novaković, before our game [on Monday], and Robert Åhman-Persson. I’ll probably see a couple more of them before I go.”
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