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Monday, August 22, 2011
Jack Stewart ready to contribute when called upon

By Todd Date

Go ahead and label this under the heading of old news as since FC Dallas signed Jack Stewart one week ago, they have also traded midfielder Eric Alexander to Portland for Jeremy Hall. But it’s not like Stewart’s tale isn’t one worth telling.

The 28-year-old California native came to FCD by way of Minnesota in the NASL. The 6-foot-2 defender who has also dabbled a bit in the midfield as a professional, played his college ball at Notre Dame and was the 10th overall pick in the 2005 MLS Super Draft by Chicago.

He played 16 games for the Men in Red before being traded to Real Salt Lake in summer 2006. He stuck with RSL through 2007 and appeared in 25 games for them before trying his luck in Norway the following year.

After a one-year stay across the pond, he returned stateside in 2009, playing for the Carolina Railhawks of the USL’s top division. Stewart spent 2010 away from the game before resurfacing in Minnesota this year. He had played in 15 games for the NASL club before FCD signed him for the rest of the year.

Even with the swirl of rumors surrounding center back George John right now, it looks like the main reason for signing Stewart was to provide Dallas gaffer Schellas Hyndman with some depth and cover in the back. But no matter where he plays, he’s just happy for another shot in MLS.

“It’s good. There’s definitely going to be a learning curve because you’re coming from the NASL, where the speed of play isn’t that quick and you’re going to one of the best teams in MLS with the way they move the ball and counterattack,” Stewart said. “It’s going to be a learning curve to some extent but I’m blessed that I’ve done it before. I’ve played in MLS before, so it’s not going to take that much time. It’s just going to be more acclimation to the guys and getting a good rapport with them.”

And it’s not like he joined a club where he didn’t already know several members of the roster.

“Yeah, I knew Ugo. He was drafted in the same class I was. Kevin Hartman I know from back in LA, Chris Seitz from Salt Lake,” he said. “I know of the other guys but I’d never had the chance to meet them until I arrived here.”

Of course, that list includes top Hyndman lieutenant John Ellinger, who coached Stewart during his year-plus in Salt Lake. The two have remained close and it’s clear he’s glad to be playing for Ellinger once again albeit in a much different environment than before.

“Coach Ellinger was always a big fan of mine when we were at Salt Lake. I thought we did some good things, especially when I got traded from Chicago to Salt Lake. I thought that season was Salt Lake’s second season and we missed the playoffs by a point. From being completely out of it, we went on a pretty good run,” Stewart recalled. “It’s good to be back with some familiar faces and you’re not just in an environment where you’ve got to get to know the whole coaching staff all over again because I know of Schellas and his style of play from my college coach.”

During his three-plus years as FCD’s head coach, one of the mantras Hyndman has continually espoused was having players on his roster who are versatile and can play several positions. So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of his newest additions fits within that framework.

“I’ve played right back before. I haven’t really played left back as a professional yet but I’ve played holding midfielder as well. Back in Chicago when they did the 3-5-2, I played as an outside midfielder or wing defender on the right side,” Stewart said. “I can definitely play a couple of other positions but I’m definitely most comfortable in the middle.”

But there is one thing he knows will be a pretty big adjustment, playing in the stifling Texas heat. He has dealt with the elements before but admits once he arrived in the Lone Star State, it was a completely different animal compared to the conditions from up in the Twin Cities.

“It’s just a different type of heat. Before I got here and was in Minnesota, there was a day where the Heat Index was 125. The only other place hotter on Earth was the Congo jungle,” Stewart said. “It’s a different type of heat you’ve got to get used to. They do a good job of training early and not working in it as much. The days that you do it you definitely feel it because it is an advantage when we play at home. I want to be part of that instead of a hindrance.”

Of course, considering FCD played for MLS Cup last fall and is currently participating in both CONCACAF Champions League and the US Open Cup, coming to Frisco was a no-brainer for this Fighting Irish product on several fronts.

“It’s good. This is my first time in the Champions League. It was kind of a shock with how the whole thing went down of me coming from Minnesota, a lower-level division and going straight into being on the roster for the Champions League,” Stewart said. “It’s definitely one of those things where you know you might not be the first guy on the list but you can definitely come in, contribute and help in any way you possibly can to bring this organization to that next level.”

And like many who have joined FCD recently, he knows as far as situations go, there isn’t a much better environment than the one he just became part of.

“I think they did a great job and showed everyone what class they were last year with the way they finished. They had a rough one in the final against Colorado but they’re right there,” Stewart said. “They have all the guys and all the tools that they can definitely win all three tournaments. Evidence has shown when we played at Pumas, even though we could have scored more, the team can go on the field and compete with anybody. I definitely think that’s a good thing, to be able to win all those tournaments.”