San Jose Earthquakes' wings finally taking flight as Yannick Djalo, Shea Salinas bring attacking balance

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Through the first two months of the 2014 season, describing the San Jose Earthquakes’ offense at any given point in time has boiled down to one critical question.

Is Yannick Djaló on the pitch, or not?

In Djaló’s 119 minutes’ worth of play so far, spread over four matches, the Quakes have two goals, for an average of 1.51 per 90 minutes. The rest of the time, San Jose are averaging barely more than half that figure, 0.86 goals per 90 minutes.

The winger, who turns 28 on Monday, hammered home the point Saturday with a volleyed finish for his first goal since joining the Quakes last month on loan from Portuguese side Benfica. It was only the third goal in five league matches for San Jose, but that was still enough to secure the Quakes’ first win of the season.

“Yannick’s been a great boost when he’s been in the game,” said Quakes winger Shea Salinas, who has been roaming the left flank opposite a revolving cast on the right including Djaló, Cordell Cato and Atiba Harris. “The biggest factor is, when he beats a guy, he draws defenders to him, so it opens up guys on the opposite side of the field, which is me sometimes.” 

The longest Djaló has gone in a single match thus far is just 45 minutes, the byproduct of a lingering hamstring issue. With a three-matches-in-eight-days stretch beginning Saturday on the artificial turf of Vancouver (7 pm ET, TSN2 in Canada, MLS Live in US), it doesn’t appear that Djaló – who was given Tuesday off from training to recuperate – is going to be rushed into the starting lineup.

Of course, the length of time coach Mark Watson can wait on that move will also depend on how the Quakes’ offense does without the diminutive product of Sporting CP's academy system.

“When he’s not on the field, we still need to be confident and know that we can play and possess the ball and other guys just have to step up,” Salinas said after training Tuesday. “I need to try to beat guys a little bit more and then draw the defenders and then switch it. But hopefully Yannick stays healthy and stays on the field.”

The assist was Salinas’ team-high fourth of the season, and highlighted the fact that the 27-year-old’s growth in his seventh MLS season is giving the Quakes their most dangerous set of wingers since Marvin Chávez and Simon Dawkins roamed the San Jose flanks in 2012.

That’s an ironic twist for Salinas, who was making a leap early on in 2012 before a body slam from former New York Red Bulls defender Rafa Márquez broke his collarbone, opening the door for Dawkins to walk through en route to an eight-goal campaign.

“When I got back, Simon Dawkins was in full form, and Marvin Chávez was, too,” Salinas said. “I don’t think I was or will be ever good enough to beat Simon Dawkins out of a lineup. That was more of the setback – I just wasn’t getting games like I was before.”

When Dawkins went back to Tottenham Hotspur at the end of his loan stint, Salinas grabbed hold of the job on the left wing and hasn’t let go, fulfilling some of the potential San Jose glimpsed when they drafted him in 2008, then re-acquired him from Vancouver in 2011 two years after he departed for Philadelphia in the 2009 Expansion Draft.

“It’s one of the more rewarding things in the game: to see someone who’s got ability and a bunch of promise, and then to see them develop into a very good professional,” Watson said.

“It’s a daily, weekly, yearly process where you just keep working on little things to help them get better, and when you see them do that, see the end product on the field, it’s pretty rewarding.”

Geoff Lepper covers the San Jose Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com.