SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- If Yannick Djalo’s impact on the San Jose Earthquakes wasn’t obvious enough, all you had to do was listen to the appreciative crowd at Buck Shaw Stadium in the 78th minute of the Quakes’ 1-1 tie with the Columbus Crew on Sunday.
Djalo tracked down a loose ball in the corner just before it rolled over the endline on the left wing. Eschewing the chance for an easy corner kick, Djalo instead popped the ball over the head of Columbus midfielder Hector Jimenez, who was tracking back to provide cover, took one dribble to regain control and then rifled a shot in the direction of Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark.
That the shot was pulled wide of the near post didn’t diminish the applause celebrating Djalo’s offensive ingenuity. And it also won’t stop outsiders from wondering if the 27-year-old, on loan from Portuguese power Benfica, is ready -- and needed -- in the Quakes’ starting lineup beginning next week at Colorado.
“I felt great,” Djalo told reporters through a translator. “I felt fresh. I felt ready to play. I wanted to contribute to the team. I just want to keep on playing more minutes to help out the team as much as possible.”
Djalo, who came on at the half for Cordell Cato after playing just 11 minutes in his Quakes debut two weeks ago, almost scored in less than three minutes on the pitch. Picking up a short corner from Shea Salinas in the 47th minute, Djalo lofted a ball across the face of goal which beat the Crew 'keeper before kissing the far post and bouncing out.
“My mentality was, I needed to change completely the game when I came in,” Djalo said. “I’m trying to help the team score goals and make opportunities happen on the field. As the opportunities arise, whatever needs to be done, I try do in that moment to help the team score goals.”
Djalo also had a distant hand in the Quakes’ equalizing goal. His pass to Salinas on the left wing set up the corner kick from which Chris Wondolowski headed home his 51st-minute goal.
“I thought he was great,” Quakes midfielder Sam Cronin said of Djalo. “I know he was happy to get some significant minutes today. You could see after a sloppy first half that we were a little bit sharper, especially early on in the second half. Everyone’s energy and quality picked up, and a lot of that had to do with him, for sure.”
Said Wondolowski: “As you saw, he’s very skilled, can do some crafty things, and make an impact right away. That’s the player that we’ve become accustomed to. That’s what we see in practice.”
The Quakes could have used more of that kind of play in the first half, when Columbus had the majority of quality chances -- another verse in what has been a frustrating refrain for the Quakes thus far this season. San Jose have trailed at the half in three of their four MLS games, and haven’t led once.
Could the inclusion of Djalo be a spark to light that fire? A slot could be open next weekend; if right back Brandon Barklage, who had to come off early in the second half, isn’t available, San Jose might slide Cato into that position, leaving the right wing open for Djalo to take hold.
“I think we have to do it as a group,” San Jose head coach Mark Watson said of solving his team’s slow starts. “[Djalo] can certainly help. We have to find a way to start games better as a group. That’s every single player.”
Geoff Lepper covers the San Jose Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com.