BRADENTON, Fla. - It's the moments of brilliance - a sublime touch, a pinpoint pass or a clever shot that catches a goalkeeper off guard - that set special players apart. Few players in Major League Soccer have as many of those moments as MetroStars midfielder Youri Djorkaeff.
Predicted to be another failure in the admittedly poor history of international signings for the Metros, the former French international with a World Cup winners' medal put the doubters in their places last season. His numbers were not eye-popping - 10 goals and seven assists - but when you consider that half of his strikes were game-winners and he really came alive near the end of the season to push the club into the postseason, it's easier to appreciate how much he means to his club.
"Your Djorkaeff in any team is a class act," said MetroStars head coach Mo Johnston. "It's a pleasure when guys are playing with him. When he's on the ball he creates certain things that other guys don't have in this league."
Djorkaeff proved his coach right on Sunday night with a clever goal to give the Metros a 1-0 win over the U.S. U-17 national team as part of the second annual Tom Fitzgerald Memorial Soccer Festival at the University of Tampa's Pepin Stadium. When U-17 goalkeeper Brian Perk scuffed a clearance in the game's opening minutes, Djorkaeff was on hand to punish the youngster for his mistake, one-timing a delicate chip from outside of the box that easily floated into the unguarded net.
"He'll come up with the unpredictable," Johnston said, "and the goal he scored [Sunday] was nothing short of that."
One thing that now seems easy to predict is that Djorkaeff will be getting lots of attention from opposing defenses in his second year in the league. But that's nothing new for Djorkaeff, who turns 38 before the 2006 campaign gets underway.
Having played on some of the best teams in the world, including the French national team, Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan and Kaiserslautern, Djorkaeff has always been a marked man.
"For me, I don't care," Djorkaeff says on whether or not he will feel any added pressure. "For 20 years, each year each club asks me to be better and better and better. I change nothing. I was a good player before I came here."
With the MetroStars' other hugely important international player, Honduran playmaker Amado Guevera, back in training with the club, the Metros stand to have one of the most dangerous offensive pairings in the league. It also means that opponents can't just focus all their attention on containing one player.
"I think Amado knows that for me it would be better to have another player like me," Djorkaeff said.
Johnston appreciates having the tandem together, but he's not putting all his eggs in one basket, either. He knows that two guys don't make a team.
"They create a hell of a lot," he said. "But it's not just about those two guys; it's about how the team jells. The team jells together throughout the year and we need more better players."
Djorkaeff is hopeful that his decision to join the club will help inspire other quality individuals to follow his example.
"It would be very good if more players wanted to come to play for the MetroStars," Djorkaeff said. "This is what I have tried to do - to give the image to the young from New Jersey and Manhattan, from Brooklyn and Queens and Harlem. Come to MetroStars. It's a good club."
The club has been made that much better by having a talent like Djorkaeff wearing its colors.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.