SANTA CLARA, Calif. – At 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, Yannick Djalo doesn’t exactly tower over his teammates in the San Jose Earthquakes locker room.
On the field, however, the Portuguese midfielder is a big man indeed.
“He’s a game-changer,” Quakes forward Alan Gordon told reporters Saturday night after the Quakes' 1-0 win over Chivas USA. “He’s someone that we’ve needed. He gives us a different dimension, and without him we’re pretty one dimensional. He gives us that ‘X’ factor. It’s great to have him. I’m excited to watch him get better and better as he gets more fit.”
San Jose, off to their worst start in franchise history with just three points from their first five matches coming into Saturday night’s matchup, struggled through a scoreless first half at Buck Shaw Stadium. Enter Djalo, who started the second half and scored his first MLS goal in the 66th minute to lift the Quakes to victory.
“Right from the start of the second half, he gave us that little spark, whether it was running at defenders or supporting the play with his runs,” coach Mark Watson told reporters. “The thing with him is that he has a good technical base, so he can get out of pressure. But he’s most dangerous when he can get his legs going and really run.”
Djalo, who is on loan from Portugal’s SL Benifica, used that speed to make a run to the far post to meet a long Shea Salinas cross for what Watson called a “fantastic finish” on a one-time volley.
“It’s a big looping ball, so you’re timing it,” Watson said. “And then you look at the position of the ‘keeper, you’ve got a couple feet to aim at the far post. He struck it beautifully and snuck inside the post. It’s a tough skill. It may look easy, but it’s certainly not.”
Not bad for his first MLS goal.
“It was a great team play,” Djalo told reporters through an interpreter. “Shea Salinas made a great pass to get it over to me and I was happy to be able to score, but it was the hard work of the team that score.
“The ball made the goal. I was wide open. I just had to focus, and put the ball in the corner.”
It was an especially nice performance for a player who is nursing a sore hamstring and working back to full fitness. Djalo, who had ice strapped to his leg after the game, said he was sore after playing 45 minutes last week against the Colorado Rapids.
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“Last week I wasn’t in full condition,” he said. “The [hamstring] muscle was sore, and I couldn’t get through the game. But thanks to the work of the medical staff, I was able to get on the field for 45 minutes and I hope next game I can get on the field for more. I’m not worried about it. I’m a little sore from playing, but am feeling really good.”
With San Jose struggling to score goals and facing the possible loss of forward Chris Wondolowski to US national team duty for this summer’s World Cup, the Earthquakes are thrilled to have Djalo on board and are looking forward to more highlights from him this season.
“He’s kind of the piece that we’ve needed, so that’s huge plus,” Gordon said. “He changed the game tonight. He scored the big goal. When he’s on the field, he’s just a dangerous player, so it opens things up for everybody. When he gets the ball, he’s going to make something happen, which is great.”