Last-minute loss of Yannick Djalo proved costly for San Jose as offense struggled in Toronto

The scoresheet will say the San Jose Earthquakes were done in by a 27th-minute penalty kick from Toronto FC star Jermaine Defoe, the only goal in the Reds’ 1-0 home win Saturday afternoon.

But the die might have been cast a hour or so before that, when the decision was made to hold mercurial -- and fragile -- forward Yannick Djalo out of the Quakes’ lineup due to his strained right groin.

In his first full season as San Jose’s coach, Mark Watson has been no stranger to making last-minute moves because of injury. But this one was one of the more painful instances, as it completed a trio of forced changes from the front six that hung a combined five goals on Houston and Dallas last month in crafting the Quakes’ only winning streak of 2014. Khari Stephenson was knocked out by a sprained left ankle suffered in the win at Dallas last weekend, and Atiba Harris suffered a right hamstring strain in training this week.

“I didn’t think we were that dangerous going forward,” Watson told reporters at BMO Field after the game. “We had a few balls in the box, but other than that, we weren’t overly creative.”

That isn’t entirely surprising, given one absence in particular. With Djalo on the pitch, the Quakes are averaging 2.13 goals per 90 minutes in league play. Including Saturday’s shutout, San Jose are scoring just 0.82 goals per 90 without Djalo, the 28-year-old on loan from Benfica.

Alan Gordon came on in Djalo’s place, playing alongside Steven Lenhart. Without Djalo or Stephenson driving things in the middle of the park, San Jose’s offense stayed in neutral for much of the first half, when Toronto outshot the visitors 11-1.

“We all know Gordo, and he’ll always give you everything he’s got,” Watson told by phone. “When we couldn’t put out a similar team as possible that played so well in the first half against Dallas, [it was] disappointing. But we’ve been dealing with things all year, and injuries, having to change things around and putting things together at the last minute. You just do what you’ve got to do. Yannick’s a big player for us, he gives us a real dynamic presence. So it’s tough to have him not be available for the game.”

Midfielder Sam Cronin, who returned to the starting lineup in place of Stephenson, said that adjusting to the switch was made tougher because of how close to kickoff it came down. San Jose did seem to make some of those changes after intermission, when the Quakes held the balance of possession and generated their best opportunities, even if they were half-chances rather than gold-plated.

“We still should have done better in the game, but whenever you have uncertainty in the lineup, it’s not preferable,” Cronin told MLSsoccer by phone. “Improving a little bit in the second half was good, but it was still a disappointing result. On the stat sheet, we don’t get anything for this game.”

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