SAN JOSE, Calif. – One e-mail started it all.
The note was sent by former MLS player and coach Mo Johnston. It landed in the inboxes of San Jose Earthquakes assistant coach John Spencer – an ex-teammate of Johnston’s at Rangers and, like Johnston, a former Scottish international – and Spencer’s boss, Glasgow-born Dominic Kinnear. The contents included mention of an Albanian midfielder who had come to Johnston’s notice via his former Celtic teammate, Albanian native Rudi Vata.
With that single packet of data, the Quakes’ pursuit of Jahmir Hyka was launched.
When it reached a successful conclusion in early February, the Quakes had secured the services of a pacy, shifty attacker who would give them a much-needed change of pace of the wing.
“He was one of those guys that, once we looked at him, he was a player of interest,” Kinnear told MLSsoccer.com this week. “Many people send us a lot of e-mails, but this one came from Mo Johnston … and it turned into something real, which was good.”
Hyka told his agent in the summer of 2016 that he wanted to move to MLS, having cleared such a move with his coaches on the Albanian national team. When the Quakes emerged as the leading contender, Hyka told MLSsoccer.com, “I was really happy and of course, because of California – I have to be honest here; many people live and dream to play here. I’m happy that I’m here.”
He’s not the only one. Hyka has turned into an instant jolt for a San Jose club that was limited to a league-low 32 goals last season. In 10 games (only six of them starts), the 29-year-old has two goals and three assists, putting him second in terms of combined output behind only forward and team captain Chris Wondolowski.
“Hyka has this type of surprise that defenders find difficult to handle,” Quakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli told MLSsoccer.com. “You really don’t know how to read him.”
Hyka was already on the Quakes’ radar thanks to Johnston’s e-mail when Fioranelli arrived in January to take the reins at Avaya Stadium. Fioranelli had already known of Hyka – who spent six years with Swiss side Luzern – during his time in the front office of Lazio, whose sporting director is former Albania international Igli Tare.
As the Quakes placed a premium on getting players into camp early, it was important for Fioranelli to work out a deal that freed Hyka from the final months of his Luzern contract, which was scheduled to run until this summer. With the help of Targeted Allocation Money, San Jose announced the Hyka deal on Feb. 3.
“Everything seemed to go well in terms of his contract and desire to come to America,” Kinnear said. “You may have an interest, but if the player’s not interested in coming, then that means nothing. When Jesse came in, he was the guy who tied it all together.”
Hyka could be seen initially as a like-for-like replacement for Panamanian international Alberto Quintero, who started 29 games on the wing for the 2016 Quakes on loan but signed with a Peruvian side after a permanent deal could not be reached in San Jose.
Fioranelli, however, has a different take – one that has been borne out by Hyka’s ability to fluidly interchange with teammates such as Wondolowski and Danny Hoesen in San Jose’s attack.
“Hyka was a player we would have taken no matter what, because he has special qualities,” Fioranelli said. “In my opinion, he’s even more unpredictable.”