Just like Montréal earlier in the day, San Jose used a 1-0 home victory to claim its first victory of the season. And just like the previously winless Impact, the Earthquakes didn’t necessarily look much better in going so, needing a 66th minute goal from Yannick Djaló to distinguish itself from a Chivas USA team that’s now winless in seven. Mark Watson’s team has never been as bad as its more ardent detractors have purported, but they’re also way off the dangerously hot team that finished the 2013 season.
Djaló, however, represents a potential solution, one that the organization has been looking for ever since Simon Dawkins returned to England. Two years ago, as the Earthquakes surprisingly claimed the Supporters’ Shield, the then-Totttenham Hotspur loanee was one of the team’s key players, scoring eight times while providing consistent service as Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon, and Steven Lenhart had career years. With Martín Chávez leading the league in assists on the other flank, San Jose had two dangerous wide threats that provided a type of balance to its attack.
San Jose lost Dawkins last year, and with Chávez regressing back to his FC Dallas self, the Earthquakes got a fraction of the production from their wide midfielders. This year, however, Shea Salinas has stepped up, playing like one of the league’s best wide midfielders through the season’s first two months. If Djaló, a 27-year-old import from Benfica, can live up to the early promise of his substitute appearances, the Earthquakes may be able to restore one of the elements that produced a successful 2012. Salinas and Djaló could be this year’s Dawkins and Chávez.
That’s wishful thinking, but for those growing tired of this team’s often brutal approach, the addition provides hope that change is imminent. Djaló gives the team somebody willing to take on a defender; to create with the ball on the ground. Slight but extremely quick, the former Portugal international doesn’t fit San Jose’s mold. He may prove the team’s most-skilled player. For a team that’s been living off two years of Goonie-ism, he provides something refreshingly different.
To this point, that difference has only been used as a change of pace, though he seems destined to eventually assume a starting role. While Watson has options like Atiba Harris and Cordell Cato on the right, neither provide the upside of Djaló.
In time that upside will prove more hope than reality, but for a team that came into the weekend last in the West, it’s time to entertain those hopes. Thanks to Djaló’s late strike, San Jose is last in the West no more. Saturday’s win moves them past Chivas USA and Portland.