Prime years: Djalo signing part of new personnel strategy

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – When San Jose Earthquakes coach Mark Watson spoke about Portuguese attacker Yannick Djaló on Monday, it was in the measured words of a head coach looking to successfully integrate a new player on the eve of his season debut: “Yannick’s another piece of the puzzle.”

San Jose general manager John Doyle allowed himself a little bit more verbal latitude when talking about the 27-year-old, whose arrival on a year-long loan from Portuguese side Benfica arguably provides a capstone to one of the Quakes’ busiest offseasons.

“From a big-picture [standpoint], it’s a good piece,” a smiling Doyle said. “It’s a bigger piece than some of the [other] pieces, I’d say. We’re excited to bring in a player of his caliber, his ability on the field, his resume. And then you go to his age. I’m cognizant of [the risks of] bringing in older players that are past it.

"The two this year, [28-year-old French midfielder Jean-Baptiste] Pierazzi and Yannick, they’re definitely not past their prime. They’re right in their prime. That’s exciting.”

The Quakes had been looking for months to add a final attacking player with the pace and creativity to beat defenders one-on-one, thus forcing help to come and opening space for teammates. The consensus from San Jose’s brain trust is that they ticked both boxes in the form of Djaló, who comes to the US after growing up in the academy system of Sporting CP and made more than 150 appearances on top-flight teams in Portugal (Sporting and Benfica) and France (Toulouse).

“Their youth development is one of the best in the world,” Doyle said of Sporting, whose program has nurtured such stars as Cristiano Ronaldo, Luís Figo and Nani. “So technically, from the age of eight, he’s had great technical training, and an emphasis on technical ability. And then the pace and drive, those things are natural.”

As Djaló put it, when asked through a translator to describe his style of play: “Technical ability, speed, velocity. ... Scoring goals and assists, that’s how I plan on helping.”

Djaló first popped up on the Quakes’ radar early in the winter break, but the velocity of negotiations picked up last month, when he came to San Jose for a couple days of training and quickly fit in with the revamped San Jose lineup.

Doyle feels Djaló brings more pace than both Simon Dawkins and Marvin Chávez, the since-departed wingers who combined for 11 goals and 14 assists on the the Quakes’ 2012 Supporters Shield-winning side.

“We’ve been looking at a few players over the offseason to give us that little bit of quality and that little bit of dynamic movement going forward, and I think that he fits both of those categories,” Watson said. “I think he’s someone who can operate in any forward position and also as a wide player, he can come inside and be an attacking-type midfielder, if you like. We’re excited to have him.”

Watson said Djaló still needs to have his visa processed, which will require a round trip out of the country, but the newcomer could still see some brief action in the Quakes’ MLS regular-season opener against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

“He’s pretty fit,” Watson said. “He needs to get a little bit more match sharpness. So we’ll assess it over the next couple of days.”

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