SANTA CLARA -- Diminutive Yannick Djalo is expected to make his much-anticipated Earthquakes' debut against the New England Revolution at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday.
It couldn't come at a better time. The Quakes are off to an 0-1-1 start in MLS, and they have 21-game home unbeaten streak (14-0-7) that they're trying to extend. San Jose's last home loss was March 3, 2013, against Real Salt Lake.
The mercurial 5-foot-6 and 140-pounder, on loan from Benfica in Portugal, can break down teams out wide or on the dribble. Plus, his resume boasts seven years of experience in Portugal's first division.
So, Quakes fans will undoubtedly be counting the minutes until Djalo finally darts onto the field. He figures to enter as a second-half substitute — about when the Quakes usually make their move.
"They have a great mentality," Djalo, 27, said of his new team through an interpreter. "That's the key thing, mentality: Never throw in the towel early. Never give up until the end. You keep on pushing forward. They have a great spirit here, and that's easy to adapt to."
Since being acquired on March 10, Djalo has been assimilating into life in the South Bay. He's also been surrounded by towering teammates. There is 6-foot-4 Clarence Goodson; the 6-foot-3 trio of Alan Gordon, Adam Jahn and Atiba Harris; 6-foot-2 Victor Bernardez; and the 6-foot-1 duo of Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and Steven Lenhart.
He's like a squirrel in the MLS forest.
Quakes coach Mark Watson has been trying to determine the best timetable for Djalo during an awkward start to the season, in which the injury-plagued team played four games in 12 days, two in MLS and two in the CONCACAF Champions League.
"It's kind of a day-to-day thing," Watson said of Djalo, who played in 20 games for Toulouse FC in France's Ligue 1 in 2012-13. "He's got his work permit. He's eligible to play, but unfortunately, we were on the road for eight days. It's just kind of integrating him on the team and getting him a little bit fitter and a little bit sharper."
Off the field, it's also been a crash course in American culture for Djalo.
"It's a great country. I love being here," he said. "It took a little time to adapt to the time change and sleeping and all those things, but that's definitely behind me now. It's all focused on the field, trying to contribute and be a big player for this team."
Tactically speaking, Djalo could keep opposing center backs from collapsing as much on Gordon and Lenhart while providing midfielders Pierazzi and Sam Cronin with a linking player in transition. Former Quakes wing Simon Dawkins, who lacks Djalo's international pedigree, filled a similar slashing role in San Jose's 2012 run to the MLS Supporters' Shield.
The Quakes-Revolution game, which will pit teams without a win in the young season, could offer an intriguing matchup of Djalo and Revs defender Jose Goncalves. They are former teammates for Portugal in the 2007 Under-21 European Championship. Goncalves was the 2013 MLS Defender of the Year.
The Quakes have a 20-12-5 all-time record against New England, but the Revs prevailed 2-0 last season at Gillette Stadium.
San Jose's focus in training this week has been of healing and regrouping after the team fell into some bad habits in a 1-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City on March 22. Forward Chris Wondolowski called the team effort in K.C. "mediocre" and his play "very poor."
He said they'll use the setback as motivation against the Revs.
New England (0-2-1) at Earthquakes (0-1-1), 7:30 p.m., CSNCA