The centerpiece of the San Jose Earthquakes off-season player acquisitions is without a doubt Jahmir Hyka. The Albanian international was the last to arrive at preseason camp, but it has been clear to all that general manager Jesse Fioranelli saved his best signing for last.
Hyka (pronounced “HEE-ka”) played the second half of the Quakes 4-1 victory over Sacramento Republic FC in the team’s last preseason match, maneuvering the ball with ease from his station in the midfield, and scoring an impressive goal off a one-time finish. When the 28-year-old was introduced earlier in the day to the media, Fioranelli couldn’t hide his excitement at adding Hyka to the team.
“We are very excited to announce and present Jahmir,” said a smiling Fioranelli as he sat beside Hyka. “He is completing the transfer campaign for us in a way we all wanted. We wanted to put ourselves in a position to have more versatility, to be more unpredictable, and to have a shining spot on the field. This is what we got, and I am really happy that Jahmir is part of the team.”
Hyka’s arrival in San Jose was delayed by Visa issues — due to problems in Albania and not the U.S. — but he clearly is motivated to take on his new soccer challenge.
“It has been a long time since I wanted to come here,” said Hyka. “I told Jesse, it’s one of my dreams to play in MLS, so I am very happy to be here with the San Jose Earthquakes. I give all my best to help the team make the playoffs.”
The Quakes have not qualified for the postseason in four years — you have to go back to the Supporters’ Shield run of 2012 to a time San Jose played a playoff game — so Fioranelli brought in Hyka, along with Dutch forward Danny Hoesen, German defender Florian Jungwirth, Costa Rican forward Marco Urena, and Panamanian defender Harold Cummings, to reshape a moribund roster. The Albanian, of the five, is the biggest prize.
“He is not only a player that has important technical skills, but he has experience,” said Fioranelli. “He has played in several places throughout Europe and has adapted well. We know how excited he is to join the team.”
For his part, the midfielder has quickly adapted himself to his new environment, stepping onto the training field in great physical shape and with a good vision for what he and his new teammates can do. Hyka will need to build chemistry with his fellow attackers if the Quakes are to find any potency on offense, but that seems a straightforward task to the Albanian.
“It is helpful for me that they are very nice guys,” said Hyka. “The locker room is very nice and I am happy I came here. Also, the quality is very good in training. I was a little bit surprised because the quality is very high, and I am very excited to play with them.”
To make his transition to MLS go more smoothly, Hyka reached out to his Albanian national team compatriot Shkëlzen Gashi, who last year joined the Colorado Rapids and helped turn that last-place team into a Supporters’ Shield contender. After Gashi, Hyka becomes only the second Albanian to join the league.
“I’ve been talking to him the last weeks,” said Hyka. “He has been saying how nice MLS is, how good the football is. Gashi did a good job last year of showing what kind of football players Albanians are. That is also a responsibility for me.”
A responsibility Hyka is not quite ready to take on is the myth surrounding his uniform number: the playmaker’s #10. While the midfielder has more experience playing out wide, he at times was stationed more centrally in the Quakes win against Sacramento, and he often looked the part of an attacker that could put defenders on their heels. For San Jose, Hyka won’t be a true #10, but he will be a very important part of the offense.
“To be honest, one number is not so important,” explained Hyka. “It’s like a myth and something nice for me. To wear number 10 does not mean you must be something special. I was happy to have it, but it’s nothing more.”
If Hyka succeeds in his MLS adventure — the same can be said for Hoesen and Jungwirth — then he sees the lure of playing in America becoming even stronger for his fellow Europeans. At his last club, FC Luzern, he spoke often with teammates about making the jump to MLS, and this off-season saw defender Jérôme Thiesson join expansion side Minnesota United.
“I’ve been talking a lot with my teammates in Europe about MLS and I know a lot of them would like to play here,” said Hyka. “When I realized I could come and play here, everybody was excited for me because they know it was a dream of mine to come here and play.”
Hyka will get his first taste of MLS competition when the Earthquakes open their season this Saturday against the Montreal Impact. Kick off for the game at Avaya Stadium is scheduled for 6:45 p.m.