November 9, 2003

Earthquakes Hope Rookie Has A Shovel

Nov. 9, 2003

By Dylan Hernandez
San Jose Mercury News

Asked if he thought he would find himself here at the beginning of the season, Jamil Walker looked down and grinned. ``No,'' he said, shaking his head.

That was Saturday, after the Earthquakes' final practice before today's must-win-and-then-some playoff match against the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Earthquakes need to overcome a 2-0 deficit in this aggregate-goals two-leg series, and in hopes of doing so they will give Walker, a rookie forward, his first start.

Walker was perhaps the biggest surprise of San Jose's surprising run to the Western Conference title. The fourth-round draft pick out of Santa Clara scored four goals, a team rookie record. He did that while collecting just $850 per month as a developmental player, living with five roommates on the periphery of the SCU campus and taking three classes this fall. (Walker, majoring in computer science, expects to have his degree by spring.)

Truth be told, Coach Frank Yallop has little choice but to go with Walker today; Dwayne DeRosario strained his left hamstring in the first leg last weekend and did not practice this week. The forced lineup change, however, could give the Earthquakes a lift, as Walker is not weighed down by the thought of the team's offensive rut.

Walker's goal in the regular-season finale against Los Angeles is the team's only one in its past 512 minutes. It was a source of humor this week, as players struggled to contain their laughter at the monthly media luncheon when Walker was presented the goal of the month award. No one else scored in October.

``Confidence is everything with a player,'' Yallop said. ``If he feels he hasn't been part of the drought and remembers that he scored the one goal, he can be thinking, I'm the one that can do it.''

That appears to be the case. ``I feel like we can all score,'' said Walker, who will be the fifth player to be paired with Landon Donovan up top this season. ``We just have to go out and play.''

Because of the circumstances, Yallop will field an offensive-minded lineup. Center back Jeff Agoos will play on the left side of the defense and be given the liberty to push forward. Troy Dayak and Eddie Robinson will play in the middle of the back line, with Craig Waibel lining up to their right.

Manny Lagos will replace the defensive-minded Ian Russell as the left-sided midfielder, and Ronnie Ekelund will be pressing from his spot in central midfield, leaving most of the defensive responsibilities to Richard Mulrooney.