The Vancouver Whitecaps are one of the youngest, most exciting teams in Major League Soccer this season. Players like Kekuta Manneh, Gershon Koffie, Sebastian Fernandez, and Darren Mattocks constantly dazzle and amaze supporters. However, the most impressive young Whitecap has been Erik Hurtado. His four goals in seven starts is noteworthy, but he still looks raw and has some adjustments to make before he truly reaches his full potential.
Like every Whitecaps youngster, Hurtado has tremendous speed which became apparent in his rookie campaign in 2013. He was able to settle in well to MLS and utilized his pace to full advantage. The same happened with the 23-year-old's technique, first touch and finishing. He would also lose composure in front of goal, but he's worked on those attributes and that's translated into Hurtado becoming a threat both on the flanks and as a centre forward.
On the other hand, Hurtado has been guilty of being individualistic at times. His decision making last season was dreadful, and it's gotten slightly better, but it's still nowhere near where it should be. The attacker is able to attract defenders, therefore opening space for his teammates to run into, but when a Whitecaps player is open, Hurtado usually opts to cut inside and shoot which usually results in a missed chance or loss of possession.
Only 10 players in MLS have lost the ball more than Hurtado (2.3 per game via Whoscored.com), but those above him are among the best in the league. Erick Torres, Graham Zusi, Fabian Espindola, Javier Morales, and teammate Pedro Morales are some of the names above Hurtado in this category.
The difference between most of them is that Hurtado is deployed as the centre-forward by manager Carl Robinson. Torres is also a striker, but he also has 12 goals and Chivas USA don't have the weapons that the Whitecaps do, so he's relied upon more.
The difference between the two is that Hurtado plays in a false nine role, which means he drops deep or moves out wide to collect the ball, then darts forward and brings his teammates into the play. His key passes do not accomplish this strategy as he completes just over one key pass per game.
Hurtado has two assists, both of which were simple, low crosses into the penalty area that were tapped in. There have been several opportunities for the former first round pick to consistenly do this, but he opts to keep possession of the ball.
He doesn't have to generate assists all the time. Just laying it off to Morales, Manneh, or the overlapping fullback can alleviate the pressure on Hurtado. He can use his speed to make a darting run into the box, receive the ball again, then generate a scoring opportunity.
Due to his exceptional pace, Hurtado has trouble holding onto the ball when making a run for the box. Hurtado can harness that, keep his head up to look for a teammate when he's in trouble, and work on his passing in general. In this way, the former Santa Clara Bronco will reach his potential. If he can't do that on the pitch, Robinson might have to cut his minutes.
It's up to the coach to find someone to fill the void as his system has usually been successful with Hurtado starting.