Eric Hurtado had, for him, a good game against TFC last weekend. He set up Kekuta Manneh for his shot that led to the second goal of the game. It was a resilient play that showed the team’s South American contingent what can happen if you fight through a foul, stay on your feet and determinedly try to make a play. "Loco," I can imagine the South Americans thinking. The rest of his game was less spectacular but certainly did not hurt the team. Coach Robinson felt he did himself good in that game, leaving some in the media to wonder if Hurtado will start on Sunday.
Hurtado’s return to the starting lineup is in itself a story of resiliency. Last season, with the additions of Rivero and Earnshaw, Hurtado fell well down the depth chart. Darren Mattocks was getting the attention at the time with fans wondering when he would be traded now that he had slipped out of the top striker positions. Poor Eric had slipped so far out of the starting eighteen we made a metaphorical bed for him out behind the food trucks at Thunderbird stadium. As the season progressed and we discovered Earnshaw was being saved for some indeterminable purpose in the future, Hurtado made his appearances off the bench and underwhelmed. By mid-season he rarely made the starting eighteen and later in the summer he was loaned to Mjøndalen IF in Norway where he made twelve appearances with only one goal.
Those are not the most overwhelming stats to say the least, but when asked about his time in Norway Hurtado shared that his real achievement was a chance to grow up a little. You can see the interview here. When asked what changes the coach needed from him Hurtado replied with, "I needed to change my attitude." Apparently, not every European team is a Liverpool or Barcelona and the tiny town of twelve thousand left him with a renewed appreciation for the MLS. It motivated him to put his head down and work. When asked if it made him want to get back to North America and back to MLS, to his credit, Hurtado didn’t see it that way. Rather than wanting to get out of town, he wanted to improve as a player. He was determined to do the things that were necessary for himself and his team to be successful and if that meant he would stay longer at Mjøndalen IF then so be it.
This season Hurtado has been the quiet professional. According to Robbo, he has shown up fit, lighter and with a stronger work ethic. When he didn’t make the eighteen he never knocked on Robbo’s door asking why, instead he kept working for his opportunity whatever it would be. When he was assigned to WFC2 he turned heads with his hard work on the field and put the ball in the net. In return Robbo began to play him as a late substitute on the first team.
Hurtado’s break, unfortunately, came in the shape of Masato Kudo’s jaw. With Kudo out for a number of weeks with a broken jaw, Rivero sidelined with an ankle injury and Perez not fully recovered from the mid-week game Hurtado found himself at the top of the starting list. And, it’s conceivable that with future Copa America call ups to Perez and Bolaños he may be called upon again.
But, will Robbo put Hurtado back in the starting eleven against his hometown Portland Timbers on Sunday? Was his game against TFC strong enough to continue to displace Perez and Rivero if he is fit to play? As nice a story of humility, work and resurrection as it has been, Hurtado has still to prove he can return to scoring MLS goals. He let some crucial shots fly wide of the net earlier in the season, and while he wasn’t the only forward with trouble finishing, a striker/forward really needs to hit some of those.
So does Robbo come back with Hurtado again against Portland? Is Hurtado offering enough up top if he isn’t scoring? Do you think he will be a scorer in MLS? And what do you think he offers the Whitecaps moving forward?