Erik Hurtado finally seizing his chance with Vancouver Whitecaps after rough rookie campaign
VANCOUVER, B.C. – Carl Robinson's message to his young Vancouver Whitecaps side has been a consistent one: Every player will get their chance, but when they get it, they need to make the most of it.
One player who has done just that over the past couple of weeks is striker Erik Hurtado.
"I feel good right now," Hurtado told MLSsoccer.com. "I got my first MLS goal against Columbus, then got a goal the next game against Toronto [in Canadian Championship play]. It feels good to score and help the team out.
"I don't know if my confidence has changed or not. I know what kind of player I am. The coaching staff, the team know what kind of player I am. I just needed to get the opportunity to play."
Hurtado came on as a sub in six of the nine games to start the season and looked to have settled into that role in the side. But Mattocks' injury thrust him into the spotlight and he has started Vancouver's last three matches, two against Toronto in the Canadian Championship and the team's last MLS match, in Columbus on May 10.
That 1-0 win over the Crew saw Hurtado get his first MLS start in nearly a year – and he marked the occasion with his first-ever goal in Major League Soccer.
After coming close in many games, getting off the schneid will come as a relief to the young striker, who has had to endure constant questions from local media as to when he would break his goalscoring duck.
"I just play," Hurtado said. "I'm not here to play for the press, I'm here to play for my team and myself and help the club get wins and that's what I have to take out on the field. That's what my focus has to be. It can't be on what everyone is saying and when would I get my first goal. I just have to go out there and play."
Hurtado is now in his second MLS season, after the Whitecaps traded up to take the Santa Clara product with the fifth pick of the first round of last year's SuperDraft, and the 23-year-old is now starting to show signs of fulfilling his potential after a tough first year.
"It was definitely a learning experience," Hurtado said of his rookie season. "Maturity-wise, I matured a lot. I learned how to become a pro. I learned to do extra to help myself get better and how to have a good attitude.
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"One of the main differences [from NCAA] was definitely the speed of play. In college I was able to get the ball and look up and decide what I wanted to do. In MLS, I've got to know what I'm going to do before I get the ball. I just have to have pictures in my mind and see the field."
It was definitely a difficult transition from the college game for the player at times, with his first touch letting him down on more than occasion.
But he showed enough to Carl Robinson in his 15 appearances last season to convince him that Hurtado could be a threat in MLS – and that faith is now being repaid.
"He causes defenders problems," Robinson said. "Sometimes he runs down blind alleys and I've said that to him. We've [got] to learn, teach him with that, because he's a powerful boy. But when he's in full stride, people can't live with him. He's playing with confidence and it's important that he continues to do that."