As the first Alabama native ever to play soccer at UCLA, Chandler Hoffman had a lot to get accustomed to when he arrived on campus in 2009.
The transition was made a lot easier when he found a great friend in fellow freshman Amobi Okugo and a great mentor in senior Kyle Nakazawa.
Two-and-a-half years later, Hoffman hopes those two will once again help him get accustomed to a new place – this time in Philadelphia.
Last week, Hoffman reconnected with his old UCLA teammates when he was selected by the Philadelphia Union in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft. Okugo and Nakazawa are gearing up for their third seasons with the Union.
“I just remember coming in my freshman year, Kyle was talking to me and telling me to be myself and enjoy playing,” Hoffman told MLSsoccer.com. “He always told me I was good enough to play and he definitely gave me the confidence to come in and make an impact right away.
“And Amobi was one of my best friends, even though he was only at UCLA for a short three months. Every time he came back to LA, I’d come to watch him play, hang out with him at the hotel or bring him back to campus for a bit. We’re definitely really close friends.”
Led by Nakazawa, Okugo and Hoffman, among others, the 2009 UCLA squad won the Pac-10 championship and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
A month after the Bruins’ NCAA exit, Okugo and Nakazawa were both drafted by the expansion Union, while Hoffman stayed two more years at UCLA, where he continued to build his credentials as one of the best attackers in the nation.
In three years at UCLA, the dangerous forward finished with 29 goals, including 18 in his junior season in 2011.
“I think my best position is maybe underneath the highest forward, creating opportunities for other players and finishing opportunities in and around the 18,” said Hoffman, noting two MLS players he really admires are Thierry Henry and Chris Wondolowski. “But I definitely want to do whatever will get me on the field.”
Getting on the field, at least in the beginning, may be difficult for Philly’s first-round pick. Considering the Union already boast a plethora of talented forwards, including one of the league’s top scorers over the past two seasons, Sébastien Le Toux.
Just moments after getting drafted, however, Hoffman was already plotting ways to make himself most useful once training camp opens.
“I watched a bunch of their games and I know they have a lot of good attacking players in Le Toux and [Danny] Mwanga and [Jack] McInerney,” Hoffman said. “But I think me being left-footed, I could offer something a little different. And with [Justin] Mapp leaving, that could be an opportunity for me to get minutes and contribute and help the team.”
Besides, Hoffman heard once before that getting playing time would be difficult. But with the help of Okugo and Nakazawa, the two-time Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year emerged as a valuable commodity for UCLA and one of the league’s best rookies.
Now with the Union, he hopes history repeats itself.
“For me, I’ve always just seen each opportunity as a challenge,” Hoffman said. “Initially, coming into UCLA, people were saying it would be tough to break in. But it definitely made me a better player. Competition will only bring out the best in me.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com
WATCH: Chandler Hoffman speaks with MLSsoccer.com