CHESTER, Pa. – Just minutes after scoring the game-winning goal against Bundesliga power FC Schalke 04 on Wednesday, Philadelphia Union rookie Chandler Hoffman was soaking in all of the well-wishes from his teammates in a giddy locker room.
Well, sort of.
HIGHLIGHTS: Union 2, Schalke 1
“Once he scored,” said his friend and ex-UCLA teammate Amobi Okugo, “I knew he’d do his patented celebration.”
A few lockers over, Hoffman heard that and shook his head, smiling.
“He’s just clowning on me for my freshman year in UCLA,” the rookie said. “I went crazy in the playoffs when I scored. Obviously it was a great moment and a great feeling.”
Playful ribbing aside, Hoffman’s 88th-minute goal – his first at PPL Park – certainly was a great moment for a player who’s only made one league appearance this season.
It was also a promising development for a Union team that’s been struggling mightily on offense, with just five goals through eight league matches.
“Chandler Hoffman’s a goalscorer,” Union assistant coach John Hackworth said. “It’s great for him to finally find the back of the net for us. You could tell it meant a lot to him. Hopefully it’s the first of many more to come.”
One of the top scorers in the NCAA last year, Hoffman knows he has the ability to put the ball into the back of the net. It’s just a matter of proving it in games, which is especially difficult given that the Union have been playing with a lone striker in recent weeks.
Against Schalke, though, Philly played more of a 4-3-3 formation and gave all of their strikers at least 45 minutes of time. The Union responded with their best offensive output of the season, with Lionard Pajoy – who’s been playing as the lone forward – scoring the first goal for Philly and fellow strikers Danny Mwanga and Josué Martínez also creating dangerous chances.
“We’ve definitely been stressing to shoot as much as possible,” Hoffman said. “I know myself and all of the other forwards have been staying after training and working on finishing, working with [assistant coach Alecko Eskandarian] to find any opportunity to shoot. And tonight we did that.”
For Hoffman, it was especially nice to be used as a striker because he’s most comfortable near the goal. In his only other appearance at PPL Park – on March 31 against Vancouver – the rookie got the start but played more as a left midfielder.
He fared relatively well in that game but hasn’t gotten any playing time since. He hopes that will change after his goal against Schalke.
“Tonight I was able to get on top more favored position,” Hoffman said. “Hopefully this is a good stepping stone to give me more minutes as we progress.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com.