ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – It's been an unexpectedly trying season for Fulham midfielder Emerson Hyndman, but the youngster certainly packed his afternoon with high points the weekend before last.
Making just his seventh Championship start of the term on his 20th birthday, the Dallas native capped a Man of the Match performance against Cardiff City by
netting the late 2-1 winner
with his first career goal.
"It was special in a lot of ways," Hyndman told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Fulham's Motspur Park training ground. "The way it happened, to win the game in the 93rd minute. My parents were there. It was on my birthday.
"There was a lot of different things that went into it for me personally, but for Fulham it was also a big win. The season in total hasn't been what we set out to do."
The same can be said for Hyndman, who frankly needed a celebration. Last season, he impressed in nine league starts before New Year's Day 2015, earning his first US national team cap (in a September friendly win away to the Czech Republic) along the way.
His season was then cut short by a collarbone fracture in January, but Hyndman still led Fulham in passing percentage on the season and it seemed as though he would be a key cog for the 2015/16 campaign. It was not to be, as the American waited until December to make his season bow under new manager Slavisa Jokanovic.
Hyndman spent the first three months with the club's Under-21 Premier League side, while the senior team struggled badly, winning just five of ftheir first 18 matches. He took it all in stride and eventually reeled off four straight starts over the holiday period.
"There's been a couple of changes in the managerial staff and obviously that comes with different ideas," said Hyndman. "We were in a situation as a club, in the relegation zone for a while there. All I can do is perform on a daily basis in training and work as hard as I can."
Observers, both around Craven Cottage and stateside, were surprised it took Hyndman so long to get back into the rotation.
"Slavisa Jokanovic recently admitted, after Hyndman scored the winner against Cardiff City, that Emerson had been under-used," Tony McDonald, a journalist who works the Fulham beat for
Get West London
, told MLSsoccer.com.
"Given Fulham's season-long struggles to avoid relegation from the second tier, it is plainly ridiculous that he has not been given more chances to start for the first team. He must be a very frustrated young man."
In addition to waiting his turn with the relegation fighters, Hyndman had also been through some Olympic-sized misery with the US U-23 national team. He was a starter as the Baby Nats squandered home-field advantage by falling one win short of qualification to the 2016 Summer Games with a CONCACAF Championship
semifinal defeat to Honduras
Last month, he was again on board as the U-23s opened a last-ditch qualifying tie in Colombia with
an encouraging 1-1 draw
. Sadly, they then suffered
another decisive loss
at home as US Soccer fell short of reaching the Olympics for the second straight time.
"We knew it would be hot and the atmosphere was incredible from the Colombia fans, but we managed to get a result [in the away leg]," said Hyndman. "It was more disappointing that we didn't win it at home."
Hyndman missed a couple of Fulham games the week after returning from international duty, but was then rewarded with an emotional release against Cardiff. He celebrated the big goal with a leaping fist pump and that day's haul of points moved Fulham 10 points clear of the drop zone. Now, with three games left, they've all but clinched Championship survival.
When the season is done, the game will change for Hyndman and the Cottagers in a more expected way. His contract will expire in June, and despite a few fall attempts at extension talks, it's been known for a while that the kid could walk on a freebie this summer.
Since last summer, the midfielder has been linked with interest from clubs in England, Germany and Spain, including the likes of Manchester United. Local scribe McDonald believes Fulham may soon be left to cry over this one getting away.
"I don't think Fulham, in their position, can really afford to let players of his obvious talent go," he stated. "But whether he would wish to stay at Craven Cottage remains to be seen. You couldn't really blame him if he decided to pursue his career at another club.
"At his age, he has scope to make significant progress and, certainly, Premier League scouts should at least be monitoring him."
There's no telling at this time where Hyndman will be when the next season begins with autumn. Both he and his reps are holding these cards close to vest.
"A lot of things can happen," he said, not tipping his hand. "Honestly, I'm focused right now on Fulham."