MINNEAPOLIS – A dream summer might have seen Emerson Hyndman on the field this preseason for his new club, AFC Bournemouth, as they toured the United States last month. Or, he could have been starting for the US men’s Olympic soccer team in Rio de Janiero. Neither of those things happened, but if the young American midfielder is feeling sorry for himself, he isn’t showing it.
Bournemouth played one match in the US — a 4-0 win over Minnesota United FC on July 20 — and Hyndman watched it in street clothes, having suffered a twisted ankle on the first day of Bournemouth’s training stint in Chicago. After the Minnesota match, manager Eddie Howe called the injury “unfortunate,” but didn’t seem too worried about his 20-year-old midfielder missing time: “He’s got plenty of time ahead,” Howe said.
Hyndman’s move from Fulham to Bournemouth offers him the opportunity to play in the English Premier League, but more importantly it gives him a chance to establish himself in a team with some regularity. At Craven Cottage, Hyndman made 25 appearances in two seasons. The club’s league struggles — along with the subsequent turnover of managers and the club's constant dog-fight for points — made it difficult for the then-teenager to earn regular minutes.
But Hyndman insists his excitement over the Bournemouth move isn’t just about getting his big shot. He says his primary motivation was to grow as a player.
“I’m going into it with an open mind,” he says. “I want to learn from my teammates as well as the coaching staff, and to just take everything on board.”
A chance to play on one of the biggest stages in soccer doesn’t hurt either, though, and Hyndman says he’s relishing the idea of playing in the EPL: “Playing in such a big league with a team that plays really exciting football, it’s just a really exciting time for me to join Bournemouth and I want to help the team wherever I can.”
Indeed, Bournemouth is a particularly exciting team for a player like Hyndman. While the success of the Cherries in the Premiership last season was eclipsed by the remarkable story of Leicester City winning the league, Bournemouth’s meteoric rise from the basement of the English football leagues to Premier League survival was no unremarkable feat.
In 2008, Bournemouth clung desperately to the bottom rung of English professional football, beginning the 2008-09 season in League 2 (the fourth division) with a 17-point penalty. Seven years later, the Cherries embarked on the first top-flight campaign in the club's 117-year history, but faced the Herculean task of surviving the full season in the English Premier League.
Bournemouth did more than just survive: they shocked neutral observers. The team ended the season in 16th place, five points clear of relegation. Along the way, the season hit its high point when Bournemouth traveled to London and beat Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea 1-0 on Dec. 5. A week later, they hosted Manchester United at Dean Court and beat the Red Devils 2-1.
With Howe at the helm, Bournemouth has approached the top flight with youthful élan. Hyndman joined the club in the summer along with 20-year-old Jordan Ibe, who impressed for Liverpool last season.
Howe’s embrace of bright prospects will give American observers hope that Hyndman will eventually get a chance to impress for the Cherries.
“My goal is to try to break through and learn,” he says. “Everything else — starts, goals, or USMNT caps — will follow from that.”
That isn’t to say Hyndman is satisfied as he deals with frustration and failure. At the mention of the Olympics – the US failed to qualify for the tournament following a playoff loss to Colombia — his face washes over with a mix of deep annoyance.
His response is practiced but raw; he says there’s “still frustration” at what amounts to a massive missed opportunity, both personally and collectively.
“Over two legs we didn’t do enough against Colombia,” he says “I’ll still watch (the Olympics), but obviously it’s tough not to go. I know how everyone felt about it going into it. We all wanted to be there, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Looking ahead, however, Bournemouth begins its new season at home Sunday against Manchester United and its new manager, Mourinho. Hyndman will be perhaps a step behind, having missed most of preseason, but he is determined to play his part.
“Obviously, I have to get used to adjusting to the style of play,” Hyndman says. “That might take some time, but I just want to take this opportunity with the club.”