MLSsoccer.com continues its look back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made Major League Soccer what it is today. Our second annual “What Ever Happened To..." series rolls on with former LA Galaxy striker Eduardo "El Tanque" Hurtado.
Where He Was Then
Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 200 pounds, it was little wonder why Eduardo Estíguar Hurtado Roa earned the nickname “El Tanque” – the Ecuadorian truly was a tank of a man.
His ability to go through any opponent in his way by harmoniously using his speed and size made Hurtado one of the most dangerous South American forwards ever to play in Major League Soccer.
Even back in MLS’ inaugural 1996 season, the LA Galaxy were a star-studded team with the likes of Cobi Jones, Robin Fraser, Dan Calichman, Mauricio Cienfuegos and Jorge Campos, among others. Hurtado was in charge of leading the attack, having already played a great part of his career in his homeland and with the Ecuadorian national team.
He banged in 21 goals in his first season, earning the club’s MVP award and a spot on the league’s Best XI while helping the Galaxy reach their first-ever MLS Cup final, where they fell in extra time to a strong D.C. United side.
But Hurtado never enjoyed as strong a season again. LA dealt him to the MetroStars early in 1998, where he played two seasons before an MLS swan song in New England in 2000. But El Tanque was far from finished with the game.
Where He Is Now
Hurtado kept playing – and scoring – after leaving MLS behind, suiting up for a dozen clubs in Argentina, Scotland and his native Ecuador before finally hanging up his cleats in 2008 at age 37. In 2010, however, Ecuadorian second-division club Patria offered him a contract that he couldn’t refuse, especially because of its meaning at the personal level.
“I played for them so that I could give my son the opportunity to live and feel what soccer is,” he explains from his homeland. “Fortunately, everything went well. I played for one year and then I made the definitive decision to retire. Now, I dedicate my time to teaching the game.”
Now 42, he lives in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, where he helps run a small soccer school and is working with the mayor’s office to build more soccer schools all over the metro area.
“After 22 years of playing,” he explains, “it was time to give something back.”
But Hurtado still looks back at his time in MLS fondly, calling it a “privilege” and recognizing that he belonged to the generation responsible for ushering in a successful league.
“It was an honor to have been in the United States starting a new league,” he says. “It’s an honor to find myself among a great number of players who were representing their countries. ... These people opened their hearts and gave me the opportunity to be a part of that.”
And although he says he enjoyed each of his five seasons in MLS, he confesses that he has a special affinity for his original team.
“I don’t want to leave the MetroStars behind because there were many Ecuadorians in New York,” he says, “but with the Galaxy, I shared many special moments with my teammates. The fact that we couldn’t win [the title] makes me very emotional for the Galaxy. In the United States, I root for them.”
Hurtado’s success opened the door for other Ecuadorians to join the league, including players such as Wellington Sánchez, Ariel Graziani and Roberto Mina. He’s curious to see how MLS’ newest imports – Oswaldo Minda, Miller Bolaños and Giovanny Caicedo – represent his homeland in 2012.
But there’s one Ecuadorian who appears to have his full attention: Joao Plata.
“I hope Joao keeps doing what he is doing in Toronto,” Hurtado says of his pint-sized countryman. “He is going to have a chance [with the national team] if he keeps doing things well, if he keeps putting in his maximum effort.”
The opportunity to stay connected with the game in the US in the future is also a big possibility for El Tanque. His son, Jean, now 11 years old, has dual nationality and has already expressed to his father that he wants to suit up for the USMNT one day.
“He plays really well and he’s a forward like his dad,” Hurtado reports. “His desire, which I hope he keeps, is to play one day for the United States national team. He’s working with me in my soccer academy. He’s one of my pupils. I demand the best from him so that he can make it as a great player.”
What They Said
“He was a monster. He really was a force to be reckoned with. He was so strong. One of the problems was that you got into his body, and he just ate you alive. You attempted to push him off the ball, but that just wasn’t going to happen. When he got his back to the goal and dug in, there wasn’t much you could do.”
– Jeff Agoos, former D.C. United defender who had the misfortune of marking Hurtado at MLS Cup ‘96
WATCH: Hurtado bashes his way to MLS Best XI in 1996