SAN JOSE, Calif. – Unlike most San Jose Earthquakes victories at Avaya Stadium this season, there was no music thumping in the home locker room after the hosts dispatched the Houston Dynamo 1-0 on Saturday night.
It was a missed opportunity for someone to put on “The Long and Winding Road” in honor of goalscoring hero Danny Hoesen.
By his own admission, Hoesen’s debut MLS campaign has been “a weird season.” The 26-year-old Dutchman came to San Jose in February on a season-long loan from FC Groningen in the Netherlands, a classic central attacker being added to a club that struggled mightily to score in 2016.
But with additional firepower also being brought in by the Quakes this year – including Costa Rican international Marco Ureña, Albanian winger Jahmir Hyka and new Designated Player Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili of Georgia – Hoesen has been in a fight for playing time all season, one that has only intensified since Chris Leitch took over as coach for Dominic Kinnear. Hoesen shuffled between the left wing and a forward slot under Kinnear, but he had started just once in the previous seven matches before popping up as a right midfielder in Leitch’s 4-4-2 setup against the Dynamo.
“I’ve played in a few different positions; sometimes I didn’t play,” Hoesen said. “So it’s a good learning season for me. I got to know myself a little better as a player – different positions, how you have to play there and how you have to handle different situations. Obviously, I want to play in the No. 9 spot, but if the coach needs me somewhere else, he’s the boss and he decides. I’m happy to work for the team wherever.”
Hoesen was one of four natural forwards put on the pitch by Leitch. Ureña led the line, Vako menaced from the left side and team captain Chris Wondolowski worked underneath to facilitate ball movement.
Hoesen helped generate his own scoring chance in the 33rd minute when he pinched into the middle to provide a target for Francois Affolter’s long pass out of the back. Hoesen laid the ball off to Ureña, who sprayed it wide to right back Kofi Sarkodie on an overlapping run. Sarkodie’s cross was deftly trapped by Hoesen, who used the momentum of recovering Houston center back Adolfo Machado against him, deadening the ball with his right foot before spinning with his back to goal and snapping off a left-footed shot from 12 yards to beat goalkeeper Tyler Deric.
“Credit to him, he has trained and been extremely professional through all of this and really pushed himself and others,” Leitch said. “I had all the confidence in the world giving him the start tonight. … You like to see big players show up in big games, and tonight I thought Danny obviously made a huge impact with that goal.”
It was a sixth goal in all competitions for Hoesen in 2017, but his first in MLS play since June 24 – Kinnear’s last game with the club. Whether it’s enough to change Leitch’s pecking order when it comes to playing time up top is yet to be seen, although Ureña certainly left the door open by spurning a pair of one-on-one chances against Deric (the first set up by a lengthy cross-field outlet pass from Hoesen) which would have put the game out of reach.
“Obviously, I was not happy to be on the bench; nobody’s happy to be,” Hoesen said. “But when you get a chance to play again, you … want to score and make it hard for the coach to put you on the bench again.”