Patience paying off for Vancouver Whitecaps' "professional" Erik Hurtado

VANCOUVER, B.C. — If patience is indeed a virtue, then Erik Hurtado is likely the most virtuous player in the Vancouver Whitecaps locker room.

The 27-year-old striker made only his fourth appearance of the season when he came on as a halftime substitute in the Whitecaps' draw at New York City FC last weekend. Those were his first MLS minutes for a month, and only his second appearance since the end of April.

But if anyone thought he'd be a little rusty in his cameo in the Big Apple, Hurtado stole all the headlines with his spectacular late equalizer to give Vancouver a point. He followed up that success on Wednesday evening by firing the Whitecaps ahead with another late goal, this time in the first leg of their Canadian Championship final against Toronto FC, which ended in a 2-2 draw.

A Doneil Henry own goal deep into stoppage time stopped Vancouver from grabbing a vital lead halfway through the tie, but for 'Caps coach Carl Robinson, it was another example of why he keeps the forward as part of his squad.

"Great character by Erik," Robinson said after the match. "We put him on playing with 10 men. He holds the ball up very well, he wins fouls, but he was very good. He's a good platform. He's got power, he's got his pace, and he's obviously in-form at the moment and gets another good finish. He done himself a lot of good today."

Robinson had praised Hurtado's patience after Saturday's draw in New York, citing the fact that the player never complains and has simply worked hard at training and waited for his opportunity.

Those two goals in two matches should now move Hurtado up the Whitecaps' depth chart as they enter their toughest and most important stretch of the season so far. But with so long out of the first team mix, it surely couldn’t have been easy to stay motivated and focused while he awaited his shot.

"I'm a professional, I chose to do this," Hurtado said after the TFC game. "I've got to be ready for when my chance is called. I go out there at training and do my best and I have to make the most of my chances. It's my team that's set me up. Brek Shea on Saturday and Russell Teibert with the ball over the top [against Toronto]."

Hurtado is now a veritable veteran of this Whitecaps side. While others have come and gone around him, the 27-year-old is now in his sixth season in Vancouver. He's been used sparingly in his MLS career to date, yet he’s made nearly 100 regular season appearances, starting less than half of those.

But he made an impact when he has played, with 12 goals and nine assists in MLS play, along with some vital goals in Concacaf Champions League and Canadian Championship play. He's a player Robinson feels he can count on at any time and he may well do that again this weekend as the Beaverton, Oregon native heads back home for a Cascadia Cup clash in Portland (11 pm ET | TSN 1/4 - Full TV & Streaming info) as one of Vancouver's in-form guys.

"Scoring goals gives strikers confidence," Hurtado stated. "So yeah, I've got some confidence going on right now, but it's not up to me, it's up to the team. We've got to rally together and try and get a result in Portland. We know they're unbeaten in 15. That's a good challenge for us and we're looking forward to it."