VANCOUVER, BC – Sometimes in soccer, you don't know whether to cheer or cringe.
For Vancouver Whitecaps FC, there was certainly that feeling this weekend in a 2-2 draw with Chivas USA.
Under normal circumstances, coming down from two goals to claim a draw is cause for celebration, but given the timing and the context – Vancouver are in the midst of a tight Western Conference playoff race and Chivas USA are the conference's worst side – many in the camp expressed a difficulty at knowing how to interpret the result.
For those watching rookie winger Erik Hurtado this season, that confusion might similarly be there. Blessed with speed and strength many players would envy, the player has looked so promising at times has struggled at others.
Hurtado and Heinemann combine for 'Caps equalizer
The player's 34-minute substitute appearance this weekend was perhaps reflective of his season as a whole. First, he missed a glorious stoppage time chance that would have leveled the match, but moments later he coolly headed across goal to set Tommy Heinemann up for what would ultimately turn out to be the game-tying goal.
“He did a couple of great things and a couple of things he could have done better,” head coach Martin Rennie said after a training session at the University of British Columbia on Tuesday. “But one of those things resulted in us scoring a goal, so that was a very positive thing.
“At the same time, he had a couple of other chances and he had opportunities to play other passes and things like that, and that's just the fact he's a young player.”
Rennie compared Hurtado's performance over the weekend to that of his fellow rookie Kekuta Manneh. Both players displayed moments of rookie naivete but ended up each playing a part on Heinemann's goal, as it was Manneh who found Hurtado with a cross before the Oregon native headed across goal for the assist.
But a few moments of pulling out the hair will pay dividends in time, according to the club's coach.
“We're trying to get young players in the lineup because we think that those guys will be key players for us for years to come,” Rennie said. “But it does mean sometimes they'll make mistakes and sometimes they'll cost us goals and we just have to help them learn quickly.”
As for the player himself, he's commented at times earlier this season that the transition to the professional ranks from college play hasn't gone as smoothly as he had hoped, and hopes perhaps finishing his next big chance in league play leads to something more.
“I really think that first goal I get is going to open the floodgates,” Hurtado said. “I'm going to start scoring after that. But right now I just have to do what the team needs. If that's coming off the bench, if that's getting assists, if that's scoring goals, that's what it is. I'm just here to help the team out.”
With right-sided winger Russell Teibert set to link up the with the Canadian national team, an attacking spot is vacant for this weekend's match against FC Dallas, and Hurtado hopes to benefit.
“We've got a few people who can come in and play,” Rennie said of that right-sided spot. “Erik came in for [Teibert] on the weekend and did a very good job. Created chances and also defended well, so we're in a good position to have a few choices there.”
Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.