PORTLAND, OREGON – After taking over as Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach back in December, one of Carl Robinson’s first orders of business was to reach out to every player and tell them his expectations for the season ahead.
Part of that conversation also involved a message that was music to Erik Hurtado’s ears.
“When a new manager comes in, it’s a fresh start for everyone,” Robinson said. “I let him know that and he’s grabbed it at the moment with both hands.”
The second-year striker/winger has been a preseason standout for Whitecaps FC, who cruised to a 5-1 victory over Jamaican club Portmore United Sunday in the first match of the Rose City Invitational.
Earlier in the month, Hurtado turned some heads with his performance in an exhibition match against Seattle Sounders FC. On that day, it was his finish – a half volley that he struck with the outside of his foot from the edge of the box – that made the headlines.
And on Sunday against Portmore, the 23-year-old continued his productive preseason – this time with an assist on Jordan Harvey’s early second-half winner.
“He’s been great,” Robinson told reporters after the match. “Since the start of preseason and since I took the job, he’s come in with a renewed attitude. I think he has a hunger back in him.”
The ‘Caps manager said he was particularly impressed with Hurtado’s play in the first 15 minutes of the second half on Sunday, when he settled down and started playing “with a free and open mind.”
In the first half, Robinson said he thought Hurtado was trying to do a little too much.
“I don’t think he played as well as he could have in the first 45 minutes,” Robinson said. “I think he was trying too hard being from this area.”
Born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Hurtado and his single mother moved to Portland when he was six years old because it offered “a better environment” for him to grow up.
The City of Roses, as they call it, is where Hurtado’s mother met his step dad a year or two after they moved. It’s also where he started playing soccer – something he was quick to point out when asked about his earliest memories of living in Portland.
“That’s all I did when I was a kid,” said Hurtado, whose mother, father, brother and sister are planning to attend each of Vancouver’s matches this week in Portland. “My mom put me in a team because I couldn’t stop moving.”
And not much has changed.
Athletically, Hurtado is one of Whitecaps FC’s most dominant players. He posted the best time in the 30-metre sprint as part of the team’s preseason fitness tests and recorded the highest top speed at any point last season.
However, Robinson said he’s seen improvements in other parts of Hurtado’s game this preseason – particularly “his touch, work ethic, and confidence.”
“The fitter you get, the easier the touches become,” said Hurtado, who Robinson has used at central forward and right wing during the preseason. “I just have to continue getting that fitness and continue pushing forward with that team dynamic that Robbo is trying to instill.”
And because of that team dynamic, Hurtado said he has no interest in “talking about his individual goals” for the upcoming season.
“The team goal is to win that first game,” he said. “And then we can look forward past that.”
Whitecaps FC begin their 2014 MLS season on March 8 versus New York Red Bulls at BC Place. Season tickets start at just $349, subject to applicable fees. The 'Caps also offer a flexible range of ticket products, including half-season tickets ($244), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets ($199), and a youth soccer half-season ticket ($100). For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.