As the Vancouver Whitecaps do their final preparations for the kickoff of their 2016 MLS season by participating in the Simple Invitational Tournament hosted by the Portland Timbers all week, fourth-year forward Erik Hurtado took time to sit down with VAVEL USA writer Ivan Sanchez-Carrasco.
The former high school and college All-American (Westview High School and University of Santa Clara) discusses an array of topics, including his time on loan overseas and what it’s like returning home to play in Portland as a Cascadia rival.
VAVEL: Less than a month away from starting the new MLS season, how’s the team looking and feeling?
EH: We brought in some new faces. It’s a good thing, it’s a good plus for us. You know, it brings a little more creativity, something we didn’t have as much last season. The group is looking good and the group is looking hungry.
VAVEL: Last year, the team finished second in the West and lost in the Conference Semifinals. What are the goals this year?
EH: This year the same thing. We want to win MLS Cup, that’s every team’s goal. That’s our number one goal. We obviously want to make the playoffs as well. Win the Canadian Cup again, go back to back, that’d be awesome and Supporters Shield champions, those are all goals for us.
VAVEL: Because you guys won the Canadian Cup, you are in the CONCACAF Champions League. Is that something you guys look forward to or is the focus right now just the start of the season and when the time comes around focus on the CCL too?
EH: No, we do look forward to it right now. It is in the back of our minds and if we said it wasn’t, we’d be lying. But right now our focus is on the first game of the season and getting through this preseason but we’re all really excited about CONCACAF (Champions League).
VAVEL: You’re entering your fourth season in the MLS, what are some personal goals you have for yourself this year?
EH: Just keeping getting better, just learn you know? Learn as much as I can because I’m still a young player. I’m 25 and have to learn and absorb everything that I can.
VAVEL: What’s the biggest transition going from college to the professional game?
EH: The professionalism, it would be that. In college, I could get away with staying up late, not having the right diet or little things like that. Here, in the professional level, you have to do everything to the best of your advantage as you can.
VAVEL: The second half of last year, you were on loan in Norway. Off of the soccer field, what was it like adjusting to a language and culture you didn’t know? Did you bring any family with you or did you move all by yourself?
EH: So I moved over there with my girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, we broke up while we were over there, so that was a little weird (light hearted chuckle). I didn’t know the language but everybody in Norway speaks English and is super friendly. The culture is super friendly and aggressive, but friendly aggressive. Super loud, everybody drinks coffee 24/7. I didn’t learn any Norwegian when I was there because everyone spoke English to me and were really nice and friendly.
VAVEL: On the field, what were some of the differences and similarities to the game here in the MLS?
EH: Similarities? The soccer ball (laughs all around). No, it’s just a different style of game, it’s a different league, it’s hard to compare really.
VAVEL: The team you played for in Norway, Mjodalen, was in a relegation battle. How was it being part of a relegation battle?
EH: Yeah we were, the whole season we were on the borderline of being relegated. The whole team though was chilling. The whole team, it’s a real family oriented club. It’s a small club, they had just gotten promoted the season before and this was the first time they’ve ever played in the first division. It’s a modest and humble club that did what they could with the resourses they had. They were a second-division team playing in the first division and didn’t have the type of recourses the big clubs in Norway have like Rosenborg and Stabaec. But when I was there, it was incredible. They loved being in the first division. Even in defeat, they would be sad about the loss, but you could tell they were happy to be in the first division and experience that. It was an incredible experience.
VAVEL: You grew up just outside of Portland in Beaverton, you have friends and family here. What’s it like coming back and playing in Portland?
EH: It’s always like coming back home here. I always have to remind myself that I am on a business trip. So I kind of have to find the balance, I can’t be out seeing my family every day, can’t be out seeing my friends every day. So I try to keep myself here, like if I was in New York for example, and keep it the same. Then, whenever I do get free time, what the coaches give us, I spend the entire time with my family, or friends. But it is really cool and walking and taking the train because I did that all the time when I was in high school. Going to Providence Park, which use to be PGE Park, because I used to go see games when I was a kid. Now I’m playing there, training there, and it’s just like a normal thing for me to walk into Providence Park, walk across the field, walk into the locker room, get chanced and it’s nothing. But when I was a kid, it was everything.
VAVEL: Is it something special playing against the Timbers because they are your hometown team and you spent some time with them at the U-23 level.
EH: Well I’m a Whitecap, I play for the Whitecaps, they drafted me, so that’s my team. When we play against the Timbers, I want to beat them because they’re our rival. Not because they’re the Timbers. It is sentimental when I do play here because I get to do it in front of my friends and family. My friends and family get to see me play in Portland in person and that’s really cool.
VAVEL: Your last few years of club soccer at Westside Metros (now known as Westside Timbers), your forward partner was Danny Mwanga, former number one draft pick for the MLS. When you look back, what was it like playing with someone of that level at that age, considering most D1 programs can’t produce any professionals, and here you had two top 5 draft picks playing together?
EH: I think that it was crazy that only he and I were drafted out of that team to be honest. That team was something special, I thought everyone on that team could have played D-I College and gone and played past that. It was amazing playing on that team that I will remember for the rest of my life. That got me to where I am today you know. But playing up top with Danny Mwanga was so simple. I would always find him the right pass, he would always find me the right pass. He would get me tons of goals by attracting defenders.
VAVEL: You speak with love and your heart about Westside. You spent your whole youth playing for Westside Metros from U-9 to U19. The club also produced Chad Barrett, who is a few years older than you, and Rubio Rubin, who’s earned a few senior caps for the USMNT. What makes Westside so special for those who don’t know?
EH: They take care of their players. They took care of me. I wasn’t financially able to go to tournaments or play on the team, but they made sure I was able to. You know, I give them thanks and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be playing right now. It’s a family, Westside la famila, you know about that bro. They treat you like a family member more than just a player.
VAVEL: Definitely. Last question: MLS has brought in a lot of players you grew up watching. Who was that one player you played against that you idolized growing up?
EH: (Before the full question was even asked) Obafemi Martins! Obafemi Martins man, I grew up watching that guy. He was my idol man. I would always play with him on FIFA. He was the fastest player every game, I would watch all his games with Newcastle. My second year, we were playing against him, and it was like a dream come true, I got to be on the same field and play against him. I ended up scoring a banger man, and I was running back to the half field line and he looked at me, nodded his head and gave me a thumbs up. It was just like unreal man. This is a guy who is a top class player that I grew up watching, and here he is giving me a good job and I got to score against him. So yeah, defiantly Obafemi Martins.
At the age of 25, Hurtado gets to live the dream so many of us dreamed of when we were kids. Yet he never forgetting where he came from and those who helped along the way. It’s a great reminder that no matter how far you make it and the heights you reach, the most important things are to stay grounded and the family you hold near to you.