July 6, 2012
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Summer break? Not for Eric Hurtado. The 2009 Westview High School graduate was up bright and early on the Fourth of July training with the Portland Timbers U-23 developmental soccer team. The 21-year-old forward is the team's second-leading scorer and also one of the top players in the West Coast Conference as a senior-to-be at Santa Clara University, so there's no time to lounge by the pool.
"We have some pretty good teams coming up, so we have to get ready for them," Hurtado said after the training session.
And the work seems to be paying off. Hurtado's four straight games with a goal was one game shy of equaling a Timbers U-23 record. He has five goals in seven games on the season while leading the team to an 8-2-3 overall record, good for second place in the Northwest Division of the Premier Development League's Western Conference.
It makes the team's final three regular season games critical, starting with Friday's match against Washington Crossfire at Doc Harris Stadium in Camas, Wash. The Timbers will face the first-place Kitsap Pumas in Hurtado's old stomping grounds, at Hare Field on Sunday at 6 p.m.
"It's nice being back home playing with the Timbers U-23s again," Hurtado said. "It's pretty exciting with how the season is going."
The Timbers U-23s was founded in 2008 to serve as a developmental platform for the MLS club's first team. It consists of premier players from collegiate and youth programs from the throughout the country. Four Timbers first-team players -- defender Ryan Kawulok, midfielder Freddie Braun, goalkeeper Jake Gleeson and forward Brent Richards -- came through the U-23 program.
Hurtado, a two-time Metro League player of the year who led Westview to the 2008 Class 6A state championship game, is one of seven players from Oregon on this year's team.
"Eric's done a really good job," Timbers U-23 head coach Jim Rilatt said. "He brings a very athletic and explosive dynamic to our team. He's been a good leader this year."
Hurtado started training with the team after his freshman year at Santa Clara when his college coach, Cameron Rast, made a call to Rilatt hoping to get Hurtado more competition during the summers. Hurtado made the roster last summer and this year is playing a prominent role.
"I feel more comfortable coming in and seeing familiar faces and knowing what to expect," Hurtado said. "It's nice because I have a different role on the team, more of a leadership role instead of being a newcomer."
It took awhile for Hurtado to find the back of the net, however. But once he did, he's been hard to stop.
His first goal came June 17, in a two-goal performance, in a 4-1 win over North Sound Seawolves at Sherwood High School. He then scored in the Timbers' next three games.
"It was a lot of weight off my shoulders," he said of the four-game stretch. "Coming in, I didn't have a goal for a couple games so I was kind of stressing out. So to get that first goal was big. And hopefully I have a lot more to come for the rest of the season."
Hurtado is trying to build his resume in anticipation for next year's MLS SuperDraft. In addition to his stellar season with the Timbers, Hurtado is hoping to add a national championship to his resume with his college team.
Last fall, he was named first-team all-WCC and to the NCAA Men's Division I NSCAA All-Far West Region second team after leading the WCC in shots (85) and points (19). He tied for the conference lead with six goals and seven assists in leading the Broncos to a second-place conference finish.
During his sophomore year, he led Santa Clara to a conference championship with five goals and four assists. He scored seven goals his freshman year.
"If we get a championship with Timbers and a national championship with my college team, everything will fall into place from there I hope," he said.
Rilatt said Hurtado's future in the game is bright.
"He has a lot of possibilities and a lot of upside," Rilatt said. "If he continues to display a professional manner and has another good season at Santa Clara, there will be a lot of interest in Eric."
Hurtado said playing with the Timbers has opened his eyes to what it takes to be a professional athlete. And while the college level is competitive, Hurtado said everyone in the Premier Development League is an all-star-level player.
"I would say it's a lot more competitive," he said. "Not that college isn't serious, but this is more of a profession than an extracurricular activity. This is pretty serious, to come out here and train every day and work hard every day to prove yourself to the team. I couldn't ask for better training here. I couldn't ask for a better coaching staff or better players to push me in training. It's going to be the best opportunity to go into the fall season and do the best I can."
And Hurtado said he's looking forward to playing in such a crucial match against Kitsap at Hare Field, where he played many times in high school. He said his grandparents and a number of friends will be at the game cheering him on.
"It's definitely nice playing around my home fans and hometown," he said. "I've played there before, so it will be nice playing there with the Timbers and with a different level of play and different mentality."
-Courtesy of Dan Itel,oregonlive.com