Carl Roninson has bestowed all his trust in his young players and on Sunday night, they repaid their coach with a heart-warming performance against Portland Timbers. The Timbers had no answer for Erik Hurtado and Kekute Manneh, as Vancouver Whitecaps secured a 4-3 result on the road.
It was the Erik Hurtado show at Providence Park. In just 66 minutes of play, the American did enough to be a contender for the man of the match award. He was involved in all four goals scored by the Whitecaps.
For a player who wasn’t a regular starter at the beginning of the season, Hurtado has quickly regained his confidence. Raushawn Mckenzie and Pa Modou Kah’s rugged defending was no match for his smart off the ball movement and swagger with the ball at his feet.
His late first half goal was crucial as Vancouver secure all three points against its arch rivals, but it was his overall performance as a target forward that caught my eye.
For someone who’s only 5-foot-10, Hurtado isn’t afraid of the big boys. The 23-year-old challenged much taller Kah for every long ball that came his way, and surprisingly, he won some of the duels.
His improved movement was evident in the build-up to the Whitecaps’ first goal. Hurtado checked to receive a pass, made a swift turn and used his silky smooth skills to navigate his way into Portland’s box. His trickery bemused the Timbers’ defenders, and he won a penalty kick after he was hacked down by Diego Chara.
Seeing that he was mostly used as a winger last season, no blame or criticism would be directed Hurtado’s way if he didn’t immediately become an expert at playing with his back towards goal. However, the trickery forward seems to have perfected the skill.
His newly developed skill lent a helping hand on Vancouver’s second goal. Hurtado shielded the ball from Mckenzie, and then delightfully turned away from the defender and found a streaking Manneh.
The winger/auxiliary forward topped Hurtado’s fine play with his own crowding pleasing display. He received a perfectly weighted through ball, confidently dribbled into the box and was brought down. However the referee elected to call a penalty on a trip on Sebastien Fernandez.
In the dying minutes of the first 45, Hurtado scored a typical No. 9 goal. He made sure he was unmarked in the box, and when a low cross was played to the near post, he pounced on it. His initial shot was saved by Donovan Ricketts, but the rebound bounced off his thigh into the back of the net.
He capped off a strong performance with the most important play of the night. He checked into the midfield, received a pass and found Pedro Morales on the right flank. Instead of standing around and ball watching he dashed for the near post, pulling the entire Portland defense away from the back post, where Jordan Harvey was waiting. Harvey made the most of Hurtado’s hard work, burying a shot into the far corner.
Even though Manneh only played in the first half, the youngster showed that he is capable of handling the pressure of being a starter. In a tense environment, the 19-year-old was cool, calm and collected.
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