“I’m a new man,” Jhon Kennedy Hurtado smiled after a training session this week.
MLS strikers, beware.
Hurtado was a finalist for MLS Defender of the Year in 2009. However, a torn ACL cut his 2010 season to just nine matches.
Now, he’s feeling better than ever and he’s eager for the start of the 2011 season to prove that the knee injury that devastated his 2010 season is in the past and that he will again be a force in the Sounders back line.
“I feel really different,” he said. “I was out for a long time, but I came back stronger than I was before.”
The injury happened in the tenth game of the season in 2010, a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes at Qwest Field that dropped the Sounders to 3-4-3. In Hurtado, they lost a fierce ball-winner and an emotional battler in their back line. However, he remained around the training facility after his surgery and was a positive influence on the players around him, who saw him working hard toward recovery.
“At first it was really difficult, but I’m back at it and I’ve had a lot of support from my teammates and the technical staff,” Hurtado said. “Everybody has had a lot of patience with me. I’m back and I feel really happy and we’re hoping for a lot of big accomplishments this year.”
His recovery has been one of the surprises of training camp to head coach Sigi Schmid.
“I still don’t think he is razor sharp but he worked hard last year with the injury,” Schmid said. “Physically I think he is very close to being there it’s just fine-tuning, a little bit of timing, all of the instincts that only really come back from playing games.”
The ever-present smile now returned to his face, Hurtado is paired with Jeff Parke in potentially one of the strongest center-back tandems in MLS.
Already they have grown comfortable playing together, with Hurtado leaning on Parke’s experience in MLS.
With the attacking talents in MLS growing more and more potent, they will be as challenged in 2011 as any year the league has ever seen. It doesn’t get much tougher than the season opener when they face off with Juan Pablo Angel and the LA Galaxy.
“It’s going to be a hard game, like the other games have been before. We know his game. We know what level he can play at and we know his experience,” Hurtado said of his countryman, Angel. “It’s going to be an exciting game, but we will use our experience and play our game against him.”
Far from the player who was left watching from the press box as the Sounders bowed out of the playoffs in November, Hurtado is excited to embark on the 2011 season.
“I feel fantastic. It’s great to be back here. I’m enjoying these moments with the players and being back with the team,” he said. “I’m having a great time.”
Meet the Defenders
James Riley – One of the team’s most MLS-experienced players, Riley is in his seventh MLS season. With 149 MLS appearances to his credit, he has been a bit of an iron man, playing more minutes than any other Sounders field player. He has 1 goal and 7 assists with the Sounders in 55 matches.
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado – An ACL injury cut short his 2009 season, but he is ready to return to the form of 2009 that had him as a finalist for the MLS Defender of the Year honors. He was also an MLS All-Star in 2009.
Jeff Parke – Another MLS veteran, Parke has 152 MLS matches to his credit. He joined the team shortly after the start of the 2010 season and stepped into the starting role when Hurtado was injured. He went on to start the remaining 20 matches, but missed the final playoff game with an ankle injury.
Leo Gonzalez – A veteran of the 2006 World Cup with 60 caps for Costa Rica, Gonzalez enters his third season with the Sounders FC after joining at midseason in 2009. A strong, attacking left back, Gonzalez notched a goal and an assist last season.
Patrick Ianni – Though he played both center back and as a central midfielder in 2010, his best position is as a defender. He saw career-highs in games, starts and minutes played in 2010. Ianni uses his strength against his foes, but has only been yellow carded 10 times in 65 MLS matches, keeping his composure under duress.
Tyson Wahl – With 48 career appearances with the Sounders FC and Kansas City Wizards, Wahl is another experienced player that Sigi Schmid can call upon in the defense. He started in both US Open Cup championship final victories.
Zach Scott – The versatile veteran, Scott is in his third MLS season and tenth in pro soccer after seven years with the USL Sounders from 2002-2008. He scored the winning penalty in a shootout win over the Portland Timbers in the US Open Cup in 2010. He has started at MLS First Kick each of the last two seasons.
Taylor Graham – The towering center back is in his seventh MLS season, though his games have been limited in MLS play, he started seven matches in US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League play in 2010. Previously, he played two seasons with the Kansas City Wizards and two with the New York Red Bulls, along with three in the USL with the Sounders.
Michael Tetteh – The rookie left back joins the Sounders after being selected 20th overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. The quick UCSB product had 6 goals and 8 assists in three seasons for the Gauchos.