Arlo White asked his questions for a recorded pregame segment just like he would at any other game. The Sounder on the other side of the camera answered nervously while four of his teammates took photos and video on their cell phones nearby.
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado was doing his first English broadcast interview and it went very smoothly, despite the taunts and heckles from his onlooking teammates.
“I am very happy because it was my first time. I’m excited because it was a good experience for me,” Hurtado said.
It was a small step, but one that spoke volumes of the long-term intentions of Hurtado.
He came to the Sounders in 2009 as a 24-year-old Colombian aspiring to play in Europe and for his country. He has since had a child (his son Paolo has a brother due to join him this month), learned English and grown to love the city and club he is playing for in Seattle.
It is with that in mind that he enthusiastically declared in a conversation before a recent match that he wants to play for the US National Team.
“My first year in the United States was great for me. Playing in Colombia was great, too, for me. Right now, I’m playing in the United States and I’m very happy,” he said. “I may not have the opportunity in my country, in Colombia. If the opportunity arises in this country, I’m more than willing to take that opportunity.”
Back in January of 2009, there was no way of predicting that Hurtado would wind up in his current situation. The Sounders, while scouting Fredy Montero with Deportivo Cali and some other players in Colombia, liked what they saw from the aggressive center back.
“It would be nice to have him,” Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson remembers saying.
But he was already headed to a trial with AC Milan and it looked incredibly unlikely that the Sounders would have any shot at landing Hurtado.
The seed of interest had been planted, though, and when AC Milan didn’t work out, Seattle was his first choice destination.
He had an All-Star season in 2009 and had a strong individual start to the 2010 season before a torn ACL ended his season after just nine matches. He has come back strong in 2011 and, after some brief hiccups along the way, is now improving on his 2009 form.
“I think he’s come back as strong as before the injury and that’s a testament his hard work with our trainers and doctors,” Henderson said. “He sees the game a little bit different. His game intelligence is a little bit better. He paid attention to the study of the game in that half-year.”
In addition, his understanding of English on and off the field has grown immensely. He even has grown comfortable enough to speak English with fans at player appearances, a sign of his comfort with the language and with the growing support from the fans.
Henderson points to a relationship with Mike Ford at Chelsea for providing the blueprint for making foreign players feel comfortable in their new homes. They help the families settle in and make sure that all the player has to worry about is producing on the field.
It can also be attributed to the record-smashing support the Sounders have received since their inauguration. The players sense the pride the fan base carries and tries to match it every time they step on the field.
“I played at a lot of teams and I would have given anything to play for the Sounders. The way the players feel in the city and in the club, I think they’re proud to wear the Sounders badge,” Henderson said. “You can tell at times when they’re giving that little extra.”
That support also pushed Hurtado to want to play for the Stars and Stripes. And while he would need to gain citizenship to play for the US, he doesn’t mind the wait.
Henderson thinks he would be a good fit for the US, too.
“We could definitely use a center back like Kennedy,” he said. “If everything works out for him and he has a desire to do it, I can’t see why Bob Bradley wouldn’t jump at the chance to have him represent our country.”