Jhon Kennedy Hurtado has been a difficult spot: His performance over the past few years has been compared to a former MLS All-Star and Defender of the Year finalist.
That player? Well, himself, of course.
In 2009, Hurtado quickly established himself as one of the best defenders in the league, as seen by the accolades noted above. But the Colombian suffered a devastating knee injury in 2010 — a torn ACL — and a couple up-and-down seasons later, many wondered if he would be able to return to his Year 1 form.
If recent performance is any indication, he is back.
Hurtado played a key role in shutting out Galaxy superstar Robbie Keane in Saturday’s 1-1 tie in Los Angeles and has been a leading figure in Seattle’s defensive revival. The Sounders are 5-0-2 in the center back’s return to the lineup after being benched earlier this season.
For his own part, Hurtado said his confidence is “like 2009 … really good.”
Coach Sigi Schmid even took it a step further.
“He had that little spell on the bench, and since he’s come back from that, I think he’s been very very good,” Schmid said. “I thought he together with Zach Scott did a great job on Robbie Keane this weekend. It was a little bit more Hurtado with a couple of the off-the-field, little WWF displays, but it was good. I thought Jhon played well. He was attentive; he was alert.
“I think with the ball, as well, comparing him to say 2009, I think his defending is at the 2009 level, but I think his play with the ball is better than it was in 2009. So at this stage, I think he’s a better player than he was then.”
I asked Schmid earlier this year if Hurtado’s struggles then were more physical or mental. The coach explained he had a sit-down with the defender to talk about anticipating rather than reacting.
Hurtado has long been heralded the team’s best 1-on-1 defender, and Schmid said that might have led to a more reactionary style of play, since he had the physical gifts to recover in time against most forwards in the league. To get back to being one of the elite defenders, however, Schmid wanted Hurtado to read plays earlier.
Saturday, again, was the best example of that, as Keane was held to no shots. Hurtado led the Sounders with seven interceptions and six clearances — not to mention being kicked at.
The 2013 version of Hurtado, it seems, has become the standard for his own performance.