Wednesday, September 21, 2011
By NICHOLAS MURRAY
After a summer that saw him named to the USL PDL All-League Team and nominated for the Most Valuable Player Award, scoring 13 goals in 13 games and finishing the season with 36 points, Orange County Blue Star’s Chandler Hoffman has continued his run of form into the college soccer season.
This week’s College Soccer News Player of the Week after a hat trick for UCLA against UC-Santa Barbara last Friday, Hoffman leads the Bruins with seven goals, helping the side to a four-game winning streak it will try to continue on Friday against Seattle University. After UCLA began the season ranked No.6 by the NSCAA, only to go winless in its first three games of the season, Hoffman believes the side is starting to live up to the billing it was getting before the season began.
“It’s definitely been good to start getting results going our way and to really start scoring more goals,” he said by phone this week. “Early in the year I thought we struggled to create a lot of good opportunities, we had a lot of possession but we couldn’t really get anything going in the final third. I think we’re finally starting to find a little bit of chemistry moving forward and I think we’re just going to keep getting better as the season progresses, so I’m excited.”
One of the reasons for the Bruins’ success is the crossover the side has with Orange County Blue Star. While Hoffman got a lot of the attention this summer for his standout performances, fellow UCLA teammate Fernando Monge also had a strong summer with the club, finishing with nine goals and five assists. The attacking duo was also joined by Joe Sofia and Patrick Matchett, while other members of the Bruins side spent time with clubs such as the Washington Crossfire (Kelyn Rowe) and Ventura County Fusion (Andy Rose).
“I think just building that comfort level with certain players and establishing that trust in them and knowing they’re going to get the job done really helps the team chemistry,” Hoffman said, “and it really helped this summer being able to play with so many of my teammates.”
That Hoffman is at UCLA in the first place is testament to his willingness to try different approaches. A native of Birmingham, Ala., Hoffman wasn’t getting much attention from major Division I colleges until after his junior season of high school soccer. Realizing he needed to showcase his skills to prospective programs, he posted a highlight reel on Youtube, sending a link to the clip to not only the Bruins but other major programs such as Maryland and Wake Forest. After the coaches liked what they saw on tape, they looked for a chance to see Hoffman in person.
“They came to watch me play in a big tournament up in Chicago, and I ended up scoring, like, seven goals in three games, so after that it was basically any school that I wanted to go to,” Hoffman said. “It was a pretty amazing experience going from not really being highly recruited to after the video and that weekend being wanted by every top school in the country.”
Hoffman became the first player from Alabama to play for the Bruins, and since then has gradually risen up the ranks in both college and the PDL. This summer was his third season playing in the league, going from a benchwarmer in his first season after completing high school to an All-League performer in his third. Playing at UCLA has also opened up other avenues for the junior to develop his skills, being invited to train with the Los Angeles Galaxy last summer while players like Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle were preparing for the 2010 World Cup.
“Bruce Arena was nice enough to let me come in and train about 50 times that summer,” Hoffman said. ”It’s been good to just keep getting exposed to higher levels of soccer and just kind of the professional attitude and approach that the players take at the next level and try and implement it into my collegiate career right now, and hopefully just keep progressing up and take my game to the next level.”
While he is still aiming to try and become part of the U.S. Olympic Team that plays in London next summer, making the jump to Major League Soccer is Hoffman’s next major target. With the way he is currently performing, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see him get an opportunity after his senior season with the Bruins.
In the short-term, though, Hoffman and UCLA are looking forward to getting the Pac-12 schedule underway as they try to claim back the conference title from California. The two teams meet at UCLA’s Drake Stadium in the Bruins’ opening game of conference play on September 30, and with another big game coming up against Stanford two days later, the Bruins are eager to begin their pursuit of a title on the right foot.
“We’re very happy with being able to get our first two conference games at home and to get two teams who, at least over the past two years, have been contenders for the Pac-12 title with Cal winning it last year and us winning it the year before,” Hoffman said. “Being able to play them at home and hopefully getting two results would put us in a really good spot for the rest of the Pac-12 conference schedule.”
And, should the Bruins go far enough in the NCAA Tournament, Hoffman could even get the chance to play in front of his family and old friends.
“When we sat down for our team meetings the first day we set our goals, and to win a national championship is at the top of that list,” he said. “We feel although we got off to a slower start than a lot of people expected, it’s where you finish the season rather than where you begin it. We feel like each week we’ve been playing better and better soccer, and so hopefully we’ll be winning a national championship in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama come December.
“I feel like we have a core group of guys that really have that vision and are going to do everything it takes to get us there, so I really think the sky is the limit for this group.”