As he strode into the pass at the top of the box, ready to one-touch the ball on goal during the traditional end-of-training shooting drill, Danny Hoesen’s foot slipped out from under him, and the Dutch striker landed on his backside. His San Jose Earthquakes teammates were quick to give him a satirical round of applause as Hoesen did a few mock push-ups as punishment, returned to his feet, smiling, not a hair out of place. Back to the end of the line, where he waited for his next opportunity.
And when it came, with a determination that has defined his preparations for the Quakes season opener on March 3 against Minnesota United, Hoesen blasted his next shoot emphatically on target before standing proud and calling it a day on another long preseason practice. The freshman forward scored a respectable 5 goals in 32 MLS appearances last season, adding 3 more in U.S. Open Cup play, but his finishing was sometimes suspect, and he is hoping he can do even more damage for San Jose in his sophomore season.
“I feel very strong, very confident, and I have a good connection with the players,” said Hoesen. “I feel good and I am more than ready.”
Following a one-year loan from his Dutch club FC Groningen, Hoesen was brought back to San Jose on a permanent transfer back in December, signing a multi-year contract using Targeted Allocation Money, the league mechanism that allows teams to pay down the contract of players from overseas. He spent much of last year adjusting to playing in MLS, as well as dealing with the coaching changes that caused some disruptions for the forward, but looks at the Earthquakes move to bring in Sweden’s Mikael Stahre as the head coach as a move in the right direction
“Obviously, last year everything was new,” said Hoesen. “New country, new city, new people. And this year I know everybody. I know the way the club wants to work. I got to know the new coach now, so I think I can start the season with more confidence. I think that is the biggest change.”
Stahre has been using Hoesen extensively this preseason as a striker along side Chris Wondolowski in a basic 4-4-2 formation. The two have formed a potent partnership so far, with Hoesen not only scoring goals, but adding assists too, something that has the Quakes captain excited about heading into the new season.
“Absolutely, Danny has been sharp this preseason,” said Wondolowski. “He’s been able to stretch the defensive and win the ball high up the field. His form has been fantastic, and I expect he will have a very good year for us.”
Hoesen began to establish himself as a starter towards the end of the 2017 season, and he played the full 90 minutes in the Earthquakes 5-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps. He did struggle with his finishing last season, as the forward took 70 shots, 24 of which were on target, but only finding the back of the net five times. Still, he did tie Vako and Marcos Urena for second most goals, eight behind Wondolowski’s team leading 13. Stahre, who has now seen Hoesen up close for the better part of a month and a half, believes the striker is capable of so much more, and he’s been impressed with his play on and off the ball.
“First of all, he is a really humble guy,” said Stahre. “He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s good to hold the ball, and he combines well with the other strikers and wingers. I think he’s doing really, really well, and his preseason so far has been absolutely fantastic.”
In addition to adding Stahre to the technical staff this off-season, the Earthquakes added fellow European coaches Alex de Crook from the Netherlands and Jyri Nieminen from Finland. Hoesen, who has played at clubs across Europe in his career, welcomes the style and influence his continental compatriots being to San Jose.
“Obviously, I have played in Europe my whole life, so I kind of know how the European coaches work and think about the game,” said Hoesen. “It’s been a good influence on the group. They make everything as clear as possible, and they are doing a good job. They are trying to get some aspects in our game that we were missing last year, and so far it is looking really good.”
When the Earthquakes season ended last Fall, general manager Jesse Fioranelli indicated that it was a priority to bring Hoesen back to San Jose. His contract option was declined in late November, allowing Fioranelli to directly negotiate with FC Groningen on his transfer. Meanwhile, the striker got back to work, even with his future uncertain, especially with the long break until the start of the MLS season.
“This is the first time I’ve had a preseason last this long,” said Hoesen. “I started training on the first of December again because I wanted to make sure I was fit and ready to go.”
Hoesen, like most European players, is used to a quick turnaround between campaigns. For those leagues that play a traditional August to May season, the time off barely lasts a month. The Earthquakes last played on October 25 — the 5-0 shellacking in Vancouver — and preseason camp wasn’t scheduled to begin until January 23, a break that would be the longest of his professional career.
“For me, it was a little bit too long,” said Hoesen. “I think that 5-6 weeks is long enough. But, that is the way it works here, and it’s always good to have some time off, your body needs to heal, you have pain here and there, so it’s good to heal. But, yeah, three months is too long.”
Starting his own preparations in December allowed him to enter preseason training in excellent shape, and he has paced the Quakes offense throughout their schedule of friendlies and scrimmages. Wondolowski, who knows a thing or two about scoring goals in MLS, has gone so far as to peg Hoesen as a Golden Boot candidate this season. Given his own chase of history — Wondo will become the MLS all-time goals leader with 12 more tallies — it might make sense to demand more of the ball from his teammates. Hoesen, if asked to do so, will certainly play provider for those around him on the field.
“Yeah, for sure. I’m going to play the way the team needs me to play,” said Hoesen. “As a striker, people expect goals and I expect goals of myself as well, but I like a good assist as well, to help the team when it’s under pressure hold up the ball a little bit. So, I think I am all-around with that and I hope to help the team with that this year.”
Whether it’s scoring goals or dishing out assists — and he certainly hopes it’s both — Hoesen’s productive preseason has him primed for a breakout second season in San Jose.