Baseball’s loss was soccer’s gain when Chandler Hoffman suffered a wrist injury in seventh grade.
Growing up in Alabama, the new Dynamo signing had his heart set on becoming a pitcher for his beloved Atlanta Braves. He would spend hours throwing a ball against a wall, emulating greats like Tom Glavine or John Smoltz. But a broken scaphoid bone, surgery and a loss of feeling in some of his fingers ended those dreams and prompted Hoffman to turn his attention exclusively to soccer.
The decision paid off when, after a standout college career, the striker was selected by the Philadelphia Union with the 13th overall pick of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. He then moved to the LA Galaxy and was signed by the Dynamo this offseason after being chosen in the second stage of the MLS Re-Entry Draft. Now the 24-year-old is aiming to translate his prolific scoring at lower levels into MLS success with Houston.
He’s already made history as the first player from the Yellowhammer State to forge an MLS career. “I played since I was six and always loved the game but my time was not fully devoted because I was playing baseball, I was playing basketball. When the injury happened, I was 13 or 14 — it was soccer only,” Hoffman told HoustonDynamo.com.
“That moment was kind of for the best — I focused all my time and energy on soccer and I fell in love with scoring goals and I’ve always had that ability since an early age to be in the right spot. I just had a knack for it, making good runs in the box and finishing it off.
“It was about eighth grade I realized I had an opportunity to do something special with soccer. I kind of had to promote myself because there’s not many colleges scouting players from Alabama. So I did a YouTube video, sent it to a lot of coaches throughout the country, they all came to see me play at an academy showcase and I think I scored nine goals in those three games and it was pretty much anywhere I wanted to go at that point — Maryland, UCLA, Wake Forest, North Carolina. I ended up at UCLA, had a good couple of years there.”
Good is an understatement: Hoffman had a record-breaking time at UCLA, scoring 29 goals in 54 appearances over three years for the Bruins, including 18 goals in 24 starts in 2011, rebounding impressively from a fractured leg suffered on the opening day of preseason in 2010 and proving his credentials as a penalty-box predator.
Not surprisingly, he was on the Galaxy’s radar — but was grabbed by the Union in 2012, going on to make seven MLS appearances for them in his rookie year and scoring the winner in a friendly against German giants Schalke 04.
The next season he moved to the Galaxy. Given the reigning MLS Cup holders’ stacked attack, first-team games were hard to come by — but Hoffman still made eight MLS appearances off the bench in 2014. He saw most of his action at LA Galaxy II, the club’s USL PRO team, and demonstrated his knack for scoring by producing 13 goals in 17 games.
Even though his MLS minutes were limited, Hoffman feels he gleaned plenty from working with two all-time great attackers: Landon Donovan and reigning MLS MVP Robbie Keane.
“The last two years I’ve tried to be a sponge and just learn whatever I could. Keano and Landon have been great for me, they’d let me stay after [training] and do whatever they were doing. I feel like I learned a lot — mainly from off the field what they were doing to prepare, how they go about their business to get ready for matches and things like that,” he said.
“And just watching Robbie, his ability to create space for himself. His ability to know where other players are, where defenders are and how to find little pockets to get the ball and be dangerous in the box.”
With a forward line led by Will Bruin and Giles Barnes and with Erick “Cubo” Torres arriving in the summer, Hoffman knows he’ll have to work hard to earn substantial minutes early this season. But he’s ready for the challenge and said he was “ecstatic” when he found out he’d been picked by the Dynamo.
“I feel like the more that I’m on the field I always find a way to score goals. So it’s just maybe finding a consistent run of games so I can prove my ability to score goals. I just want to earn that opportunity,” he said.
After a major offseason overhaul that included the arrival of new head coach Owen Coyle, Hoffman believes he’s joining a club on the rise. “I’m excited to play for the manager, he seems to have done well in the past developing strikers so I’m looking forward to learning from him,” he said.
“New general manager, new coach; I’ve always liked the stadium when we’ve played there in the past; it’s an hour and a half flight from all my family and friends in Alabama so they’re excited about that. It’s an exciting time to be part of the organization. Traditionally the Dynamo have been one of the better clubs in MLS so it’s a great organization to be part of, at a great time.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.