Finally set for playing time, Hyndman eager to finally step into the spotlight
April 29, 2020
EMERSON HYNDMAN is a name well-known to American soccer fans but for many reasons, he still doesn’t believe he has shown yet what he is capable of on a consistent basis. While his days of being considered a “young” player are behind him, the Texan believes good things are in store for him at Atlanta United.
As a young player, Hyndman was one of the highest regarded American prospects and was the captain of the 2015 U-20 team. He played well down the stretch in his final year at Fulham and earned a four-year Premier League deal with Bournemouth. It was there he went on two loans – one was very successful with Rangers where he learned to be a starter with a big club. The second was with Hibernian where he played in the Europa League.
He also comes from a family with ties to the sport. His grandfather, Schellas Hyndman, was born in Macau but fled to the United States in a cargo ship to escape the Chinese communist revolution and became one of the most successful collegiate coaches of all-time and later went on to coach FC Dallas to an appearance in MLS Cup. During that time, a very young Hyndman often trained with FC Dallas and held his own.
But there is also an issue of playing time. He is now 24 and has yet to amass more than 1100 minutes in a season. His breakthrough with Fulham came only in the second half of his final season and minutes in the Premier League were tough to come by at Bournemouth – although the club liked him enough to not sell him despite impressive loans in Scotland.
“I almost grew up at Fulham,” Hyndman recalled. “I learned a lot there. I met some great people and essentially got my start there. The move to Bournemouth was the next level, the Premier League, and obviously things are more difficult. I learned a lot there behind the scenes and I didn't play much, which was very difficult and I went on a couple of loans because of it. But all in all, I learned how to do different things a midfielder needs to do in their game. That's where all the growing really happened - behind the scenes, which is unfortunate because no one sees that part…but that's definitely something I don't regret.”
The move to Atlanta United happened last summer and Hyndman was able to make 17 appearances (11 starts) in the second half of the season and managed to get to 1000 minutes for the second time in his career. He scored a goal in a 3-2 win over Club America in the Campeones Cup.
At the start of the current season in 2020, Hyndman played all 180 minutes for Atlanta in two wins to open the season. It was the sharpest he has looked since his time on loan at Rangers. When Hyndman was presented with the opportunity to play for Atlanta this summer, he wanted the opportunity to win, earn playing time, and be surrounded by talented players. So far, that has been the case.
“I thought it was a decent start,” Hyndman said. “The stats were good, the goals, you always want those. Obviously, it builds confidence. It's my first season as a starter on the team. Last year I joined midway, so it was mostly catching up. Now it's something to build from.”
“Joining Atlanta - I've always said was quite an easy decision when they pitched it to me,” he added. “In terms of the status of the league, everything has definitely improved a lot since I left all those years ago. You just see the quality rising everywhere.”
But just as Hyndman was finally settling into his first season in his career as a regular starter, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and shut down leagues across the globe.
“I think it's something you have to take in stride,” Hyndman said reflectively. “There are obviously bigger things going on. You have to put in perspective....It'll probably still end up being the most games I have had in a season so far in my career, so I'm not too worried about it. I'm just really looking forward to getting back.”
Atlanta United is certainly a different team than most in the country. It has crowd support that exceeds many clubs in top European leagues and spends money on players like Pity Martinez (the reigning South American Player of the Year when he arrived), Argentina U-23 midfielder Ezequiel Barco, and Venezuelan international Josef Martinez – along with Frank de Boer as its coach.
But this year (should it continue), Hyndman acknowledges there is a lot of pressure. Atlanta spends a lot of money and the team expects to return to MLS Cup after winning the title in 2018. This year will be especially challenging since Josef Martinez, one of the league’s best forwards, tore his ACL in the opening day win over Nashville. That will force everyone on the team to raise their game.
To prepare for these expectations he now faces in Atlanta, Hyndman recalls his time with Rangers which he felt helped him prepare. While he had high level training in Bournemouth, Rangers taught him how do deal with pressure and expectations from supporters, media, and club management.
“When I got to Atlanta, all of a sudden, the crowd of 70,000 didn't seem too big anymore,” Hyndman explained. “It was a little bit more American with sirens. It was a little bit more fun like that. But the crowd noise doesn't really get to you after playing at Ibrox.”
“Scotland was a higher level than I thought going into it, especially because I was playing and training with Premier League players every day at Bournemouth,” he added. “[Rangers] was just an immediate shock of the fan base and the atmosphere at the stadium. I knew about them, but it's a different level when you're actually playing in front of them…. The challenges were if you didn't get a win at Rangers, it was looked at as a loss, no matter who you’re playing. To get a draw away from home, it's not a good draw. It was very challenging but I learned a lot from it.”
Moving forward, Atlanta provides a lot of opportunities for Hyndman. For one, he can compete for silverware on a regular basis. Also, Hyndman can also finally build a case to return to the U.S. national team. He has two caps in his career (both friendlies) but the most recent was in 2016.
The national team has been in a difficult place recently but depth is slowly being built up in numerous positions – including in Hyndman’s preferred central midfield positions. If Hyndman wants to return, his top competition in the years ahead will likely be Weston McKennie, Paxton Pomykal, Duane Holmes, Sebastian Lletget, Brendan Aaronson, Brandon Servania, Richard Ledezma, and Cristian Roldan.
Getting back won’t be easy for Hyndman but at least he now has a platform to show what he can do on a consistent basis. When he was on the U.S. U-20 team while at Fulham, the international breaks were something he looked forward to but now it is something that motivates him.
“Playing on the national teams back then always made you want to go back to it. That's why it's definitely on my mind to get back,” Hyndman said. “It's not on my mind every time I play. It's one of those things that is deserved from your play. If that call comes up, I'm sure it'll be at the right time for me. What I really want to do is earn that. I want play well in Atlanta when I earn that right.”
For now, Hyndman is playing the waiting game like everyone else, waiting for life to return to normal. When he does, he eyes a brighter future and a chance to show the high ceiling many projected on him a half a decade ago.
“That was the most frustrating part about my earlier years - it was just the consistency of playing,” Hyndman said. “That's what I'm looking at this season to do - is really build up a good 30 game season - something I've never had to do. I think I can only improve from that. There's obviously things in my game that I'm still bringing out.”