The first four installations of our Underrated Sounders series looked at players whose time with the Seattle Sounders was relatively short, but that’s not the case with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. He arrived full of promise and his skilled defending played a role in some of the biggest games in the team’s first five years in MLS.
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado arrived in Seattle in 2009 from Deportivo Cali in Colombia, having made more than 100 appearances across the top two Colombian leagues. Hurtado, who was 25 years old when he arrived, came to help form the defensive foundation that the team would be built on. During his time in Seattle, except for the 2010 season which was cut short by injury, Hurtado was a regular fixture in the starting XI alongside a rotating cast of centerback partners whenever he was available. In September of 2013, Hurtado became the fourth player to make 100 MLS appearances for the Sounders. During that time, Hurtado contributed to a consistently strong defense that allowed an average of 1.18 goals per game while he was in Seattle. That number improves after his return from injury in 2011 as the team only allowed 60 goals in his 60 appearances during his final three seasons with the team.
Physically gifted, Hurtado had the speed and strength to hang with any forward in MLS when the Sounders joined the league. His ability to read the game and anticipate what was happening on the field improved throughout his time here, taking a significant step forward when he returned from a torn ACL in 2011 even though he had lost some of the speed that had made him an All Star and Defender of the Year finalist in 2009. While the 5’11” Hurtado wasn’t much of an attacking threat on set-pieces, he was a skilled defender of them as his strength and intelligence allowed him to cut out danger before it developed. Hurtado’s defensive presence was best characterized by his strong tackling and his ability to intercept the ball, traits that earned him a trial with AC Milan before coming to Seattle.
Highlights and Trophies
Hurtado played for the Sounders as they appeared in four consecutive runs to the US Open Cup finals, winning three along the way. Although he featured in each game prior to the final in 2009, Hurtado wasn’t in the squad as the Sounders won their first piece of silverware as an MLS club. His torn ACL kept him from playing in the tournament in 2010, but El Presidente featured in the team’s runs to the next two finals as they beat his future club, the Chicago Fire, in 2011, and fell on penalties in Kansas City in the 2012 final. Hurtado also played and went the distance in every MLS Cup playoff game outside of 2010 during his time with the Sounders, including the monstrous defensive performance that saw the team win their first playoff series in beating Real Salt Lake in 2012 — a surprisingly common part of most of these pieces.
Hurtado, being a CB who didn’t score a ton of goals, doesn’t have a ton of highlights to find, unfortunately. Even his lone goal for the Sounders seems to be missing from the internet. That said, enjoy this slide tackle.
Why he’s underrated
There are a number of things at work that leave Hurtado underrated, in my mind. During his time with the Sounders, even if he was the most locked-in starter at CB when available, he never made more than 27 MLS appearances, including the playoffs, in one season. Some of that is a function of the Sounders not making deep playoff runs during that time, and part of it is that there was always a bit of a platoon at the position. Without the consistency of Chad Marshall, or the standout moments of Djimi Traore or Patrick Ianni, it’s easy to see how Hurtado may get overlooked. The lack of playoff success, the lack of highlights, and the way that Hurtado left the Sounders — being traded, along with Ianni and the 13th pick of the 2014 MLS Super Draft, to the Chicago Fire for Jalil Anibaba and the 8th pick of that same draft, which would turn into Damion Lowe — it’s even more obvious why he may not be remembered as well as he ought to be.
Although Hurtado may not have been a game-breaking player, he was virtually ever-present in the games that mattered. He made 12 Concacaf Champions League appearances, playing all 90 minutes in each, including playing in both legs as the Sounders became the first MLS team to knock out a Liga MX side from the tournament. Excluding 2010 when he was injured, Hurtado played every minute of playoff action during his time in Seattle, and in his 11 Open Cup appearances he went the distance nine times. The two Open Cup exceptions came when he was sent off in the 110th minute in the semifinals against Houston in 2009, and in 2012 when he made a 1-minute appearance against the San Jose Earthquakes.
Hurtado may also have been somewhat overshadowed in his breakout 2009 season when, as mentioned above, he was named to the All Star team and was a finalist for Defender of the Year, by his fellow Colombian and Deportivo Cali teammate, Fredy Montero. Hurtado may be the greatest Sounders “what if” as his 2010 season was cut short in May when he tore his ACL, and he spent the rest of the year rehabbing rather than building on his dominant first season in MLS. He would eventually regain that form, honed by maturity and an improved tactical understanding, in 2013, but by the end of that year he had been deemed expendable. In 2020 a signing like Hurtado would likely come with great fanfare, and possibly a transfer fee — Xavier Arreaga or fellow Colombian Yeimar Gómez Andrade are probably good comps — but looking back on the move now it’s easy to forget. Hurtado may never have reached the fullness of his potential, but he was still El Presidente.