He’s only played 31 minutes in Major League Soccer so far this season, but Jordan Hamilton could be in for a lot more over the next few weeks. With a hamstring injury suffered by the in-form Tosaint Ricketts and Jozy Altidore away on international duty, Hamilton is likely to get his first MLS start of the season on Saturday at the New England Revolution.
After a strong stretch of form last season, including nine straight starts in the summer of 2016, Hamilton has been pinned to the bench for much of 2017. It is through no real fault of his own, as Toronto FC boasts what is likely the deepest and most talented pool of attackers in MLS.
That means anyone not named Altidore or Sebastian Giovinco is going to have to fight hard for their minutes. With Jozy away, this stretch of games is Hamilton’s chance to force coach Greg Vanney to play him more. Not only that, but TFC might need him to step up while others are missing.
In just over a month’s time, Altidore and Ricketts will both likely be representing their respective countries at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Hamilton will be at national team camp next week, but is unlikely to make the team.
The Canadian Championship has already provided Hamilton with a couple of starts this season, and his lone MLS appearance was sandwiched in between. He hasn’t quite made the splash he did last year when he scored a pair of goals against Montreal in the home leg of the Canadian Championship semi-final, but he’s done well.
“I always say that I’m out every day [training] with guys that are all pushing for spots,” said Hamilton after Wednesday’s win over Ottawa. “We all try to push each other. When our chance comes we are usually ready.”
The biggest improvement that Hamilton appears to have made to his game is his ability to combine with other players. He has two assists in his three appearances and helped set up an Ottawa Fury own goal as well.
It’s a strong stretch of form, but now it is about keeping it going in whatever minutes Vanney gives him. Last year Hamilton exploded for three goals in his first five MLS starts, but only managed one assist in his next eight appearances.
“The biggest thing for Jordan is just consistency [and] working within the structure of the team to do things,” said Vanney on Wednesday. “To continue to be dangerous and create opportunities as we connect off him.”
He also reminded the media that while Hamilton has been with the team for a while - five seasons now, to be exact - he’s still only 21. He is still the youngest player on the first-team roster by almost a full year.
It is another young player, however, that might be the biggest threat to Hamilton’s minutes. At 22, Ben Spencer has already earned plenty of praise from Vanney and looked solid in his first career start against Columbus Crew.
That being said, Hamilton outperformed Spencer in just 31 minutes in that same match. Hamilton did come in for “garbage time” with TFC already in a commanding lead, but managed a goal and a beautiful assist while the Reds only had 10 men.
It was proof that despite very infrequent minutes, Hamilton remains a player more than capable of contributing at the MLS level. With at least three more years before he likely reaches his prime, it is evidence that he still has a bright future ahead of him.
Eventually, he’s going to need more playing time in order to further his development, whether that is in Toronto or elsewhere. But for now playing alongside quality players like Altidore and Giovinco appears to be improving his game. The next couple of months will be his chance to prove how far he has come.