San Jose Earthquakes forward Danny Hoesen has one of the best pedigrees of any player on the club’s roster. A former Ajax striker with UEFA Champions League and Netherlands Youth National Team experience, Hoesen’s career path is remarkable. We sat down with the 29-year-old to discuss his journey to San Jose.
What do you remember about your professional debut with Fortuna Sittard?
Danny Hoesen: “I was already training with the first team for a full year. I remember it was 1-1 that day, and I came on and I was super excited to play in a big stadium. It was actually funny because that day was the last game of Marc Overmars on the other team. It was my debut and his last game, and I think three years later he was the technical director of Ajax who helped me come play for Ajax. So, it was pretty special.”
You were sold to Fulham at 17 years old. What was that experience like and did any of your family go with you?
DH: “I was all by myself, and it was pretty scary because I remember it was always my dream to become a professional footballer, and to actually have the chance to go to a big club like Fulham, I knew exactly what I wanted to do there. I wanted to go there, I wanted to get better, and I wanted to do it in a better environment. I remember the day I actually had to go fly; I just went to my room and started crying. I was like ‘Oh what am I doing? I’m just going to leave everything behind, my friends, family.’ But I went all by myself, and luckily, I came into a family there that took care of me the first few years. And I think after the first few years of training, I was so used to everything and I was happy that I made that decision.”
You were sent out on loan twice while at Fulham. How did the loan to Finland come about?
DH: “It was pretty interesting for me, because I think at the time, I was 18 or 19. And I was training with the first team all the time at Fulham, and I was doing really well. I think at one point I scored 10 goals in seven games. Roy Hodgson was the manager back then, and he told me, ‘The best thing I can promise you now, I think it would be much better for you to skip the summer vacation and go play in Finland and get some games at the professional level under your belt.’ So yeah, at that time I was like ‘OK, if coach wants me to do this, then I should do it.’ So, I went there, and unfortunately after I played seven games in six weeks, I got a really bad hip injury. And it took me like 14 months to recover from that.”
Did you have surgery on your hip?
DH: “I didn’t have surgery because they said that if I had surgery, then that might’ve been the end of my career, so I just had to stay on crutches for four or five months, to just completely let it heal and then slowly start to build up some strength again.”
What happened when you returned to Fulham after your first loan stint?
DH: “The coach told me if I come back, I would get a chance on the first team for sure. But then he left; he went to a different club and after my injury when I was finally able to play, it was already March, and the summer vacation was coming up. So, after summer break I told my agent, ‘I just want to play. I just want to play a full season.’ And that’s when we spoke to my old club Fortuna Sittard, and see if they were interested for me to play there a full season. And they agreed, so that’s why I went there.”
Upon returning from your second loan stint, you were sold to Ajax. Were you disappointed to never have featured in a Premier League match?
DH: “Especially before the hip injury, I was really close. I was on the bench two times, I just couldn’t get on the field. But I know for sure that if Mark Hughes was still there after my injury, I could’ve played for sure. But coaches come and go, so yeah it’s unfortunate.”
Was it always your dream to play for the nation’s biggest club, Ajax?
DH: “Yeah for sure. I think the young kids in the country dream to play for Ajax. They were interested in me after my season with my old club. I had a very good year and a lot of teams wanted to sign me, including in Germany. We stayed patient and waited for the right club, and it was quite a bit of a wait. I got a little impatient, so I said to my agent, ‘I just want to play at the highest level in Holland and we’ve got to figure this out.’ And one day he called me and said ‘Ajax wants to have a talk with you.’ That was a big surprise, but we spoke with them and did a stadium tour. And they explained what the plan would be. It was just a dream come true.”
Can you put into words what the atmosphere is like during a Champions League match?
DH: “That’s the best feeling in the world, I think. In Holland, there’s always just one or two in Champions League, and so you know the whole country is watching those games. You’re super excited to play against the biggest players in the world. Like normally you watch this on TV when you’re young, and then to actually play in those games and compete, that’s an amazing feeling.”
How often do you think about your goals in Champions League, especially the game-winner against FC Barcelona?
DH: “Obviously, I think about it sometimes, and a lot of people ask me how it felt. And actually, for my birthday, my wife made a big painting with that goal, and it’s back home.”
Why did you decide to move to Major League Soccer at 26 years old?
DH: “It was very simple. I was at Groningen for two and a half years, three years, and it just didn’t feel right anymore. Enough for me, enough for the club. I didn’t feel at home there anymore. So, I actually started looking at options and clubs that might be interested. And in Holland there were a few clubs, but that wasn’t interesting enough for me. And then [Earthquakes general manager] Jesse [Fioranelli] spoke with my agent and he wanted to give me a call. And we started talking, and I started talking with my wife about the adventure. And it just worked, what Jesse told us. It was just very exciting; it was a big adventure all the way across the ocean. He just said, ‘If you still want to play at a good level and play every week and find the love for the game again, then this might be a good option.’ And yeah, I don’t regret it at all.”
How many former teammates have asked you about MLS?
DH: “I think at least 70 percent of the players that I speak with, they would love to come here one day and they watch some games back home. They hear my experience and from other old teammates, and they just all think it’s a super cool adventure and they see the league is growing and getting bigger. The players are getting better, so everybody would love to come here. For my old coach Frank DeBoer, I spoke to him when we played Atlanta, and he loves it as well. It’s a different type of league that’s so interesting.”
You’ve now made more appearances for the Quakes than any club in your career. Do you consider San Jose home?
DH: “Yeah, of course. Like I said, I felt at home from the beginning. It’s a great atmosphere. There are super nice people working at the club that make every player feel at home straight away. My first son was born here, my second son will be born here, so yeah it’s definitely home.”