Good luck finding a Real Salt Lake player more excited than Duke Hashimoto about heading to Madrid, Spain, next week for the club's next leg of training camp.
"In my college profile on the Internet (at SMU), they had questions like what's your favorite music, blah, blah, blah. One of the questions was what was the one place you wanted to visit, and my place was Madrid. I've been a Real Madrid fan since intermediate school," said the Real second-year player.
Now the Hawaii native not only gets to visit Madrid, but he gets to train on the fabled club's world-class grounds. Plus, based on Hashimoto's progress since he was acquired in a trade with Columbus last May, he's sure to see action in RSL's three exhibition games in Spain.
"He's just got a little something special to him. He works hard, he's technical, he creates chances and he's a fighter," said Real coach John Ellinger. "I just like his passion for winning."
During Real's first couple of weeks in training camp in Salt Lake City and Orlando, Hashimoto's overall play was one of the bright spots. Even though he never started with the first unit in RSL's seven preseason games in Orlando, when he was on the field with the reserves, he was usually the best player.
He created chances for himself and his teammates, but just as important, he demonstrated a knack for working both sides of the ball something that slowed him his rookie year. Hashimoto entered MLS with a solid reputation offensively, but he had no idea it would be so tough defensively at the next level.
"A lot of times in college, it's not really necessary to defend as hard as the teams you're playing against because a lot of college teams aren't as possession-oriented," said Hashimoto. "As a forward at SMU, my main concern was if we lost a ball in the attacking half to put good pressure on the guy and he'd probably kick it long and we'd get it back."
It didn't take Hashimoto long to discover the skill level and the speed of play is drastically better in the pros. It's not enough just pressuring the ball. You've got to cut down the passing lanes and go in hard for tackles when you've got a chance.
"He used to dive in a lot, but now he's getting more of a tackle," said Ellinger. "He works back and closes better."
Hashimoto has also learned that defense is often the ticket to playing time, which is going to be tough for the attacking midfielder on a team with Freddy Adu and Mehdi Ballouchy.
During this past offseason, he had several conversations with former FC Dallas player Ted Eck, who currently resides in Hawaii. Eck told Hashimoto oftentimes veteran players influence younger guys' playing time. Eck said if you're consistently putting yourself in good positions defensively during training and practice, the senior guys will notice and will be more inclined to approach the coach on your behalf and say you deserve a chance.
That was a big reason why players like Kevin Novak and Willis Forko were able to break through last year. They made an impression not only on their coach, but their peers as well.
Hashimoto has a pretty cool head on his shoulder and isn't too concerned with playing time right now. He knows he's still young and his opportunity will come. For now, he's simply interested in helping Real Salt Lake get into the playoffs."If you're a reserve player, you've just got to keep working, because either you're going to get better to the point where you're going to get to play, or you're going to push other people to get better to where the team needs to be," said Hashimoto.