Chandler Hoffman’s professional soccer journey has been a wild ride through his first five seasons. He’s lifted MLS Cup. He’s played in CONCACAF Champions League. And he’s taken the field in friendlies against world powers Manchester United and Real Madrid and scored a game-winner against perennial UEFA Champions League club Schalke.
Now in his sixth season and playing for his eighth different club in MLS and USL, he is being counted upon to provide a goalscoring prowess and veteran leadership from the forward position that has been lacking in the first two seasons for Real Monarchs. While he has found himself to be a force at the USL level in the last three seasons, the Birmingham, Alabama native still has visions of breaking through in MLS and points to San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski as his inspiration and motivation.
“Sometimes I look back, growing up in Alabama and I think it’s crazy all the stuff I’ve been able to do,” he said before kicking off the season with the Monarchs last month. “It’s been an incredible experience.”
Looking back on a whirlwind five years, he is wizened and hardened by his path. He’s seen success and failure. Been patient and urgent. Now 26, he feels poised to capitalized on his experiences and opportunities with the Monarchs in what has been a tremendous start for the third-year USL squad.
The UCLA product started his pro career with the Philadelphia Union after being selected 13th overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. However, he wasn’t able to break through with the Union, playing in just seven matches and earning two starts. He also added two matches with the Harrisburg City Islanders in the USL, but couldn’t see action in consistent matches to enjoy much success.
The following year, he was traded to the LA Galaxy and while he didn’t see any time with the first team in his first season, he knew that was a steep hill to climb and that helped him develop as a pro.
“No matter how well I played at the time, we had Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan,” he recalled. “It’s hard to say you should be playing over those guys.”
In his second season back in LA, he saw time in eight matches for the eventual MLS Cup champions. Most of his play in those two seasons came in the now-defunct MLS Reserve League and on loan to LA Galaxy II in the USL. There he used his experience training every day with top-flight players with the Galaxy to build his confidence at the lower levels, showing his goal-scoring abilities with seven goals in 10 Reserve League games in 2013 and 13 goals in 17 USL games in 2014.
That earned him an opportunity to prove himself with the Houston Dynamo but he again struggled to get in with the first team and saw most of his action on loan in the USL, scoring four goals in 10 matches with the Colorado Springs Switchbacks.
Finally, last season he led the USL with 14 goals in 28 matches with Louisville City. However, without an MLS connection, he saw that as his ceiling in that organization, so he sought a new club in 2017.
With the goal of making the jump back to MLS, he saw the move to the Monarchs as an opportunity to continue his scoring blitz in the USL while right in the backyard of an MLS club that he would have a chance to impress and potentially get back to America’s top flight.
“I think the thing for me was to come to an organization where I had the opportunity to get games with the Monarchs and then had the ability that if I do well it translates to the first team,” Hoffman said. “I see guys like Ricardo Velazco who had a good year last year and he’s getting an opportunity to play this year and that really appealed to me. I like the style that Salt Lake’s been known for. It was the right fit and the right opportunity.”
His aspirations are hardly far-fetched and RSL has proven to reward players who perform well for the Monarchs, with Velazco following promotions to Emery Welshman and Chris Schuler while the club has also given numerous players seasoning at the USL level before giving them the chance to perform in MLS.
Around the league, players are getting those opportunities and Wondolowski was something of a pioneer in that field. Well before USL affiliations, the current San Jose Earthquakes and U.S. National Team forward battled in the MLS Reserve League while with the Houston Dynamo. With the likes of Brian Ching, Alejandro Moreno, Kei Kamara and Nate Jaqua taking up the majority of the minutes at forward, his chances to score would not come in MLS for the Dynamo. Once he was traded to the San Jose Earthquakes, he became one of the league’s most prolific scorers and a regular call-in for the U.S. National Team.
All it took was opportunity and belief.
“I’ve continued to believe in myself and believe it’s going to happen. I look at a guy like Wondo and that’s been an inspiration to see,” Hoffman said. “It wasn’t until that he had his first good season. I think this organization believes in me and is going to give me the opportunity.”
His time with the Monarchs started on a high note, training with Real Salt Lake for the first few weeks of preseason and working at his position closely with Yura Movsisyan and Chad Barrett – two proven MLS goalscorers – and on the same field as U.S. National Team veterans Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando. That time in the first team gave him perspective on the level and intensity of the club. And while a hip flexor strain put a speed bump in his preseason, he has shown that he hasn’t missed a beat in the first three matches for the Monarchs.
While outscoring opponents 9-4 to earn three wins through the first three matches, the Monarchs are setting the tone for a successful season and Hoffman has been pivotal to that success. With two goals and one assist, he is an ideal point to the dynamic attack with support from Sebastian Velasquez (1 G, 1 A) and Charlie Adams (3 A) and a bevy of attacking talent on the wings.
“Within this group, there are high expectations,” he said. “There are guys that are holding the group to a high standard. Anything less than winning is unacceptable and we set that culture from Day One.”
Next up for the Monarchs is a road tilt with the Colorado Springs Switchbacks on Saturday (6 p.m. MT, streamed live on RSL.com/Monarchs).