Niko Hansen’s first inkling he would make his first MLS start at Mapfre Stadium against Toronto FC came Thursday, when he “got a little taste” of how the starting 11 might shake out.
For many who know Hansen, who went to high school in Sacramento and college in Albuquerque, staying up to watch the Saturday 8:00 p.m. eastern kickoff wasn’t too much of a challenge.
Peter Hansen, however, put in a little extra effort to watch his son’s first start.
“He’s in Denmark, so if he’s watching, (kickoff is) at 2 a.m.,’” Niko Hansen said of his father. “(He said), ‘I’m going to stay up and I’m going to watch.’ It was nice to get that feeling.”
Hansen admitted to feeling nerves during his March 25 MLS debut against the Portland Timbers, and the light emotions worked in his favor.
The 22-year-old rookie, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, hammered home the rebound of a blocked Ola Kamara shot for the deciding goal in a 3-2 Crew win over the Timbers.
Hansen said he again had light jitters heading into the Toronto FC game, but nothing unexpected.
“I mean you always have nerves. It’s like psychology, there’s always a little bit of nervous anxiety to have. I think that’s what I was,” Hansen said. “You don’t want to be too relaxed and you don’t want to be too nervous and I think I was at a good balance.”
He also appeared to be in balance with midfielder Federico Higuain, with whom he made several overlapping runs near the right sideline.
The pair linked up a couple times early in the eventual 2-1 Crew SC win, one combination resulting in an Higuain shot from close range into the side netting in the 12th minute. In the 37th, Higuain slowed down just enough to dish ahead to Hansen, who kept the ball then booted across the box to give Kamara an easy score.
“Yeah, Pipa’s an amazing player and I think any time you can get him the ball and you can run I think he’s going to try to find you and I think that’s what I tell myself,” Hansen said. “There are times when I just look for him and then just ran and I think on the assist that worked out for us.”
Postgame, Crew coach Gregg Berhalter credited Hansen’s work ethic and performance in training and previous games as reasons for his first start. Reflecting on his first couple months in MLS, Hansen said getting up to speed has been a gradual process.
Niko Hansen with the finish in Tuesday #CrewSC practice. pic.twitter.com/jNN1xEw2jA
— Andrew Erickson (@AEricksonCD) April 18, 2017
Against Portland, he said the game at times felt quick. Hansen went back to watch the film and realized he had slightly more time to make decisions than he had anticipated in-game.
“I was like, ‘Man, I have time. I have way more time than I think,’” Hansen said. “I told myself that going into the start of this weekend. ‘Be calm; be all right with having a little bit on the ball and find the…