MLS Game Changers: Darren Huckerby

He answers to "Hucks," or at least that's the one-word message you get on his answering machine. "Hucks." That's it.

No pleasantries, no banter, no cute plays on words. The burly Darren Huckerby, 32, has brought the power, pace and dribbling skills he utilized during 16 years of professional play in English soccer to MLS, and so far, the Quakes' opponents are second best.

"He's the type of player who wants to take you on but he doesn't throw in a stepover or nutmeg you;" says Houston assistant coach John Spencer. "There's no frills, no spills, he gets it on his feet, he knocks it past you and then it's, 'Can you catch me?' He's a good player."

Huckerby is one of a half-dozen good players signed by Coach Frank Yallop since a rough start (2-6-1) to the Quakes expansion season. He signed an 18-month contract worth $337,000 annually in July and immediately helped the Quakes run off a nine-game unbeaten steak that lifted them to within a point of third place, and a playoff spot, in the Western Conference.

While playing eight of those games, Huckerby scored four goals and received credit for assists on four more playing a most direct style: Get ball. Run at opponent. Shoot or cross. Repeat.

A native of Nottingham, Huckerby started his pro career as a forward before noticing a reluctance to stay central. "I'm right footed," he says. "I always tended to drift that way when I played up front, so playing on the left is my natural position. I'm not bad with my left foot. That's where I can be pretty dangerous. I've been very lucky that I've adapted to play out wide. I'm lucky that I can go to either side."

Stints with seven clubs led him to Norwich in 2003. In five seasons, he was named the club's top player twice and selected for its all-time team. (Norwich was founded in 1902.) When the club declined to extend his contract in June, he refused to listen to offers from other clubs, saying he would never play against Norwich.

"I loved playing for Norwich and that will never change," he says. "The first thing I do on my days off is check out how they're doing. But for the time being, I'm doing something else."

Yallop is happy his career ended before Huckerby's began.

"I'd have hated to play right back against him," says Yallop, who played 14 seasons in England for Ipswich, Norwich's East Anglian rival. "Oh, Jesus. He just gets it and goes right at you. He never stops. He's great for the fans and great for the team."

Quakes captain Nick Garcia, who works out with Huckerby three times a week in the gym, concurs.

"I think he's the kind of foreign guy this league needs," says Garcia, who is three years younger. "There's been plenty examples of failures, but I think Darren is the quintessential example of a guy who can step in."

(This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.) 

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