The sixth sense

The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the September 22 game against the New York Red Bulls

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It’s been said that great goal scorers aren’t developed, they’re born.

If that’s the case, Jerry Bengtson was born to score goals.

From a young age, Bengtson has consistently found the back of the net. He signed his first professional contract with Vida when he was just 20 years old and went on to score 36 goals in 81 appearances for the Honduran club, capturing the La Liga scoring title in both the 2009-10 Clausura and 2010-11 Apertura campaigns.

Bengtson’s prolific strike rate soon earned him a move to Honduran power Motagua, where he captured a third consecutive scoring title in the 2010-11 Clausura to become the first Honduran-born player to capture three straight scoring crowns.

Now 25 years old and plying his trade with the New England Revolution following a July move to MLS, Bengtson continues his daily quest for goals. It’s his primary purpose within the club and his primary objective every time he steps on the field, even going so far as to claim that his favorite soccer memory is always his most recent goal.

“As a forward, scoring a goal is something I can’t explain,” Bengtson said through a translator. “It’s something emotional inside, but it’s tough to show it.”

It can be difficult to pin down precisely what makes Bengtson so dangerous inside the penalty area. His 6-foot-1 frame helps his strength on the ball and his aerial ability is superb, but more than anything the opportunistic forward simply has that uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time.

“I think what makes him a great goal scorer is that he really gets in good spots,” said Revolution teammate A.J. Soares, who’s spent his fair share of time marking Bengtson in training sessions. “He has a really good sense of getting rebounds, of finding a nice little area where someone can feed him the ball close to goal and he’s kind of got that sixth sense. When the ball’s around the goal, he knows exactly where it’s going to be and he gets there so he can finish it.”

While the ability to pick up good positions inside the penalty area has often been referred to as a “sixth sense,” Bengtson claims it simply requires a particular type of focus.

“My focus is on a lot of movement inside the penalty area,” he said. “I like to see my teammates’ movements, especially if they’re going to send me a through ball or if there are rebounds in the area. I have to be focused. My main thing is being focused at all times and complementing that with the movement of my teammates. That’s what makes me score goals.”

Bengtson has already found success at both the club and international levels, scoring 10 goals in 24 appearances with the full Honduras National Team. Most recently he scored both game-winning goals in a pair of World Cup Qualifying wins over Cuba on Sept. 7 and Sept. 11.

But perhaps Bengtson’s biggest contribution on the international stage was his eye-opening performance at the 2012 Summer Olympics, where he scored three goals to help Los Catrachos reach the quarterfinal stage of the competition.

Bengtson’s pride for his country is overflowing – “Scoring goals for the national team has a different feeling,” he admitted – but he’s also aware that his commitments with Honduras have limited his time in New England since joining the club back in early July. In just the past two months Bengtson has spent time in various locations across the U.S., England, Scotland, Honduras and Cuba.

While the constant traveling has presented obstacles in his adaptation to life in MLS, Bengtson credits the help of teammate Fernando Cardenas and coaching staff assistant Jasir Charris – both Colombian – with easing the transition.

“I know I’ve been here and there, but it hasn’t been too hard,” said Bengtson. “I have people like Nando and Jasir around, helping me get comfortable being in the country. In the time that I’ve been here, it’s been pretty good.”

Bengtson has also reached out to fellow Hondurans within MLS, keeping in constant contact with Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes), Marvin Chavez (San Jose Earthquakes) and Roger Espinoza (Sporting Kansas City), all of whom regularly feature with the national team.

“I’m always on the phone with them and they’ve been helping out, too,” said Bengtson, who has family in Boston. “They tell me I can adapt. They say it’s a fast league, a different league, a strong league, but it’s getting there.”

More and more Hondurans are making the leap to MLS – notably midfielder Hendry Thomas recently joined the Colorado Rapids – and the players are drawing supporters across the United States. Bengtson often notices fans wearing Honduran jerseys and waving Honduran flags, and he always makes a special effort to recognize those fans for their support.

“I take it as motivation when I see those jerseys or those flags out there,” said Bengtson. “One of the things I usually do is after a game I go straight to them because I know they’ve come to see me. It’s a way to give respect, to give something back.”

What Bengtson really wants to give is goals. To the fans. To his teammates. And to the Revs.

“Every time I score one goal, I want more so I get hungrier and hungrier,” he said. “The love for a forward is a goal. So if you want to have that love, you have to keep scoring.”