Justin Hoyte has a tendency to make debuts in difficult circumstances.
On April 9, 2017, Hoyte started for FC Cincinnati at the Bethlehem Steel in his first USL appearance. It was a promising display that saw the left back buccaneering forward into opposing territory and creating attacking opportunities.
That lasted 12 minutes.
Hoyte injured his hamstring, was substituted and the visitors’ backline essentially collapsed 10 minutes later when center back Austin Berry was shown a red card. FCC lost, 2-0.
On April 13, 2019, Hoyte started for FC Cincinnati at LAFC. It was another promising display – this time at right back. The 34-year-old fullback joined attacking possessions and defended well. Despite another 2-0 loss, the performances from Hoyte and the team as a whole were positive and something to build on.
“It was great,” he said after his MLS debut. “Having been here for three seasons now, it’s a great feeling, obviously. When I first came on trial, the long-term ambition of the club was to get into MLS and that was also my ambition to get to MLS, and try to get to MLS with Cincinnati.
“That’s what I’ve done. It was a great achievement and one I’ve really enjoyed.”
Hoyte made his second appearance this season Saturday night at Red Bull Arena, where the Orange and Blue lost 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls. But once again, Hoyte produced a solid performance. And with the club in the midst of a three-game, eight-day tour that crosses the country, there’s a chance the English defender can see more minutes moving forward.
It’s an amazing achievement, especially for someone whose career started in 2002. But it’s even more impressive considering Hoyte’s career and time with Cincinnati began with a phone call.
Looking for another chance
Earlier in his career, Hoyte played for Arsenal’s “Invincibles” – the only club in English Premier League history to finish a season unbeaten. Eventually, he became a regular starter in the world’s best soccer league.
But that was in the past.
After playing with Dagenham and Redbridge, an English club that was relegated to the fifth-tier National League after the 2015-16 season, Hoyte was contemplating his options.
“It was a decision of what do I do,” Hoyte said. “I was stuck between being finished playing or do I continue?”
He kept playing.
Hoyte submitted his resume to multiple clubs, including teams in Major League Soccer. Nothing materialized, which eventually led him to Ireland. There, he trialed with Bray Wanderers, but it fell through.
Then he received a call from Alan Koch at FC Cincinnati.
“If I’m honest, I didn’t know too much (about FCC),” Hoyte said. “I just knew it was a new franchise that was building something special. I looked at the stadium and what they were doing around the club.
“When I first came here, I spoke to a few people, looked at the stadium and looked at the training facility where we trained, spoke to the manager and spoke to the staff. It was great what they were saying.
“The future project of what the club was doing really interested me and it was why I wanted to be a part of it. They gave me an opportunity to come on trial and I just took it, grabbed it and I’m going to keep on going until the journey finishes.”
A week after the call with Koch, Hoyte went on trial. He signed a contract on March 29, 2017.
Climbing the soccer ladder in the States
FC Cincinnati’s rise as a third-tier soccer club into an MLS franchise in four seasons is a remarkable phenomenon, and the layers feel limitless.
But what’s often overlooked most during the club’s rise is the rise of the players themselves.
When Hoyte was offered a trialist opportunity, he was looking for a career revival in the same way FCC originals Corben Bone and Jimmy McLaughlin were.
Most of the players Cincinnati recruited in the team’s first two seasons were former MLS players who had some experience in USL. Offering Hoyte – a former Premier League defender – an opportunity in 2017 a was massive move for the club. Once he signed, Koch called his new player a “major addition.”
But it was an equally large opportunity for Hoyte, too.
Back at a club, he needed match fitness again. He also needed to acclimate to a new country and moving an ocean away from his family.
It didn’t help that the hamstring injury he picked up in his team debut kept him sidelined until May 31 (when FCC beat Louisville City FC in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup).
“Having that time out of being in football for so many years and trying to battle mentally, you find out a lot about yourself, Hoyte said. “You find out a lot of the people who stick with you in the tough times and who stick with you through the strong times.”
During his two seasons with Cincinnati in the USL, Hoyte made 47 appearances, which included 44 starts, two goals and four assists.
When the club had its 23-game unbeaten streak in league play last season, the Englishman was a mainstay at right back and deserved a chance to join FC Cincinnati in MLS.
“It’s an awesome story,” Koch said of the defender. “I think those are amazing football stories when you have a guy that’s had a fantastic career and was obviously getting a little bit older and had gone down the leagues in England, but wanted to explore other opportunities and reached out to a lot of different groups and no one was really that willing to take a gamble on him.
“To be fair to Justin, he had to take a gamble on himself. He came out on trial, impressed us on that trial and he’s grown and he’s just continued to improve. It’s a beautiful story.”
After Hoyte made his MLS debut against LAFC, Koch offered more praise for his fullback. In the same game that Frankie Amaya made his second MLS appearance as a teenager, Hoyte was making his league debut as a 34-year-old who’s climbed from the lower tiers of English football to first-tier American soccer.
It was his 350th professional appearance.
“We’re worried about the development of young players, but he’s an older guy who’s got his game back and continues to grow,” Koch said.
Although Hoyte has only played twice through nine matches, he’s been an integral part of FC Cincinnati’s plans this season.
He’s a leader on and off the field – an example of how a professional can handle himself, face adversity and create opportunities to grow.
“He’s a role model for our entire group, not just for your young players, but for all the players and how you deal with adversity in this game,” Koch said. “For him to be playing at this high of level at this point in his career is a testament to who is he as a person and who he is as a player.”
Moving forward, Hoyte said the most important objective this season is proving his quality and getting minutes on the field. Because he’s played both outside back positions and worked as a center back during preseason matches, Hoyte is a utility man who consistently delivers solid performances.
He’s now the third-longest serving player at FC Cincinnati and the only one still on the roster who joined in 2017. Not bad for someone who contemplated retirement three seasons ago.
“It’s just gone uphill, really,” Hoyte said. “I knew once I got an opportunity to come to America, I was going to take it. I did. That’s all I ever wanted.”