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Galaxy follows wherever its Tank treads

Even in shorts and shinguards, Los Angeles Galaxy forward Eduardo Hurtado doesn't look like your typical soccer player.

At 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds, about 5 inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than his peers, he resembles more closely a football _ that's American football _ fullback.

"You don't see too many soccer players that size," Galaxy coach Lothar Osiander said.

He even plays like a fullback, sans the shoulder pads and helmet, routinely plowing over would-be tacklers and leaving them strewn on the field clutching at an untucked shirttail, a cleat, anything, to stop him.

"I've always been a physical player," he said, smiling.

A few years back in his native Ecuador, he even picked up an NFL-like nickname:

"El Tanque."

The Tank.

But Hurtado, who leads the Galaxy against the Tampa Bay Mutiny tonight in a showdown of the top teams in Major League Soccer, isn't simply a bruiser. He's as quick as a blitzing linebacker and as slick with the ball as an option quarterback.

Maybe Buccaneers scouts should be on hand.

"I can't remember seeing another player like that," teammate and U.S. national team standout Cobi Jones said of Hurtado's rare blend of size, strength and skill. "He's definitely a big man."

Asked whether he prefers bowling over defenders or running by them, Hurtado, sounding like Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, said simply:

"It doesn't matter to me. I'll go over, under, around."

He's taken all those routes.

Hurtado, the only player in MLS with two hat tricks, has 12 goals _ a third of his team's total _ and four assists for 28 points. He's tied for third in scoring despite playing seven games fewer than league-leader Preki (32 points) and four games fewer than both the Mutiny's Roy Lassiter (30 points) and Washington D.C. United's Raul Diaz Arce (28 points).

"He's pretty much got the whole package," Mutiny defender Cle Kooiman said. "He's big and strong. He times his runs perfectly. He finishes well. What more could you ask?"

Well, the Mutiny could ask him to try an NFL training camp this weekend. The Mutiny saw enough of him June 16 at the Rose Bowl.

With the Mutiny leading 1-0 late in the first half, Hurtado took a long pass outside the box, kept a defender at bay, turned toward goal and with surgical precision tied the score. L.A. went on to win 3-2 in a shootout in front of a record crowd of 92,216.

The Mutiny defender?

Kooiman, who usually wins any fight for position. After all, aside from his vast international experience, which includes a role with the 1994 U.S. World Cup team, Kooiman is 6 feet 2, 190 pounds.

"I was all over him. I pulled his shirt. I did everything I could," Kooiman said. "I think anybody else, I would have slowed him down or got him off the ball. God. The guy did not budge."

"I just kept my body in front of him," Hurtado said through an interpreter. "I wasn't thinking about whether he was going to knock me down or tackle me or what. All I thought of was trying to score and luckily I was able to do that."

L.A. snapped its four-game losing streak with a 3-0 win against the New York/New Jersey MetroStars on Sunday. Hurtado didn't contribute a goal or assist, but his presence is critical.

"He makes the whole team's job easier," Jones said.

"He has always been a quality player and we expected him to perform well," Osiander said. "But what surprises me more than anything is that he works very hard and tries to become a great player with every practice and game."

A great soccer player.