Cucho Hernández chases Columbus Crew glory: "I'll fight to win everything"


MIAMI – With a reputation as a master developer of talent who gets the most out of teams, Columbus Crew head coach Wilfried Nancy has a special appreciation for naturally gifted, game-changing players.

Case in point: his glowing opinion of star striker Juan Camilo “Cucho” Hernández, the centerpiece of Columbus' MLS Cup 2023-winning campaign.

“For me, this is the best modern forward in the league because he can do everything,” Nancy said of the 24-year-old Colombian during a recent conversation with at Media Marketing Day. “He can score left foot, right foot, head."

Incredibly, the French manager sees even more upside in Cucho as he looks to build on a remarkable season in which he produced 16g/11a, while adding five goals and two assists during the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs en route to an MVP-worthy performance in the Crew’s 2-1 MLS Cup victory over LAFC.

“He’s so good at understanding things that he has a lot of ways that he can improve,” Nancy said of the club-record signing from English Championship side Watford. “… Now we have to push him towards those things that he has to do better.”

Quest for glory

Cucho is just as focused on taking another big step forward in 2024 as he enters his second full season in Columbus, which kicks off Feb. 24 against Atlanta United (2 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

“Every season I set goals for myself. My personal goal is to top my numbers from last year, maybe be top scorer and win the Golden Boot. There are a lot of good players and goal scorers in the league, but I can do it,” Cucho said. “As for MVP, we’ll see. It’ll take some good numbers, but you have to go for it.”

This self-confidence is a defining characteristic of Cucho, who believes he’s yet to scratch the surface of what he can achieve with the Crew.

“For me, [MLS Cup] was the first trophy of my career, it was very special. But now I’m turning the page,” he said.

“… This year will be more special because the same guys are here, the same coaching staff is here, the same ideas are here. We keep on reinforcing those ideas because this year, I believe, will be important.”


Those “ideas” are the brainchild of Nancy, the former CF Montréal boss and two-time Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year finalist whose possession-heavy, free-flowing style of play dubbed “NancyBall” turned the Crew into a champion in just one season while earning numerous admirers – among them Hernández.

“We play some of the most attractive soccer in the league, we play good soccer, we have a clear idea,” the Best XI striker said. “And because of that we won a lot of games, we won MLS Cup.”

Nancy’s progressive tactics are matched by the close bonds he forms with his players. As Hernández explained: “When you make a mistake, he invites you to his office, he shows you videos and tells you how you can improve, what you’re doing well. And I think that closeness with the players is important in becoming a family. He’s turned us into a family.”

Copa América dreams

This closeness between manager and star player was forged early in the Frenchman’s tenure after having a heart-to-heart conversation with the striker about his desire to get back into the Colombian national team picture.

“What I said the first time with him, I asked him what kind of objective that he has,” Nancy said. “And he told me with the national team. And I told him that we're going to work together and you have to go back with the national team.”

Sure enough, Cucho did just that – parlaying his outstanding 2023 form with Columbus into a call-up from Colombia head coach Néstor Lorenzo in November for South American World Cup qualifiers. The following month, he was a starter as Los Cafeteros defeated Mexico, 3-2, in an international friendly.

Now, Cucho dreams of representing his country at this summer’s Copa América tournament that takes place on US soil.

“Obviously with the Copa América happening in the United States, it’s soon and I’m close,” Cucho said. “But you earn that with every game, every training session. And I have to keep playing the same way, or even better, in order to be there.”

That’s great news for Colombia. And it's especially great news for Columbus, who in Hernández boast a proven trophy winner who's hungrier for even more success as he enters the prime of his career.

“As long as I’m here, I’ll fight to win everything”, Cucho said. “Long-term, I don’t know. Whatever life gives me, whatever football gives me, I never say no to anything. We’ll see what happens.”