MLS Cup

Cucho Hernández: Columbus Crew "have no ceiling" after MLS Cup win

23MLS_Cup_CLB_Cucho_MVP_Sider

A little over a year into his Columbus Crew career, Cucho Hernández was suddenly hit with the realization that this was his team.

The moment in question came in late July with the surprise transfer of fan-favorite Lucas Zelarayán to the Saudi Pro League, leaving the Colombian international striker as the presumptive leader and star attraction of Wilfried Nancy’s squad.

Fast forward to MLS Cup 2023 Saturday afternoon at Lower.com Field, and Cucho made it all but official: conquering MLS Cup 2023 MVP presented by Audi honors with the game’s opening penalty-kick goal as the Crew lifted the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy with a 2-1 win over LAFC.

“We lost the best No. 10 in the league, in the middle of the season. For the club and for the city, it was tough. For me especially,” Cucho said of Zelarayán’s unexpected departure in a post-game interview with the MLS Season Pass Spanish broadcast.

“The team changed their chip and knew they had to survive without him. Personally, I knew I had to take another step.”

Talk about an understatement.

The Crew did much more than “survive,” finishing third in the overall MLS standings (16W-9L-9D record, 57 points) and toppling No. 6 seed Atlanta United, No. 2 seed Orlando City SC and Supporters' Shield winners FC Cincinnati before downing LAFC.

And arguably the main man responsible for this was Cucho, who produced 16g/11a during the regular season, including 11 goals over the final two months of the campaign.

He continued his frenetic scoring pace throughout the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, with five goals in six postseason matches – topping it off with his 33rd-minute strike from the penalty spot that sent Black & Gold goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau the wrong way while conversely sending Columbus on the path to MLS Cup glory.

“I got hot when I had to. The last games [of the season] are the most important ones, and that’s when it happened,” said the club-record signing from English side Watford FC (reported $10 million).

People across the league inevitably took notice, with Cucho earning a spot in this year’s MLS Best XI presented by Continental Tire. Colombian national team head coach Néstor Lorenzo was also paying close attention and called in the 24-year-old as an injury replacement for South American World Cup qualifiers in November.

"It’s great because coming here and seeing the level of this league, these past two years, and being able to do what I’ve done is great,” he said of his 2023 exploits in Columbus. “That’s allowed me to get closer to the national team.

“… To achieve this here now, with [Lionel] Messi here [in MLS], that’s not a small thing.”

Far from feeling fulfilled, Cucho promised Crew fans this is just the beginning for him in Columbus.

“I think we deserved everything we achieved this year, we’re celebrating as we should,” he said. “But we have no ceiling. I think we have a lot in front of us and we have a great team that can achieve many more things.”

Edgar Acero contributed to this story