Cucho Hernandez dazzles with game-winner in Columbus Crew debut

If you're looking for early evidence as to why the Columbus Crew made Cucho Hernandez their club-record signing a few weeks ago, look no further than the Colombian forward's debut against Chicago Fire FC at Soldier Field on Saturday evening.

After checking in as a second-half substitute, Hernandez wasted no time making an impact, cashing home a clinically taken breakaway in the 83rd minute that delivered Columbus a massive 3-2 victory over the Fire – and saw the visitors erase a 2-0 deficit after a brace from Derrick Etienne Jr. got things started.

"That's a top finish," Crew head coach Caleb Porter said after the match. "We've been saying it: We need a striker who's going to do that, and he showed why we signed him."

Hernandez has made his name as a ruthless scorer – the primary trait that led the Crew to pursue his reported $10 million acquisition from now-Championship side Watford, where he also scored on his club debut against Aston Villa in the 2021-22 English Premier League season.

But Porter said Hernandez's cameo highlighted the all-around game he provides, which was thoroughly on display throughout his half-hour shift.

"I think what you saw in the 30-minute snapshot is what you're going to get," said Porter. "He's a dynamic player. The way that he gobbled up ground, his explosiveness on the goal, you saw it. He's probably quicker than you guys thought. We saw that on film. His quality at the end, I mean, his final touch to then basically just dink it over the 'keeper – that's the type of player that he is. Little stuff: He holds the ball, he was able to dribble underneath and get out of stuff, tight spaces. We really liked that in scouting him.

"He's not a guy that's just going to stay in between center backs and just be a base. He's dynamic, he can come underneath, he can float wide, he can stretch, he can score in the box, he's a very good hold-up [player], there were a couple little headers he had. So, I think, again, that's what you're going to get out of him."

Thus far, Porter said Hernandez's presence has had a palpable ripple effect on his teammates, praising the 23-year-old's infectious energy and enthusiasm in addition to his on-field prowess. A Young Designated Player signed through the 2025 season, he's helped offset the hole created by Gyasi Zardes being traded to the Colorado Rapids in late April.

With the Crew now at six matches unbeaten (3W-0L-3D run) and Hernandez's tenure only getting started, the hope is the foundation has been laid for a continued ascent up the Eastern Conference table. The MLS Cup 2020 champions are eighth in the standings, one point below the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line.

"I think the other thing I want to say is the energy, the positivity, the smile, the attitude – everything, the way he interacts with his teammates," Porter said. "It's a big thing. When you have a top striker, it gives your team confidence. I think you saw immediately when he went in the game, the confidence grew with the players around him.

"Now all of the sudden Lucas \[Zelarayan\] is linking up right with him and he's coming to life. Players come to life when they're around other very good players."