Curtin: Houston Dynamo midfielder Hector Herrera has been Concacaf's top player

You can count Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin as a card-carrying member of the Hector Herrera fan club – and then some.

Ahead of Philadelphia hosting Houston Dynamo FC on Saturday at Subaru Park (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), Curtin put the MLS newcomer and Mexico national team captain on the pedestal of arguably the region’s top player in recent years.

“I think Hector Herrera, for quite a bit, has been the best player that Concacaf has had,” Curtin stated Thursday. “He's such a great midfielder, can dominate the game with possession. He's so comfortable and calm on the ball. Obviously has had an incredible career.

“He's injected real life into Houston's group. Obviously has a huge following and the fans will come out, I'm sure a lot will come out in Philly to see him just because he's that big of a star. I respect his game a great deal.”

Hector Herrera HOU
Hector Herrera debuted in MLS on July 9 vs. FC Dallas. (Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

The 32-year-old’s Dynamo career is only four games (and two starts) old, but already there’s a sizable impact as Houston fight to climb the Western Conference table, sitting five points back of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs places with 12 regular-season matches to go.

Herrera signed with Houston in March on a pre-contract, formally joining their roster in early July with 100 El Tri caps in tow heading into the Qatar 2022 World Cup. That move capped a decade in Europe, where he won league titles with Porto (Portugal) and Atletico Madrid (Spain) while competing regularly in the UEFA Champions League.

That sort of résumé has drawn the admiration of Curtin, amid a Concacaf landscape that also counts Bayern Munich defender Alphonso Davies (Canada), PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas (Costa Rica) and Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic (United States) among its stars.

“With the great players, you're just trying your best to limit the amount of time they have on the ball because they're so talented that they're going to hurt you at some point during the 90 minutes,” Curtin said.

“We just hope that's in parts of the field that it doesn't hurt us too much. A special player and personally one of my favorites. It will be a real tough test to play against him. He can kind of start their attacks, he can join into the box late and get goals. He hurts you in a lot of different ways and is a really talented, special player.”

Jim Curtin PHI
Jim Curtin has led the Philadelphia Union since 2014. (Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports)

All the while, the Union are trying to stave off New York City FC from grabbing first place in the Eastern Conference standings – and catch LAFC for the Supporters’ Shield lead. Philadelphia captured that trophy in 2020, though are three points off the Black & Gold’s Western Conference-leading pace.

In Week 23, hoping to build off four-straight wins, Philadelphia’s aim is quite clear.

“We want to finish first in the East [and] LAFC obviously is the team to chase right now,” Curtin said. “But they're not so far ahead of us that it's unrealistic to say the words Supporters' Shield. It's not crazy. So we want to push and go for as many points as we possibly can get. There's still a lot of points out there to do it.”