Newly-unveiled Houston Dynamo FC star Hector Herrera “still has a ways to go” to reach his potential in terms of fitness and influence with his new club, says manager Paulo Nagamura. Yet there are hints the 32-year-old midfielder is already helping turn the South Texas tide.
The Mexican international’s first MLS start and 90-minute shift Sunday night coincided with Houston’s comeback victory, a 2-1 triumph over the San Jose Earthquakes at PayPal Park.
Herrera was not a key participant in the evening’s three most important plays, which all came during a manic five-minute stretch. But to hear the Dynamo tell it, their captain's mere existence may have facilitated the heroics of others.
“He’s a huge presence,” said defender Tim Parker, who was the hero of one of those moments, a remarkable sliding goal-line clearance to deny Earthquakes striker Jeremy Ebobisse a go-ahead goal.
“He allows guys around him to kind of have a little bit more freedom just because of his knowledge of the game,” Parker continued. “He’s intelligent, he’s good on the ball and he knows how to organize things around him. He gives the guys around him a lot more freedom and a lot more confidence to do stuff.”
Parker’s miraculous denial was sandwiched by the Dynamo’s two goals. Sebastian Ferreira leveled in the 71st minute only moments after his entrance as a sub, set up by an excellent pressure, steal and assist from Fafa Picault.
The Dynamo gained the lead on a similar sequence five minutes later, this time with Darwin Quintero doing the thieving and Thor Ulfarsson doing the finishing.
And although Houston need to string more results like this together to mount a second-half surge, it marked the second time in Herrera’s three appearances in which the team overcame a deficit to earn a positive result. The first came two matches ago in a wild 2-2 Texas Derby draw against FC Dallas last weekend, in which Herrera came off the bench.
In between, a 3-1 defeat at Austin FC sparked a team meeting where the message was “stop talking about it and start being," Parker said.
And if Sunday is an indication, Herrera will allow his teammates to do more "being."
“I think one thing that Hector brings that we were missing, I think he’s a great voice not only in our locker room, but on the field,” Nagamura said. “I think he organizes the team, he talks, he demands and I think that’s one thing that I think is huge. … He’s experienced and his leadership skills are going to make us better for sure.”
"We're going to make a push now"
Parker made clear this win would only be as important as the next performance Saturday at home against Minnesota United FC (8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US and DAZN in Canada). At two points beneath the current Western Conference Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line with 13 matches to play, the 11th-place Dynamo are in no place to get carried away.
But a lack of intensity or determination has never been the issue, Nagamura says. And Ulfarsson believes that now that his team have proven to themselves they can overcome tough breaks in the run of 90 minutes, they'll begin to do it more often.
“We believe [we can come back] every single time,” Ulfarsson said. “But now we’ve accomplished it, and especially away from home is very big. Now going forward we know it’s about connecting wins in this league and that can propel you far [and] high in the standings. We’re going to make a push now.”
HIGHLIGHTS: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Houston Dynamo FC | July 17, 2022