Matchday

Héctor Herrera has Houston Dynamo on MLS Cup doorstep

Hector Herrera - playoff overlay

Would lifting MLS Cup with Houston Dynamo FC be a career highlight for Héctor Herrera?

The legendary 33-year-old midfielder, who’s won his fair share of silverware at the club level in Europe and with Mexico's national team, suggested as much ahead of Saturday’s Western Conference Final at LAFC (9:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

“Personally I feel that the responsibility and the taste of victory, or the taste of winning, will be stronger than in my other teams,” Herrera, a champion of LaLiga (with Atlético Madrid, 2020-21 season) and the Portuguese Primeira Liga (with Porto, 2017-18 season), told reporters Wednesday.

“It happened in the [US] Open Cup,” Herrera added, referencing the Dynamo’s memorable run to the 2023 title that included a 2-1 win at Inter Miami CF in the Final.

“… That was something extraordinary. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a title like I’ve enjoyed here, maybe because of how important I feel in the team or because of how difficult it was to win it."

Facing Vela

Herrera, fresh off his inclusion in the 2023 Best XI presented by Continental Tire after posting 4g/17a this season, is eyeing yet another final. Standing in his way are none other than the defending champions.

“I’ve said [in the past] LAFC are the most complete team in the league, position by position. I still believe that,” Herrera said.

The Black & Gold boast Golden Boot presented by Audi winner Dénis Bouanga, who’s also one goal away from tying the single-season MLS mark for goals across all competitions. The man he could equal or overtake, Carlos Vela, remains the club’s face and spiritual leader.

“Carlos Vela, beyond the fact that he’s my friend, I consider him Mexico’s best player,” Herrera said of his compatriot and rival on Saturday. “For his quality and the career he’s had, you know? That’s what I think of him and it’s not the first time I’ve said it.”

MLS Cup next?

Houston, who eliminated Real Salt Lake in Round One of the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs before topping Sporting Kansas City in the Western Conference Semifinals, swept the regular-season series against LAFC. First, Ben Olsen’s side cruised to a 4-0 win at home before snatching a 1-0 result at BMO Stadium a few days later during back-to-back matches in June.

Should they make it three wins over the Black & Gold this year, Herrera will likely play a key role. The main cog of Houston’s free-flowing midfield, the Mexican superstar dictates the game along with Coca Carrasquilla, Amine Bassi and Artur.

The latter player may be one of the most important pieces of the Dynamo puzzle, according to Herrera.

“Some of my success and the performances I’ve had this year are because of him,” HH said of the Brazilian. “… He’s the base of the team, the lungs, the equilibrium of the team. Personally, regardless of my friendship with him, I think he’s underrated. He deserves to be valued more by the club and the league. For me, he’s a top-five central midfielder in the league.”

Artur is among 17 offseason signings brought in as part of the Dynamo's massive transformation under first-year coach Olsen and general manager Pat Onstad. They've defied expectations, both internal and external.

"Our success is due to the union and happiness in the squad," said Herrera, the unquestioned Dynamo captain and leader who's arguably having the time of his career.

"... I’ve always said would’ve loved to enjoy playing how I am now on my previous teams."

This rise provides a stark contrast to HH's first half-season in Houston, when the club finished 13th in the West. Now, they're 90 minutes away from traveling to the Eastern Conference champion – FC Cincinnati or Columbus Crew – for MLS Cup on Dec. 9

"At the beginning of the year, we were serious candidates to be near the bottom of the league," Herrera said. "No one ever expected us to even make the playoffs. We knew we had a big challenge ahead of us and that it was going to be hard. The entire team, staff and organization knew that and took on the challenge."