Eyebrows will always rise whenever an international star arrives in MLS. Lots of questions surround these players, whether it is because of where they are in their careers at the time, their age or their commitment to their new club.
I, for one, am not always optimistic when a known name is signed. And maybe I think that way because in my career I have only had one teammate in MLS who fit that superstar status: Mr. Hristo Stoichkov. He was bought all the way in when he arrived in Chicago. And for me, a 17-year-old at the time, to watch a teammate that has won everything in football, including the Ballon d’Or, still have that desire to win and to see it daily, was invaluable. From the discipline he instilled off the field, he would be the first player at the training ground, to his energy on the field where he demanded a certain standard from everyone while still holding himself to that same standard.
But let’s be honest, we are all a bit skeptical when big names come across the pond. Most, if not all, have made their money elsewhere before coming to North America, so I do not think money is the driving force as to why a lot of international heavyweights choose MLS. Although, it would be quite easy to write out a list of names that came here on holiday and names that came to play. But I will save that for another day.
When we talk about big names coming to MLS, Hector Herrera is for sure in that category. One look at his resume and you can see he ticks all the boxes.
HH has won league titles with both FC Porto (Portugal) and Atletico Madrid (Spain) and has countless times been named to the team of the season in Portugal. Besides that, he has a ton of experience playing in high-level matches in the UEFA Champions League with both clubs and has been a mainstay with the Mexican men's national team since 2012, accumulating 100 games and counting for his country.
My first impression of HH
Not a lot of people know this, but before I signed with Liga MX's Club Puebla in 2011, I was in training with Pachuca, the club where Hector made his professional debut. I was there for about a week with fellow US men's national team players Herculez Gomez, Jose Torres and Michael Orozco.
This training stint marked the first time I met Hector Herrera. I was only there for a week, but from what I recall, he seemed cool. He was one of the younger guys on the first team at the time and he was already good. Smooth on the ball and a great technique that had everyone talking about him being the next big thing.
Whenever we played 11v11, this guy never lost the ball. I was usually playing against him because he was in that first tier of players that Pachuca were counting on that year. Since that day, I knew who Hector Herrera was and how good he was going to be.
I did not really cross paths again with Hector until the 2015 Concacaf Cup at the Rose Bowl Stadium. USA vs. Mexico, another chance to claim who is the best team in our region, this time with the winner granted a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.
We didn't interact until there was time for the away team to shake the hands of the opponent before the game. There wasn’t any awkward handshake or any type of reaction when we met on the field again. The exchange was a look like “hey, I remember you, respect” with a little bit of a head nod. And that was that.
Before we played Mexico, HH was always talked about. We knew how skilled and talented he was, his experience and the type of leadership that he brings to each game. He was a focal point at times. Our goal was to try to deny him the ball and not let him have too much time when he did eventually collect it. He has the ability to make something out of nothing. His close control of the ball mixed with his technique makes him difficult to contain. And while he isn’t the fastest or most aggressive player on the planet, he makes it works in his favor.
What Houston can expect
In the days we played against Mexico, he was a box-to-box midfielder. He could control a game just by setting his own tempo. He didn’t score a lot but when he did, for club or country, it was an important goal.
The Dynamo will see a lot of this same player. He only just turned 32 and he comes to Houston at a very good level. It will take him some time to get used to the climate in Texas, but I don’t see that being too much of an issue. You never get “used” to the humidity in Houston. You just deal with it and keep it moving.
Hector is also saying the right things. He is a winner – he still wants to win and compete, and not only for his position in the squad but to ultimately bring trophies back to Houston.
He will have pressure put on by the fans, and rightfully so, because they have been hurting for so long. I do hope they give him a bit of time to settle in, but in football we know that probably will not happen. The good news is that he has a big character with personality, leadership, and a winning mentality to handle all of that. You don’t become captain at each club you’ve been at without earning the respect of your club, teammates, coaches, and fans.
The Houston fanbase should be excited that the new ownership group is bringing in quality players like Herrera. This was such an important signing, not only for the club but for the city of Houston as well.
I know that the fans have been very vocal about the results in transfer windows in the past years not being good enough. And they have good reason to be frustrated. You can look at the past 7-8 years and the Dynamo have only made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs once… I was a part of those disappointing seasons, so I know.
Houston fans have been craving for the club to go out and get a big-name player. And not just any player, but one that fits in the club’s philosophy, culture and what this new era of the club is trying to build. At the same time, a player that never forgets the history of the club or the community of Houstonians. Basically, someone who understands what it’s going to take to get back to competing to win trophies.
I think they now have that player with the signing of Hector Herrera.