Houston Dynamo FC have "huge expectations" for Héctor Herrera in 2023

Hector Herrera

Ten games and 682 minutes is all Héctor Herrera played for Houston Dynamo FC last season – not really enough time to assess the true presence the Designated Player and Mexican international midfielder can bring to MLS.

Suffice it to say Ben Olsen anticipates the 32-year-old, fresh off appearing at his third World Cup with El Tri, having a far bigger impact in 2023.

"I have huge expectations from [Herrera]," the Dynamo's new head coach said on a Tuesday media call. "And I've told him that, and he's embraced that. He's all in on this project, he's all in on the Houston Dynamo and the fans, and I think you'll certainly see a different Héctor than you did the 10 games last season.

"It's a very, very difficult thing to transition to a new league, a World Cup looming, some niggling injuries, you come into a team that's not in great form – so I wouldn't put too much stock in last year."

Herrera signed with Houston in March 2022, but didn't debut until early July after leaving behind an esteemed European career that spanned Porto and Atlético Madrid. He's a marquee signing, on and off the field, in a Texan city that's teeming with Mexican emigrants – a key force in the Dynamo's new direction with a deal running through the 2024 MLS season and holding a 2025 option.

"I think a full preseason with his teammates, him finding some relationships on the field, off the field as well, will enable him to now help lead this team to where we want to be," continued Olsen, who previously spent a decade leading D.C. United.

"He understands the responsibility that he has as a big-name, a big-money player for this club. But it's not just that, he's had a whole career of playing at an international, elite level. So, once he's fit and ready to go, I think, again, he's going to be a very exciting addition to obviously the Dynamo, but the entire league."

For his part, Herrera said he's "not opposed to returning to Europe" one day. But he's also relishing the spotlight in Houston and what this career shift has afforded him and his family. 

"Personally, you have to learn to deal with critics," Herrera said. " … If people criticize you it’s because they love you, they want to see you doing well. The day people stop talking about you is the day they stop caring."

Earning respect

Coming off another Audi MLS Cup Playoffs-less season in 2022, one that prompted coach Paulo Nagamura's departure and Olsen's subsequent return to the MLS sidelines, expectations from the outside might peg the Dynamo as a rebuilding side heading into 2023.

But there's an opportunity to change those narratives via positive results, Artur said on Tuesday. One of the club's eight (and counting) arrivals this offseason, the former Columbus Crew midfielder said themes like changing the culture and earning respect are driving forces as Olsen lays a foundation for El Naranja.

"[Olsen] wants to see a team that wants to win, every single training, every drill that we do," the Brazilian said. "He's looking for winners. He's looking for somebody that will step up and do what's needed to be done. That's what we need, because we can get practice and show videos, whatever we can the whole day, but if we don't win games it doesn't change anything."

As the Dynamo revamp their roster this offseason, Artur sees strong signs on the training ground with roughly three weeks left in preseason camp. They'll open Feb. 25 when visiting FC Cincinnati (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

"The [players are] all buying the mentality of winning," Artur added. "We all saw there's been a lot of changes happening everywhere, but I believe everybody that's here, they all have the same mentality now.

"It's to win, to do better, to make the playoffs, to have more respect [from] the league and everywhere, to get that respect back. And I think that's the mentality that everybody has, that everybody is demanding from each other, demanding from themselves. I think that's very good to see."

Starting fresh

This all occurs during a transitional time for the Dynamo, who have undergone serious roster turnover this winter.

Defender Franco Escobar, left back Brad Smith and goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell are free-agent additions, while attackers Ivan Franco (loan from Paraguay's Club Libertad) and Amine Bassi (transfer from France's FC Metz) highlight new players from outside leagues Olsen also must use this preseason to integrate. Gone are key faces like forward Fafa Picault (now at Nashville SC), center back Tim Parker (now at St. Louis CITY SC) and midfielder Darwin Quintero (back in Colombia).

That presents a greater adaptation period as everyone gets on the same page, Olsen said. But he's overall optimistic about the preseason foundation being laid in place.

"Cohesion comes to mind right away. It's not only a new team here, we've got about half of the group is new from a player standpoint," Olsen said. "We also have about six or seven new staff members on my immediate staff and a lot of turnover within the club."

All told, Houston are chasing a playoff return for the first time since 2017. They were second-from-last in the West last year (13th place).

"There's a lot of communication going on, again, within the group and how we're going to go about trying to win games, and also how our leadership group is being put together and how we're learning within my staff," Olsen said. "So, just a lot of moving parts, but it's really an enjoyable process.

"The blank canvas that we're kind of living in right now is a lot of fun and there's a lot of optimism and positive energy that has been translating onto the field."