ORANGEBURG, N.Y. — He hasn’t been part of the conversation for four months, dating back to when he was stretchered off the field following a horrific ankle injury at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
It was thought that Yangel Herrera was out for the season following surgery, and then-coach Patrick Vieira lamented there was no one on the New York City FC roster who could replace the Venezuelan like for like.
But there are some subtle signs that perhaps Herrera, an athletic ball-winner with a terrific soccer IQ, could be poised for an early comeback. Before the MLS roster freeze, the club moved Cedric Hountondji to the disabled list, creating room for Herrera’s international status on the first-team roster.
And then there’s Herrera himself, who is working on the side at training and in the gym alongside his teammates.
“It’s great to see him on the pitch,” fullback Anton Tinnerholm said. “He’s a great guy. He’s always smiling. It doesn’t matter that he’s been injured now for a couple of months. He’s a great guy in the locker room. Of course, if he comes back, it’s great for the team and even greater for him.”
However, enthusiasm over Herrera’s possible return should be tempered. At best, he’s likely a month away from training fully, and then he needs to regain match fitness. The Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs is the most likely scenario.
“He has quality to play good football and he helps us a lot because he has energy and can defend and attack,” NYCFC coach Dome Torrent said. “When he’s ready, because the most important thing is the quality of our players, maybe we change a little bit the formation, but right now he’s not ready. Maybe, I don’t know, in two months he’s close to come back to the team.”
One player who definitely will be back before the end of the regular season is Jonathan Lewis, who was sent to Louisville City FC of the USL on loan for the remainder of their campaign. It’s a move that has ruffled a few feathers among the NYCFC fanbase, with MLSsoccer.com's Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle suggesting in a tweet that the club don’t rate the young midfielder.
It’s quite the opposite, according to Torrent.
“The reason why is he needs minutes and I accept some fans think about maybe it’s a mistake,” he told MLSsoccer.com Wednesday. “OK, when Jona plays I ask them, play [Ismael Tajouri-Shradi] or Jesus [Medina] or Jo [Inge Berget] or David [Villa] or Maxi [Moralez]? What player is in the bench?”
Buoyed by the return of six players from international duty, suspension and injury following a 14-day break — many of them attackers — Torrent said those needed minutes weren’t going to come for Lewis.
It’s a simple case of a numbers game.
“Remember, with soccer you can play with 11,” Torrent said. “Maybe sometimes the people forget it. No, it’s 11, not 15. I love it to play with 15 players every single game, but it’s not possible.”