And while Héctor Herrera's MLS debut was the headline on Saturday evening, the 50th Texas Derby wasn't lacking in entertainment value. It featured a Teenage Hadebe equalizer deep into second-half stoppage time – the latest non-penalty goal in league history (101st minute) – that canceled out Jesus Ferreira's go-ahead strike, as Houston and Dallas walked off the pitch with a point each behind a 2-2 scoreline.
But the big draw for the sellout crowd at PNC Stadium in Houston’s East Downtown district was the Mexican international who, just a few months prior, was manning the Atlético Madrid midfield in the UEFA Champions League and LaLiga. By all accounts, Dynamo fans starved for the club’s first Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance since 2017 had to have come away pleased with the showing from their newest star – despite a bittersweet result.
“I’m happy to have made my debut with the team,” Herrera said after the match. “I was anxious and wanted to help and I think the team deserved more. We dominated most of the game and generated a lot of goal chances. … In the end, we were able to tie the game, and I [liked] the way the team reacted and that’s what’s most important."
Houston certainly appeared to rally around Herrera following his entry into the match, with HH involved in the buildup of Thorleifur Úlfarsson’s goal that tied things at 1-1 with just over 20 minutes to go. Despite a go-ahead Dynamo tally that was called back for offside and Ferreira putting Dallas up in the third minute of a lengthy second-half stoppage time period, they ultimately fought back for a dramatic point.
“When Hector came in … I think the players fed off the energy of the building,” Houston head coach Paulo Nagamura said after the match. “I think they were very, very urgent to go forward, very aggressive-minded.”
That effect was evident from the opposing technical area, as well.
“Every time a team signs a big player like Hector [who] is coming from Europe [and has had] a great career there, it gives confidence to the teammates … because he can do things they are not used to,” said FC Dallas head coach Nico Estevez. “This is what happened today when he came in. He made a couple good actions and his teammates also responded to that and I think it helped them."
As for Nagamura, he expressed optimism that Herrera's presence would elevate Houston with 15 matches remaining, but cautioned the 32-year-old wouldn’t be the fix-all for a team that sits five points out of a Western Conference playoff spot.
“He’s not a solution, but he’s definitely going to increase the quality of our team,” Nagamura said of the El Tri captain with 100 career caps. “We’ve just got to find ways [to put him in a position] to play his best soccer and make the guys around him better. So I’m pleased with his debut. I think it was a very positive debut.”
It’s a debut Herrera will look to build on as his career in MLS progresses, but there's at least one key takeaway from the evening.
“This isn’t an easy league. It’s a competitive league where you pay for small mistakes, and I think that happened today,” said the Designated Player, who signed a pre-contract in March. “If we had won I’d be happier, but I’m happy with the work that was done and how the club operates."