With veteran midfielder Daniel Hernandez taking a role as a player-coach, the captain’s armband for FC Dallas needed to be passed this offseason.
Mission accomplished. When FCD arrived in Orlando, Fla., it was Ugo Ihemelu, not Hernandez, leading the team’s impromptu meeting.
“I believe that was something Ugo felt he needed to do,” head coach Schellas Hyndman told MLSsoccer.com by phone earlier this week. “We all support him here. Daniel Hernandez was our captain for three years, but now he is going to be our player-coach. We are very excited about having him do that, and I believe he will be a good coach in the MLS some day.”
Last month, Hyndman notified Ihemelu about the change in roles. The 28-year-old defender had mixed emotions out of respect for Hernandez, but after getting a nod of approval from his teammate, embraced the opportunity.
“When I talked to Ugo about being a captain last month, he was concerned about how Daniel Hernandez would accept it,” Hyndman said. “Daniel is very supportive of Ugo. We’ll see how he handles [it], but I believe he’s ready for the responsibility and the role.
“Sometimes the captainship brings out the worst in a player because you have the responsibility of playing and leading the team, but Ugo said he’s ready for it. He said it would be good for himself and for his team.”
Hyndman said he has already been impressed with how quickly Ihemelu has gained the respect of his teammates. He believes the new captain has improved tremendously as a leader since his college days at SMU.
“I think Ugo has really taken after Daniel Hernandez," said Hyndman. "He’s been a good representative of our league for years, so that’s been great for Ugo. Ugo played for me at SMU and was one of my captains there, so he is familiar with the responsibilities. Hernandez is very confident and very vocal, but Ugo is not as vocal and is more of a person that leads by his position.”
Under Ihemelu’s captainship, FCD have had an impressive preseason campaign, including a nice run in Orlando this week. The team’s overall morale will continue to improve, according to Hyndman, as Ihemelu becomes more accustomed to his new role.
“He’s been picking up the responsibility this preseason,” Hyndman explained. “He is the guy to go to whenever the team has issues or you just want to know information is about the team. The most difficult part is going to be when someone tells him we have a problem. It’ll be interesting to see how he reacts, but I believe he’s ready to lead this team.”