TORONTO – Among the raucous celebrations at BMO Field on Saturday night after Toronto FC claimed their first MLS Cup, capping off a season of historic proportions, there was many a story of personal triumph.
Michael Bradley fulfilled his promise to the city he has made his adopted home. Sebastian Giovinco completed the mission he set out for himself upon joining the club. Jozy Altidore scored the crucial goal to earn himself MLS Cup MVP honors, just as Greg Vanney foretold before the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs began. And that just scratches the surface.
For one player, it was the culmination of a project that began before TFC even existed.
For veteran defender Jason Hernandez – whose MLS career began when he was selected by the MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls) in the 2005 MLS Supplemental Draft – lifting the league’s ultimate trophy was a triumph “13 years in the making,” as he phrased it postgame.
“It feels amazing,” said Hernandez. “It's exactly why I came up here.”
A free agent after last season, Hernandez chose to come to Toronto to join a club bent on historic achievements.
“Seeing the team, the run they went on,” explained Hernandez, “they were right at the finish line. They just needed a couple of things to get over the hump.”
“I was able to come in, help out whatever way needed,” he said. “I feel really lucky to be a part of the best team ever.”
“That was one of the most special things I could have asked for,” said Hernandez with a smile. “To see those two guys when they were rookies, kids basically, being able to help them and guide them on their way. For both of them to champion me, to bring me up here … things sometimes come full circle.”
It has not been a year without difficulty.
On a personal level, Hernandez confronted challenges he had not faced since those early days in the league.
“I had to leave my wife back in New York; I was out here on my own,” recalled Hernandez. “I felt like a rookie again, going to a new place with no support system. I'm really fortunate the guys on the team embraced me.”
And then in late September, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, devastating the island of his heritage.
Hernandez's struggles to aid his family were helped by social media, but the difficulties persist.
“My family is doing well,” said Hernandez. “Their situation is sorted out as far as immediate needs.”
But the same cannot be said of the populace as a whole.
“There are a lot of people still hurting, suffering,” continued Hernandez. “Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that is going to be [remedied] any time in the immediate future. From my understanding, the spirit of people on the island is unflappable. They'll continue on.”
Hernandez reiterated that he will look to do all he can to help the islanders in the offseason.
An MLS Cup is the dream that tantalizes every single player upon the start of their MLS careers. More than 22,000 minutes and nearly 300 appearances later, Hernandez has finally achieved the aim he set 13 seasons ago. Some well-deserved celebration is in order.
“I am going to go to the jeweler, size up my finger to make sure that [championship] ring fits nice and snug,” he said. “Take some time and then we'll see what's next. Nothing to think about other than tonight.”