Healthy Yangel Herrera "really important" to NYCFC's playoff run

BRONX, N.Y. — Yangel Herrera has lived in New York City for less than two years, but he already feels like a New Yorker.

It’s unclear if he’s got a favorite pizzeria or bagel joint, but in many ways, the Venezuelan midfielder has that prototypical New York attitude. Take his rehab from a broken ankle, for example. While others said he was done for the season, Herrera wouldn’t accept that answer. He put his head down and “worked a lot in the shadows,” according to NYCFC captain David Villa, to get himself back on the field.

On Sunday, in a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union on Decision Day presented by AT&T, Herrera was in the NYCFC starting XI for the first time in five months. And while the plan from coach Dome Torrent was for Herrera to play about 60-70 minutes, the 20-year-old midfielder had other ideas and played the entire 90 minutes for the first time since a 2-2 draw against LAFC on May 13.

Is there a concern that Herrera won’t be able to recharge his battery in time for Wednesday’s Knockout Round game (7 pm ET | FS1, UniMás in US; TVAS, TSN in Canada — Full TV & Streaming info) against the same Union?

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“I felt great,” Herrera told after training at Yankee Stadium Monday morning. “I was originally supposed to play 60-70 minutes, but I ended up playing 90 because I felt great. I physically feel really good.”

While other playoff-bound MLS players have logged a lot of miles during a grueling eight-month regular season, Herrera is fresher than most. Of course, he would have preferred to be on the field than in the gym rehabbing his ankle for the majority of the season.

“It was really hard,” said Herrera, who was selected No. 4 on the 22 Under 22 list this year. “It was five months, it was a long time, but I kept working hard. I wanted to come back and come back exactly how I have come back with the physical form I have.”

Herrera’s return from that horrific ankle injury in Houston on May 25 has also energized NYCFC at just the right time of the season.

On Sunday, Herrera was influential in the middle of the park, a stark contrast to the first meeting between the teams in August when the Union bossed the midfield in a 2-0 victory.

“He’s one of the best players, not only on our team, but one of the best players in the league without a doubt in his position. He has an amazing future and he’s really important for us,” Villa said. “We need him. Another guy could think, ‘OK, I broke my ankle, I’m 20 years old and we’ll see next year.’

“When the people said probably you don’t play, he was focused and said, 'I will play in the playoffs, I want to work to play.' He worked a lot in the shadows and we say thank you to him because he’s a really important player for us.”

Herrera, whose second year-long loan from Manchester City will expire in December, said he doesn’t know what the future will bring beyond the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs. He’s also not looking beyond this postseason, one he believes NYCFC can make a deep run in.

“I think the expectations are very good, I think we can go very far,” Herrera said. “I think we can definitely get to the Conference Final and to the Cup as well.”

Grinding, lofty expectations, a bit of swagger? Yup, Herrera is becoming a New Yorker more and more each day.

“Yes,” Herrera said when asked if he feels tied to the Big Apple. “I’ve been here almost two years and I do feel like part of New York City.”

Watch: NYCFC beat Philly once this week. Can they do it again?