Hector Herrera to Houston Dynamo: Mexican joins MLS club on free transfer, will exit Atletico Madrid in summer

It’s been rough going for the Houston Dynamo after failing to qualify for MLS Cup playoffs in six of the past seven seasons. The lone appearance came in 2017 as Erik “Cubo” Torres led the team in scoring. They’ve lagged behind the other Texas teams seeing attendance declines in each season even taking into account attendance restrictions due to COVID. But with the addition of Mexican international Hector Herrera, which could help signal a change in the right direction for the franchise. 

The club announced on Wednesday that Herrera signed a pre-contract agreement through 2024 with an option for the 2025 season. General manager Pat Onstad compared it to “like signing a Wayne Gretzky” during Wednesday’s press conference. His career in Europe has been an impressive one, as he’s captured a La Liga title with Atletico along with winning the Primeira Liga and Portuguese Super Cup with Porto. Herrera will stay with Atletico Madrid through the end of their club season as they continue to challenge in the Champions League and in La Liga. You can watch his Colchoneros on Paramount+ on March 15 against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the second leg of the UCL round of 16.

“On behalf of the City of Houston and our loyal, passionate soccer fans, I’m honored to welcome Héctor Herrera to Houston Dynamo Football Club,” majority owner Ted Segal said. “General manager Pat Onstad and I have focused on identifying a difference maker for our club and Hector’s talents make him a perfect fit. As important, through this signing process, I was heartened to hear Héctor’s commitment to our club and the city of Houston, and I look forward to him becoming part of our community very soon.”

It’s a move that makes sense for Herrera coming into a World Cup year in need of playing time. In theory and if healthy, he’ll be actively playing for 12 months out of this year as MLS ends its regular season in October and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar begins Nov. 21.

Since leaving Porto, Herrera has gone from one of the first names on the team sheet to more of a rotational player for Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t have something to offer Houston as he’ll surely be a permanent fixture in Paulo Nagamura’s starting XI.

“We’ve been talking in the past year and for the past few weeks that we want to change the culture of this club and getting high-caliber players is definitely one of those things that we want to do,” said Nagamura about the addition of Herrera. 

While there’s only so much that Herrera can do joining midseason, he’ll bring strength to the center of the park and hopefully push the team to make the playoffs. He functions best in a possession-based side and as the Dynamo held 62 percent of possession on Saturday against Real Salt Lake, the hope is that Herrera will make the team more dangerous in those matches instead of the team only putting two shots on target.

Houston reiterated that Herrera is committed to Atletico until the end of the season and that they wouldn’t have it any other way. Herrera’s commitment is one of the qualities that drew Houston to him and got him interested in the project at hand. 

For projects such as the one Onstad and Co. are in the midst of, you need a player who can push the side’s ambitions. Herrera can slot right into midfield and help bring a winning mentality to the side. It’s not like he can come and underperform as he’d like to accompany Tata Martino and El Tri to Qatar for the World Cup as well. Mexico will have dates at home against the United States, at Honduras, and home against El Salvador during the final fixture of qualifiers in March — you can stream all three games on Paramount+.

Onstad elaborated that one of the selling points to Herrera about the project was that everyone from top to bottom were aligned. The vision that the Dynamo are working toward is a collective one that the staff as group made it easy for Herrera to choose his future home.

If you ask Onstad, Herrera’s intangibles will bring a lot to the table: “He’s a born leader when you watch him play, it’s the little things you see off the ball, that he does so well. You know, a guy makes a tackle off the ball and he’s one of the first guys there, to give him a high five and you see it with Mexico all the time, whenever there’s a chance for him to back up a teammate in a scrum, you know, he’s the first guy there.

“Whether you love it or hate it — especially when he’s playing against the U.S. — I think you notice that a lot, but he’s always there defending his teammates and that he’s a fantastic teammate. He’ll be a fantastic leader for our group.”

Joining club captain Tim Parker, this is what Houston needs and he’ll also be someone who the team can use in recruiting pitches as well. While Onstad didn’t exactly quell rumors that the team isn’t done with signings, he also didn’t confirm anything down the pipeline. He plans for Herrera to be part of his recruiting pitch moving forward, and it’s one of the best tools at his disposal as he could help convince Mexican players to join with only a five-hour drive from Monterrey. 

You add the Herrera signing with the fact that the club splashed cash to bring in Paraguay international Sebastián Ferreira from Libertad, and you can clearly see that the Dynamo are moving in the right direction. It’s a long road to erase seven years of mediocrity, but the plan is there to move in the right direction to try put an end to their woes.

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