Hector Jimenez: The Unsung Hero

Matt Sullivan

Hector Jimenez may have caught your eye against D.C. United, but he was attracting attention before as well.

Hector Jimenez's curling shot in the final minutes against D.C. United may have announced him on the scene for Columbus Crew fans, but he made an impact with those in charge well before that moment.

"Hector is the type of player that we like, that we want. He fits exactly the type of guy we're looking for," Crew Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said.

"A guy who's comfortable getting the ball, who's comfortable turning with the ball, technically very good, good vision."

The winger was acquired with little fanfare from the LA Galaxy along with a first round 2014 MLS SuperDraft pick in exchange for a second round selection and allocation money. To Berhalter, this was a player in which he was well aware.

"None of that comes as a surprise to us because we know him and really value what he can bring to the team," he said. "I played with him so I was familiar with those qualities."

Before becoming the hero for the Black and Gold, Jimenez was already making his mark in less noticeable, but not less significant way. The winger has played all but 17 minutes for Columbus, showing the coaches' belief in his ability.

In the opening game against United, it was Jimenez whose right footed one-touch pass set up defender Josh Williams for the assist on the first goal of the year for the club. A few weeks later, Jimenez switched the ball to outside back Waylon Francis, giving him the necessary space to find Federico Higuain for the goal against the San Jose Earthquakes.

Registering the secondary assist isn't something the 25-year old seeks, but rather he looks to find teammates in good positions.

"I think over the course of my career I've been one of the type of players that likes setting up those types of plays," he said. "I'm not personally trying to do that, I just find myself in those positions."

Finding himself in the right positions is what earned Jimenez a starting spot on a team with talent in the midfield and his consistency has allowed him to retain the spot through all six games.

Williams, who's had a front row seat to watch the winger work, believes it's the little things that Jimenez does that makes him a good player.

"[Hector is] someone you can kind of put in bad situations, even though you never want to do that, but he always finds a way to wiggle out of them and I think that's a tribute to him," he said.

"He's very good on the ball, he's a tricky guy. He's not overly fast, but he's quick. He's very comfortable with the ball and he's always got his head up and he's always finding those little seams. Not only to get in to accept the ball but to deliver the ball in those seams and that's huge for that position."

These are qualities that fans may not see from the stands but something a teammate loves and will not go unnoticed by the coaching staff.

Jimenez may have made a quick adjustment to Berhalter's system and his new teammates, but he was quick to point out that it was not an easy transition. A player used to staying wide and delivering crosses has to learn where he needs to be in this possession based scheme.

"To be honest with you, it was tough at the beginning," he said. "For me, and the whole team, it was a new system that Gregg was bringing in and everyone's bought into and luckily things have been going well for us.

"I talked to my college coach [when we were in San Jose] and he explained to me that it was a little different. He saw good things out of that system and he finds me being more effective on the inside than being on the flanks. It's a good system and everyone's buying into it and things are going well."

What has helped is the chemistry that has developed between Jimenez and Williams on the right side of the Crew attack. The two have developed an understanding with each other that allows them to generate offense, but cover the defensive end as well.

"He told me early on, ‘I like playing with you, you find me in the right spots' and I always have his back as far as defending," Williams said.

"I want him to go forward as much as [he] can. If I'm caught up field, he's always willing to work back. He's got a good work ethic and there's a definite comfort between us."

If fans hadn't noticed Jimenez before, they certainly do now, but he cares about results and the respect of his teammates. From the look of it, he is doing well in both categories.

"I hope it continues, I like playing with him," said Williams. "He's a great guy, he's a great teammate."

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