Unlike previous years, Columbus Crew SC have enjoyed a tremendous amount of depth this season. The Black & Gold has received key contributions from players deeper on the roster and have adapted the “next man up” mentality.
One of those is 28-year-old midfielder/defender Hector Jimenez.
Since arriving to Columbus in 2014, Jimenez has made 24 appearances for the club in a variety of positions.
Head coach and former teammate Gregg Berhalter began converting Jimenez into a right back as he made 12 appearances at that position during the 2014 season. In 2015, Jimenez featured almost exclusively at right back as he frequently filled in for Harrison Afful during international call ups and injuries.
Last season, Jimenez demonstrated his versatility as he filled in for Waylon Francis when the Costa Rican was out due to a shoulder injury for much of the year.
Over his time with Crew SC, Jimenez has also played at all three attacking midfield positions, becoming one of the true utility players in Major League Soccer.
In recent weeks before the international break, Jimenez was called upon against to fill in on the right side of the defense with Afful out and was a key part of Columbus’ recent upswing in form.
In Jimenez’s last three appearances this season, the Black & Gold have conceded just two goals and allowed six shots on target. Arguably, Jimenez’s best work came in the matches against the LA Galaxy and FC Dallas.
When Crew SC transitioned back to its traditional four in the back formation from the three-man backline against LA, many were cautious about what to expect. Columbus answered by producing a shutout against the Galaxy with Jimenez playing the full 90 minutes.
The Black & Gold deployed the same tactic just three days later and experienced a similar result, allowing one goal and limiting the potent Dallas attack significantly.
In a backline that has featured 18 different combinations this season, Jimenez has proven that he could step up and answer the call when the Crew SC coaching staff called upon him.
“I thought he was outstanding,” said Berhalter after the victory over FCD. “I thought he was excellent today. He was a guy who was singled out by the staff for praise after the game and I think deservedly so. He had an excellent game.”
Although designated player Jonathan Mensah, who scored the game-winning goal against Dallas, is going to get most of the credit for the success two Saturday’s ago, Jimenez was a staunch defender and a key contributor offensively.
He demonstrated an ability to lockdown defensively and provide quality chances on the offensive side of the ball. The fullback was credited with the primary assist on Ola Kamara’s 50th minute goal against the Hoops.
“I think he was fantastic defensively,” praised Kamara of Jimenez. “Nothing happened on his side and then he comes in and gives me that assist too.”
This run of form shouldn’t surprise anyone, as Jimenez has quietly worked his way to sixth place on the team in assists. The right back also averages 0.7 key passes per game, which is tied for sixth best.
On the defensive side of the ball, Jimenez remains incredibly disciplined, only averaging 0.5 fouls per game. He also isn’t afraid to mix it up defensively coming in at sixth on the team with 1.4 tackles per game.
As the season wears on, Crew SC will begin to rely on role players like Jimenez for a push to the playoffs. How the Black & Gold utilize its bench and assets going forward will dictate their fate in the Eastern Conference standings.