Columbus Crew SC’s Saturday match against the New England Revolution will be a meaningful one to every player in the Black & Gold’s roster as the team tries to rebound after three straight losses, but it could be even more special for Hector Jimenez.
If the 29-year-old midfielder plays in the game at MAPFRE Stadium, he will reach 100 appearances for Crew SC. Acquired via trade from the LA Galaxy in 2014, Jimenez has played in at least 21 matches in each of the last four seasons.
On the current roster, only Federico Higuain (167), Wil Trapp (145) and Josh Williams (103) have more matches played for the Black & Gold.
“It’s a great achievement,” Jimenez commented. “It’s not easy to play 100 matches for the same team. It’s a reward to me for doing the things right. Gregg has been here the whole time and to be able to get 100 under Gregg is pretty special. It’s a great honor and hopefully there’s more to come.”
Since he joined Columbus, Jimenez became an essential part of the team. A player of rare versatility, the Californian is the dream of every coach and head coach Gregg Berhalter, who was his teammate in LA in his first professional season, is not shy in using all of his skills in a number of spots.
In his first 99 matches with the Crew, Jimenez played in a number of different positions and always performed at a high level, helping the team with his skill set and unparalleled commitment.
“I think the only places I didn’t play were goalie and center back,” he reflected. “After my first year, I’ve been kind of the utility player and it’s been great to contribute in every part of the field. Sometimes the coaching staff asks for different stuff and I’m always up for the task. It’s definitely a challenge sometimes, but in the end of the day, it is the best for the team and I take pride of that.”
Despite his versatility and efficiency, Jimenez has never enjoyed a full-time starter status with Crew SC. The midfielder has started in important moments, such as in his last year’s playoffs, but most of times he was replacing an injured, suspended or underperforming starter.
Jimenez started 66 of his 99 matches with the club, but he has never been in the starting lineup for more than eight consecutive games. The situation, which could bring frustration and a desire to leave for most players, has never influenced his mentality.
“You always want to start every game, but sometimes the coaching staff has different plans,” Jimenez added. “I start preparing every Monday as if I would start in the weekend. You never know what’s going to happen. You can have an injury in the first minute of the game. The coaching staff does a very good job on that, on making sure we have the right mindset.”
Jimenez’s attitude sets the tone on Crew SC’s roster. After all, if an established veteran who could be a starter for several teams in the league accepts his role for the good of the club and keeps working hard every day, how would any of his teammates do differently?
“We have some younger guys in the locker room who don’t see too much time,” Jimenez noted. “They ask for advice as they don’t see minutes and I just tell them to be patient. It’s not an easy thing to do, but sometimes that’s how professional sports go.”
His off-the field importance for the team is highly praised by Berhalter. Jimenez is not only one of the members of the Leadership Council set by the coach and his teammates, but also one of the most active voices in the locker room.
With a friendly and wise personality, he’s often tasked with being the intermediary between the roster and the coaching staff.
“Hector is the glue,” Berhalted stressed. “He’s the glue that holds a lot of the locker room together and he’s a bridge to the coaching staff. He’s a guy that’s invaluable for what we do here. He can play a number of positions, but he’s a good guy, he leads by example and he’s a very important piece of this team.”
Jimenez couldn’t pick a special match from his first 99 with Crew SC, not even a 1-1 tie with D.C. United in 2014, when he scored his only goal for the club in a last-minute equalizer.
As a good team player, he’s all about the next one.
But if he could celebrate his 100th appearance with a victory that would end the team’s three-match losing streak, well, that would be one to be considered, right?
“I do remember my first match and I think about how grateful and thankful I am for being able to get to 100 now,” he stated. “There’s no better way to top it off and to reward ourselves with a win after all the work I’ve put in over the week. I hope we can do it.”