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How the Crew’s striker depth chart looks after the Cucho Hernandez signing

A look at how Hernandez impacts the striker position for the Black & Gold.

MLS: Charlotte FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew announced earlier this week the addition of Juan “Cucho” Hernandez, a record-breaking signing for the club at just over $10 million. This came after the striker position for the Black & Gold had not produced the goals that the club needs to be competitive this year, and the signing of Hernandez will hopefully be the remedy.

With Hernandez joining the club officially on July 7 when the summer transfer window opens, the striker depth chart has greatly changed since the beginning of the season. Outside of Hernandez, Columbus has Miguel Berry and Eric Hurtado. Crew 2’s Jacen Russell-Rowe has also seen a couple of minutes as a striker and forward Noah Fuson was loaned up for the U.S. Open Cup match but did play for the senior squad.

With Hernandez joining, things are going to change for the Crew. Here is a look at each striker and where he stands on the roster.

Cucho Hernandez

Welcome to Columbus, Cucho! This is the guy, head coach Caleb Porter said was target No. 1 out of about 50 players he analyzed. It sounds like Porter, president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko and the squad are excited for Hernandez. The Colombian has played in both the English Premier League and La Liga as well as the Segunda Division in Spain. He has scored against some of the best teams in the world such as Barcelona, Manchester City and Arsenal.

Hernandez is not the biggest forward, only 5-foot-9, but is strong on the ball and can create his own shots. Porter compared Hernandez to Josef Martinez and Raul Ruidiaz, two of the more prolific strikers in MLS. When he is available, Hernandez will be the Black & Gold’s starting No. 9. The Columbian is hungry, saying he wants to be the face of the club and lead the league in goals.

It should be noted that Hernandez does indeed have a neck tattoo.

Erik Hurtado

Columbus acquired Hurtado last season as the team struggled with injuries and international call-ups. The MLS journeyman had made a total of 140 appearances but only scored 19 goals in MLS prior to his time with the Crew. Failing to score in his seven appearances for the Black & Gold, fans were surprised when Columbus signed Hurtado again for the 2022 season after he auditioned in the preseason.

Fourteen games into this season and Hurtado is tied for second on the team in goals scored with three in only five appearances. In 2021, the Crew’s main striker Gyasi Zardes scored only three goals through the first 17 matches. Porter said he is “very pleased with Erik taking his chances.”

Fans should not be surprised if Porter opts to use Hurtado as the primary backup for Hernandez, especially as a change-of-pace player in counter-attacking or late-game situations.

Miguel Berry

Trailing down a goal and down a man at FC Cincinnati last year, Berry entered the game in the 57th minute, having played only eight prior minutes for the Black & Gold at this point. Twenty minutes later Berry scored his first goal and continued to score seven more, including twice in a different match against Cincinnati. Berry’s heroics in the 2021 season had fans thinking he could be the next striker for Columbus.

Fast forward to the beginning of the 2022 season. Berry started over Zardes and scored in the first game of the year but has struggled since. Berry has just two goals this season, has not been able to put shots on goal and generally looks lost on the field.

Porter says that he still thinks Berry has the ability that he showed last year, but ultimately it is up to Berry to make the most of his opportunities. The business side of soccer might suggest that the Black & Gold could keep Berry if his salary allows him to stay in a supplemental roster slot but he’s likely the third option once Hernandez is in the mix.

Jacen Russell-Rowe/Noah Fuson

The Crew 2 standouts just cannot stop scoring, which earned Russell-Rowe loans to the senior squad for games against Atlanta United and Charlotte FC, playing the final five minutes last week. Fuson was sent on loan to the first team in the Open Cup but did not see the field. An MLS NEXT Pro player may be loaned up four times and play only twice in MLS matches before needing to sign a contract with the senior squad.

Russell-Rowe leads MLS NEXT Pro league with 11 goals while Fuson is the third-leading scorer with seven. If Russell-Rowe continues to score at his one-goal-per-72-minute clip, it could be hard to keep him off the senior roster.

If Porter wanted to give Russell-Rowe or Fuson minutes, the upcoming three matches prior to Hernandez’s arrival make the most sense. The target date for the first game with Hernandez is July 9 against the Chicago Fire and a home debut against rival Cincinnati on July 17. Their performances in any opportunities will determine if they remain with Crew 2 or get signed by the first team.