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Crew striker Cucho Hernández's game-winning debut is only the beginning

The Black & Gold are already seeing the fruits of a club-record signing and what he did in his debut that supporters can expect in the future.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Chicago Fire Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Before Columbus Crew forward Cucho Hernández was announced as a club-record signing, the message coming from head coach Caleb Porter and the Black & Gold front office was the desire to bring in a confident goal scorer. Between jokes about neck tattoos, Columbus wanted someone who, when in front of goal, makes the most of their opportunities.

Although it was a small window of time, only 30 minutes on the field, Hernández’s addition to the Crew in a 3-2 win at the Chicago Fire on Friday brought that and then some.

In the 62nd minute, Hernández made his debut with the Black & Gold down 2-0 on the road. It was 20 minutes before he made his goal scoring introduction, but not before he made an impact.

“He’s not a guy that’s just gonna stay in between the center backs and just be a base,” said Porter of Hernández after the match. “He’s dynamic. He can come underneath. He can float wide. He can stretch. He can score in the box. He’s very good hold-up.”

All of that was on display against the Fire.

On winger Derrick Etienne Jr.’s goal a minute into Hernández’s debut, the striker grabbed the attention of the defense to allow the winger, who was also a second half substitute, the space and time to shoot. After the goal went in, Hernández’s first instinct was to run into the net and grab the ball with Columbus still down a goal.

Between the Crew’s first and second strikes, Hernández was always involved in the action. As the ball headed towards the sidelines at midfield, Hernández was there to win possession and dribble out of a tough space. In the 69th minute, when Chicago attempted a clearance on a Lucas Zelarayán chance at the top of the 18-yard box, Hernández flew in from midfield and executed a slide tackle to get the ball back into the attack, finding winger Luis Díaz on the right side of the penalty area.

Although Hernández was the striker, he played both centrally and wide during his time on the field. The Colombian sent in crosses and found open teammates, even in moments where he could dribble or try to prove himself in the match.

In the 82nd minute, he almost scored a match-winner before he ended up scoring the actual match-winner. On a break, Díaz found Hernández at the top of the penalty area. The attacker made the slightest of moves further into the penalty box before stepping back and receiving the pass. That little moment gave Hernández space to shoot, even with players in his shot trajectory. Hernández lifted a ball over the Fire defense and it went just over the crossbar.

The next pass from Díaz to Hernández did the trick, showing an early chemistry between the two in their defensive half. Chicago attempted a pass to midfielder Federico Navarro that was a few yards off its intended target. Hernández saw the change of possession and timed a run with Díaz’s pass to go on a one-on-one break with Fire goalkeeper Gaga Slonina.

“He’s probably quicker than you guys thought,” said Porter after the game. “We saw that on film, his quality at the end. I mean, his final prep touch to then basically just dink it over the keeper, that’s what the type of player that he is.”

Hernández’s teammates recognized the speed too.

“When the ball went in, I was actually sprinting but I knew there was no way I was catching him. So I was like, ‘Alright, he’s going to score so I’m just going to run to the corner,” said Etienne, following his two-goal performance. “By the time I got to the huddle, it was just bliss, honestly.”

That bliss did come with another first for Hernández: a yellow card. After the goal, Hernández darted to the corner while pulling off his new No. 9 kit, as seemingly the entire roster ran over to celebrate with their new teammate. Hernández earned a yellow card, that he admits he doesn’t care about earning following the magnitude of the moment. Plus, he said himself he looks good in yellow.

It’s easy to chalk up Hernández’s introduction performance as adrenaline for his first time playing in MLS. Porter doesn’t, expecting these performances match in and match out.

Off the field, Hernández is also fitting well into Porter’s mantra of putting the team first. While a goal is great, when prompted his focus went inward, to the Black & Gold roster and the remaining 16 matches of the 2022 season.

“It was incredible, the team’s strength to come back in the game,” said Hernández. “I’m proud to be a part of this team but there are also other games we have to win coming up.”