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Crew’s Cucho Hernandez suspended by MLS for one game for ‘offensive language’

The Black & Gold will be without their star forward for an important match.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Columbus Crew’s quest for an MLS Cup playoff spot is already difficult, but it became just a bit harder on Thursday. Major League Soccer announced that Crew star forward Cucho Hernandez has been suspended for one game due to “offensive language,” which took place in the Black & Gold’s last match against the Portland Timbers. This means Hernandez will be unavailable for the Crew’s game against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.

In that game with the Timbers at Filed, which ended in a 1-1 draw after Columbus allowed a stoppage time equalizer to the visitors, Hernandez is accused of saying something that the league felt merited a punishment. It is unclear what Hernandez said, who he said it to or at want point in the match the incident occurred. According to MLS’s announcement, “Hernandez was not provided with the league-mandated training on prohibited language that is required of all players upon arrival to an MLS team.”

“We understand the league’s ruling and fully cooperated to address the important matter as soon as it was brought to our attention,” club president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. “We are disappointed that our player used disrespectful and offensive language directed to an opponent and we will take this as an opportunity to better educate our players and learn from this. Cucho expressed immediate remorse for his unacceptable language choice and volunteered to apologize to the Timbers organization and participate in sensitivity training.”

Hernandez has been the Crew’s best attacking player since being purchased during the summer transfer window from Watford F.C. of the English Premier League. The Colombian striker has scored nine goals and registered two assists in his 15 MLS matches in 2022, 13 of which have been starts. Despite playing nearly half as many games as those players in front of him, Hernandez sits in 25th place in the MLS goal scoring charts this season.

Making his debut against the Chicago Fire on July 9, Hernandez came off the bench to register a goal in 28 minutes of play to help rescue a 3-2 comeback win on the road. He then scored twice in his next match, again off the bench, a 2-2 draw at Audi Field against D.C. United. Hernandez’s home debut was against rivals FC Cincinnati in which the forward scored the first of two goals in a 2-0 victory.

While Hernandez recently went through a four-match streak without scoring a goal, he did register two assists during that span, including helping to spark the comeback in the road leg of the Hell is Real Derby on Aug. 27. With Hernandez in the lineup, the Crew has a 4-2-8 record this year.

“I accept the outcome of the league’s ruling and sincerely apologize for the harmful language I used during our recent match against the Portland Timbers,” Hernandez said in a statement. “I understand that my language was unacceptable and plan to reach out to the Timbers organization and the player to offer my apologies and fully intend to learn from this situation. I also apologize to my teammates and our fans as this is a critical time of the season.”

Heading into Saturday’s game, the Black & Gold sit just below the MLS Cup playoff line in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Columbus is tied on points with Inter Miami but loses the games won tiebreaker. The Crew has three matches remaining in the MLS regular season and could need a full nine points from those matches — the final two are away at Charlotte FC and at Orlando City SC — in order to avoid missing the postseason for a second consecutive year.

“This is a vital stretch of the season and we are confident in our group and will turn our focus to continuing to prepare for the next three matches,” Bezbatchenko said.

Without Hernandez, head coach Caleb Porter will likely turn to either forward Erik Hurtado or Jacen Russell-Rowe from the start. Hurtado has played just 10 minutes in the last six matches, serving as a reserve to Hernandez. After signing with the first team in the summer from Columbus Crew 2, Russell-Rowe has returned to the reserve team of late, last playing for the Black & Gold senior side in Hernandez’s debut in Chicago in July. Crew 2 is currently in the midst of the MLS NEXT Playoffs and is set to play Toronto FC II in the Eastern Conference Final at Historic Crew Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Columbus is set to kick off against the Red Bulls on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET.