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Happy trails, Yangel Herrera

The NYCFC midfield linchpin is on his way to Spain

New York City midfielder Yangel Herrera (30) and Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) fight for the ball during the first half in the Eastern Conference semifinal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 
New York City midfielder Yangel Herrera (30) and Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) fight for the ball during the first half in the Eastern Conference semifinal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It looks like Yangel Herrera is headed to Spain. Nothing’s truly official until you’ve got the player at a press conference, announcing his dreams of playing for Team X or what have you, but according to Spanish reporter Jorge Puyuelo, Herrera is all set to play for SD Huesca:

Yangel Herrera está en Huesca! Esta mañana ha pasado el reconocimiento médico y esta tarde se hará oficial su llegada a la #SDHuesca desde el Manchester City.

Esta tarde también se hará oficial el traspaso de Enric Gallego.

Os lo contamos en los deportes de #AragónTv

Translation: “Yangel Herrera is in Huesca! This morning, he passed his physical, and this afternoon, his loan to SD Huesca from Manchester City will be made official. We’ll tell you all about it in the sports report from Aragón TV.”

When I say that Herrera was a midfield linchpin for New York City FC, I mean it. In the Pigeons’ three-man midfield of Maxi Moralez, Alex Ring, and Herrera, the Venezuelan defensive midfielder was a tactically intelligent defensive midfielder who is strong in the tackle and has a mature read of the game. Herrera also possessed a good passing range and spatial awareness, crucial for a player in his position.

You can literally trace New York City’s swan dive last season to his absence after being scythed down by Houston’s Alejandro Fuenmayor last May. His replacement, Ebenezer Ofori, simply wasn’t on the same level as Herrera, and the team suffered for it.

This highlights video demonstrates much of what Herrera brought to the Pigeons:

At Huesca, Herrera will face a challenge of a different kind. Huesca is traditionally not a Spanish power. This is their first season ever in Spain’s first division; historically, they’ve languished in either the third division, or in the lower reaches of the second division. They’re rooted to the bottom of the La Liga table: at about the halfway point of the season, they’ve won twice, drawn five times, and lost 12 games, for a total of 11 points. They’re 10 points adrift of 17th place Celta Vigo, so it’s all but certain that they’ll be relegated.

This can still be a formative experience for Herrera, though. He’ll be facing tougher competition, playing the game in an altogether different manner from what he experienced here in New York City. This should help refine his skills, and hopefully set him on his way to be a first-rank player.

As for New York City, with Herrera’s absence things become far more challenging. While manager Domè Torrent raves about Homegrown player James Sands potentially replacing Herrera as the defensive/holding midfielder, it’s not at all clear to me that’s the case. While Sands may be an exciting prospect, the 18-year-old has only played 246 minutes of professional soccer total. Asking him to step in to the shoes of a player who keyed Venezuela — a soccer minnow — to the U-20 World Cup Final (and eliminated the US U-20 team in the process, by the way!) is a huge ask.

Maybe Sands is up to it; I don’t know, and I don’t feel confident enough to say so. But slotting Sands into Herrera’s place strikes me more as a cost-saving move than anything else, and until I see Sands contribute at the same level as Herrera, I have to consider it a downgrade.