2021 League Games: 7 games, 0 starts, 95 minutes played
2021 Postseason: 1 game, 1 start, 58 minutes played
What went right in 2021:
The simple fact that Héber Araujo dos Santos took the field at all for New York City FC in a competitive match could be considered a major triumph for the striker. Héber was sidelined in September 2020 with a torn ACL, and it was almost 12 months before he took the field again and played nine sweet minutes as a substitute.
Forget goals and assists, Héber’s greatest accomplishment last year was his successful rehab.
What to improve in 2022:
Héber needs to get back to something resembling his form in 2019, when he scored 15 goals and added four assists in just 22 games. A pure striker, Héber likes to lurk in the box and pounce on deflections and loose balls—when he’s at his best, he unsettles the opposition and makes them pay for their mistakes.
Right now, Héber isn't likely to start over an in-form Taty Castellanos, or even over other attacking options such as Thiago Andrade or Talles Magno. He didn't impress in his single start of 2021, when he couldn't jump-start the attack in the Eastern Conference Finals against a depleted Philadelphia Union squad largely made up of benchwarmers and academy players. In that match, Héber was pulled for Talles Magno, who scored the game-winner in the 88th-minute.
To be clear, it’s not fair to judge Héber on a desperate start he was asked to make in place of Castellanos, who wasn't available thanks to a red card he earned in the previous game. The Brazilian needs to shake off 2021, and concentrate on contributing in 2022.
What to expect in 2022
NYCFC demonstrated its commitment to Héber by re-signing the 30-year-old to a contract in December that keeps the Brazilian with the club through 2023 with an option for 2024. Sporting director David Lee evidently thinks Héber has more goals in him.
How Héber will fit into NYCFC’s lineup isn't as clear. Will Héber find a strike partner in Castellanos, or Talles Magno, or even Thiago? You could see him roaming in the box and pulling in the defense while his teammates work in the space that opens up on the periphery, poking in the short balls that drop in front of the goal. It all depends on the chemistry he develops with one or more of attackers, and if he gets his touch back.
In case you forgot what that looks like, here’s the inside-heel nutmeg he scored in NYCFC’s comeback win against New Jersey Red Bulls on August 25, 2020.
A fully-fit Héber gives manager Ronny Deila options at the front: Let’s hope we see a fully-fit Héber in 2022.
More 2022 Player Previews: