It's rare to see a new signing make as big of an immediate impact as Cucho Hernandez has for the Columbus Crew. In the three matches since Cucho has joined the squad, Columbus has picked up seven points (two wins and a draw), with Cucho scoring four goals (in just 137 minutes played).
Cucho is scoring an absurd 2.62 goals per 90 minutes through the first couple of matches in his Crew career. Obviously three matches is an extremely small sample size, but that just gives you an idea of how hot he has started out in the league.
It's not a perfect comparison, but Cucho's start almost reminds me of how hot Josef Martinez bursted onto the scene in his first couple of matches in Atlanta United's inaugural season (Josef had five goals in his first three matches, including a hat-trick, and then had seven goals through his first five matches).
The recent stretch of three matches with Cucho playing included the Crew's 2-0 win over in-state rivals FC Cincinnati on Sunday, July 17th when Cucho scored in the 16th minute on a header off of a free kick from Lucas Zelarayan. Cucho was on the front post and headed the ball backwards on a fantastic finish across the net for the goal.
That Zelarayan to Cucho connection is looking like it could be a very dangerous one for the Crew. Zelarayan has assisted on three of Cucho's four goals so far. Those two players are two of Columbus' Designated Players, and so the expectation is that they play up to that level which they are so far.
It's been a balanced scoring effort for Cucho as well. Of his four goals, two have been off of headers (with one being a really nice diving effort in the box), one came when he made a long run down the right side and received a long pass before dribbling twice and beating the keeper 1v1, and then the other was a great strike from just outside the box.
In terms of other contributions outside of scoring goals, Cucho is also completing 70.9% of his passes, has made three key passes, and has also played three accurate long balls.
One thing that you'll also probably notice is that Cucho has seemed to be ever-dangerous when he's been in the match so far. It's not as if he's only touching the ball when he scores. He's taking shots and just generally being around the ball and being aggressive which has felt much-needed for Columbus.
Cucho was acquired for a reported $10m transfer fee from Watford in England a couple of weeks ago. It was a big commitment for the Crew to make, but the early returns appear that Cucho is as good as advertised and should be worth the money.
The influx of Cucho and recent improved play of the squad was much needed for Columbus. The Crew now sit sixth in the East with 29 points (and are just four points out of third place), but before Cucho made his debut the squad had just 22 points through 17 matches and were on the outside looking in in the playoff race.
When Cucho arrived Columbus was struggling mightily offensively, but his introduction has seen them have arguably their best offensive stretch of the season. Columbus has scored at least two goals in each of their last three matches, which they haven't done since their first three matches of the season. The Crew's seven goals combined in a stretch of three matches is also their most since March. Cucho has given this offense a major boost.
In general, it just felt as if Columbus had started to stagnate, and it seems as if Cucho has helped to rectify that and has begun to rejuvenate the team.
If Cucho continues to make an impact like this moving forward (alongside the likes of Zelarayan, Derek Etienne Jr., and Darlington Nagbe), then Columbus truly could be a team to watch in the East once again. Columbus already had a lot of talent, and Cucho might be a piece that just helps take the offense to that next level.
While we're going to need to see more than just three matches from Cucho to determine whether he really was worth the money and can help turn this season around (he hasn't even played a full 90 minutes in a single match yet), but early on it appears that Columbus has found them a star.