The Columbus Crew have made a big time splash, adding Colombian forward Cucho Hernandez from Watford. The transfer is one of the most expensive and biggest moves in MLS history.
The Crew are paying a transfer fee worth a reported $10m, which is the most expensive in Columbus Crew club history. It is also one of the most expensive additions in MLS history. According to a release from MLSsoccer.com, Hernandez, 23 years old, will serve as a Young Designated Player.
The addition of Hernandez is a huge one for not just Columbus, but MLS as a whole. It adds a young dynamic attacking player with several years of experience playing in Europe to Columbus, and it also shows the continuation of more and more MLS franchises willing to make more and larger investments in younger players.
Hernandez became a regular player for Watford for the first time this past season where he scored five goals across 24 Premier League matches. Hernandez had spent the previous four seasons out on loan with three different Spanish clubs in Huesca, Mallorca, and Getafe where he spent time in both La Liga and the second division in Spain. Overall in Spain, Hernandez scored 11 La Liga goals (across 79 matches) and 16 goals across 35 matches in the 2nd division. Hernandez also appeared for the Colombian national team back in 2018.
Columbus Crew have signed Cucho Hernandez from Watford
In terms of immediate impact, Columbus has struggled offensively this season and that has led to them struggling to put together strong results. Hernandez is a player that Columbus needs. A young, talented attacking player that can be inserted into a struggling, veteran laden lineup. I believe that Hernandez will help Columbus a lot offensively.
The Crew have scored just 18 goals through 14 matches this season which has their offense ranked 10th in the Eastern Conference and tied for 19th in the league. Columbus doesn't have anyone within the top 30 of the league in goals, which is obviously less than ideal. The offensive struggles have led Columbus to just 17 points on the season so far which has them 11th in the East (10th in the East in points per match).
It just feels like Columbus needs some rejuvenation, especially in the attack. Columbus has a lot of talent, they have a strong midfield, and one of the best defenses in the league. It's just been the attack that needs to improve. That's why signing Hernandez could be so crucial. It's the Crew addressing their biggest need with the most expensive addition in club history. I commend that approach.
Columbus has struggled to find consistent striker play this season. Miguel Barry has started 12 matches, but has produced just two goals. Erik Hurtado has scored three goals across 200 minutes which puts him as a strong per-90 contributor. Longtime Columbus standout Gyasi Zardes scored one goal across 200 minutes for Columbus this season before the Crew traded him to Colorado earlier this season.
The thing that Columbus has going for them is that they have one of the best defenses in the league. They've allowed just 17 goals on the year, which puts them tied for 3rd in the East (and tied for 5th in all of MLS) defensively. Jonathan Mensah and Steven Moreira help lead a strong backline, and then Eloy Room has been really good in net.
Hernandez's value on Transfermarkt is listed at $9.90 million which means Columbus paid a good value for Hernandez in my opinion. It's also reasonable to believe that his value can go up as he plays the next few years in MLS. I wouldn't be surprised if Hernandez is eventually sold for a profit in a couple years, but even if he's eventually sold for roughly what Columbus bought him or even a little less, one would hope that the impact he makes on the pitch will provide the value.
Columbus currently has two DP's: Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe. Lucas Zelarayan has scored four goals with three assists this season across 11 matches (9 starts). He also has 31 key passes this season which puts him near the top of the league. Darlington Nagbe has once again been a strong piece in the midfield, even if he isn't the player he was several years ago. He is completing a fantastic 93% of his passes. He has also scored two goals this year and has drawn 27 fouls. Those two have been, as you would hope, two of Columbus' best players.
However, that brings up another point as to why Hernandez is so important. Zelarayan just turned 30 years old and Nagbe is about to turn 32 years old in a month. Columbus needs some more young talent, and Hernandez brings just that. If he stays in Columbus for several years, he can help take over for those two as one of the leaders of the franchise.
This move continues the movement of MLS clubs being willing to spend big on younger players. As MLS looks to ditch their mantle as a "retirement league", bringing in guys like Hernandez helps. This goes along with recent MLS additions such as Jefferson Savarino, Jairo Torres, Luquinhas, Thiago Almada, Alan Velasco, Karol Swiderski, Facundo Torres, Sebastian Ferreira, and Jordy Alcivar to name a few as young players being brought in for sizeable transfer fees.
In general, I believe Columbus just needs an influx of excitement and youthful talent. Things have gotten a little stagnant in Columbus since they won the 2020 MLS Cup. Columbus shockingly missed the playoffs last year, by one point, in the season after winning the title. They also struggled offensively last season, finishing tied for 15th in the league in goals scored. Hernandez can be that guy for them, and I believe that he can play a key part in getting them back to where they were in 2020.