Herrera aims to erase memories of injury-prone debut season

MLS Houston HH

Erik Sviatchenko (right) battles Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic during a UEFA Champions League match in 2016. Sviatchenko is in talks to join MLS club Houston Dynamo. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Team Mexico is in South America preparing for its Concacaf Nations League match against Suriname. Héctor Herrera, a stalwart midfielder who has played for El Tri in each of the past three World Cups, is in Houston, however, preparing for his team’s match against NYCFC.

Herrera joined MLS last year after spending nine years in Europe, leaving Atlético de Madrid for the Houston Dynamo.

The 32-year-old Tijuana native struggled with injuries, playing in only 10 games for a Dynamo side that finished near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Even so, Herrera was picked for El Tri’s World Cup roster, starting the first two group-stage games but he was a shadow of the stout midfield general Mexico fans had come to appreciate. Against Argentina, however, Herrera was blamed for losing track of Lionel Messi in the run-up to Argentina’s first goal and El Tri failed to escape the group stage.

Determined to make his mark in MLS

Houston is off to another rocky start this season (1 win, 2 losses), but Herrera is healthy. The Pachuca academy product even got his first MLS goal in the Dynamo’s lone victory (2-0 over Austin FC in their home opener on March 18).

The Texas team brought in former DC United coach Ben Olsen to take charge and the front office has worked hard to remake the roster. New faces include defender Tate Schmitt (from Real Salt Lake), midfielder Iván Franco (from Paraguay’s Libertad) and midfielder/winger Amine Bassi (from France’s Metz).

Herrera has not retired from Mexico, but his future with El Tri is up in the air unless he rediscovers his form (and avoids injury). Although playing in MLS might be considered a negative in some quarters, Herrera’s experience and skills might earn him a look from new coach Diego Cocca somewhere down the line. But that will happen only if HH performs on the pitch.

Much is expected of Herrera this season as evidenced by the fact that he was named captain of “The Orange Crush.” It will be worth keeping track of Houston though an MLS postseason berth might be a bridge too far even though the playoffs have been expanded to include nine teams from each Conference.

New teammate for Herrera

Demonstrating that ownership intends to climb out of the Western Conference cellar, the Dynamo is in talks to bring in Erik Sviatchenko, one of the best central defenders in Scandinavia.

Following in the footsteps of Danish defenders Michael Uhre (Philadelphia Union) and Andreas Maxsø (Colorado Rapids), the former Denmark International is expected to make an immediate impact though the contract has yet to be finalized.

Sviatchenko came up through FC Midtjylland’s system, spent two years with Scottish giants Celtic, then returned to his boyhood club in 2018.

Toke Møller Theilade, editor in chief at vilfortpark.dk, sees good things for Sviatchenko in MLS, writing that “he is far too good to play in the Danish Superliga, but his loyalty and devotion to Midtjylland kept him there.”

The 31-year-old from Viborg has plenty of experience in big-time football – with Denmark’s national team as well as in UEFA competitions (four Champions League appearances and eight Europa League games).

“Houston are getting a nearly complete central defender as Sviatchenko can do it all,” Theilade told Playing for 90. “He is technically gifted, can be deployed as a ball-playing defender, and is skilled at building up play from the back. At Midtjylland he was asked to play direct football and boasted a 40% completion rate on long passes.”

Theilade concludes his scouting report by describing Sviatchenko as “a strong tackler, skilled at man-marking and he rarely gets drawn out of position. Though only 6’ tall, he is also good in the air.”