Toronto FC added experience to its backline in the form of 12-year veteran Jason Hernandez on Wednesday, the latest piece in what the MLS team hopes will be a championship puzzle.
The 33-year-old centre back, who appeared in 31 games for New York City FC last season, has 285 career MLS regular-season and playoff appearances under his belt.
And he comes with a ready-made connection to Toronto fullbacks Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour, who both played with him at San Jose.
“He really was one of the leaders on that team and a mentor to myself and Justin,” said Beitashour. “He just really took us under his wing and we learned a lot from him.
“He’s a competitor, he’s winner and we’re definitely lucky to have him.”
Hernandez knows the league, having logged 23,183 minutes of playing time. Averaging just one shot on goal every four years, his brief is all about defence.
The veteran fills out a centre-back pool that includes veteran Drew Moor, Eriq Zavaleta, Nick Hagglund and Chris Mavinga. The strength in numbers is needed for a team that plays three centre backs flanked by fullback/wingbacks.
“For us it’s an opportunity to get a guy with that experience who we can call upon at any time, in any situation,” said coach Greg Vanney. “And we know he knows how to win in this league and he’ll do a real job for us.”
Without a pre-season, Hernandez will need time to get up to speed. The current bye week helps but Vanney estimated the defender will need two or three weeks before he sees action.
That will have him ready by May when Toronto has eight games, including Canadian Championship play.
Vanney said the team’s research on Hernandez painted a picture of “a class act and the type of teammate that you want to have. And a guy that will work every day and is obviously reliable in what he does.”
Hernandez, listed at 5-10 and 170 pounds, spent the last two seasons with NYCFC which declined his contract option last November despite giving him 26 starts in 2016. In addition to seven seasons in San Jose, he played for Chivas USA and the MetroStars.
“My job here is just to be a good teammate, train hard, train well … I’m here to just work and be someone reliable and someone the team can trust,” Hernandez said.
He said he has watched the Toronto franchise grow since it joined the league in 2007 and “jumped at the chance” to come on board.
“For me it’s a great opportunity and I’m lucky to be up here,” he said.
That despite the fact he broke his ankle in 2009 playing at BMO Field.
Hernandez will wear No. 12 with Toronto. He wore No. 21 for most of his career but gave it up to Andrea Pirlo and switched to No. 2 when the Italian star came to New York.
With midfielder Jonathan Osorio wearing No. 21 and Justin Morrow No. 2 for Toronto, Hernandez opted for No. 12.
Drafted sixth overall by the MetroStars in the 2005 supplemental draft, Hernandez was traded to Chivas USA at the end of his rookie season. He spent two years in California before moving to San Jose in the 2007 expansion draft.
He helped the Earthquakes win the 2012 MLS Supporters Shield, signifying the league’s best record during the regular season, alongside Morrow and Beitashour. He left San Jose for New York in the 2014 expansion draft.
The New York-born Hernandez, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico, has won three caps with the Puerto Rican national team.
Toronto (1-0-2) hosts Sporting Kansas City next on March 31 in its home opener.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press