New York City Football Club announced on March 21st that they acquired 27-year-old Brazilian forward Héber Araujo dos Santos, known as Héber from Croatian club HNK Rijeka.
The transfer was made with targeted allocation money (TAM), and he will be a member of the squad going forward as soon as he gets a P-1 work visa and an International Transfer Certificate (ITC). It was made very clear in the team’s press release announcing the transfer that Héber will be the striker that they have desperately needed since the departure of David Villa in the off-season and the lack of a clear target man in the center of the City attack.
In the first three matches of the season, City has scored a paltry four goals in that time while drawing in every one of those matches. As stated in the past, they have an apparent abundance of exciting and dynamic wingers and attacking midfielders that can put the ball in the back of the net. But without a proper center forward in that number nine role, it sets the entire offense back. Head coach Domenec Torrent has deployed a multitude of different attacking formations to try and compensate for that massive chasm in the middle of the attacking third, including playing attacking midfielder Maxi Moralez
in that position twice and as talented as he is, it is clearly not where he belongs on the pitch. Young winger Valentin “Taty” Castellanos has also played the striker position this season, but he is also a natural winger and doesn’t have the talent to carry the load of the offense like that. Designated Player Alexandru Mitriță was advertised as a versatile player that can play striker, but it has been evident that he is best suited to play on the left wing and he has been City’s best player this season. But now City has added the piece that can take them to a whole other level to a place where they can contend in the eastern conference and MLS in general.
Héber is on the right side of 30, and besides playing the left wing a lot for HNK Rijeka, he has been a striker his entire career. Looking at his career and his success there is a lot to love about his game. He has all of the qualities you would like to see in a striker. He has excellent pace, excellent dribbling and he is absolutely fearless in the box, going wherever he needs to go to put that ball in the back of the net. With Rijeka, he did just that with 25 goals in 38 appearances in a Croatian league which is known for being an adamant, defensive league with a lack of top amenities in terms of the quality of stadiums and facilities things of that nature. Given the less than ideal playing dimensions of Yankee Stadium and the hectic travel schedule that playing in MLS does to you, it’s a minor but another positive thing to hold on to here. Héber has a tremendous right foot but can also score with his left and standing at 5’11, which compared to the height of Moralez and Mitriță is a towering stature and that’s useful in set pieces and corner kicks to have a player that has the height to go up high and win balls and use his head in the attack.
It can’t be stated enough how much this addition opens things up not just for Héber, but for everyone in the City attack. Having that striker opens up space for Mitriță on the left side, and with both of their pace and ball control, the potential for incredible combination and link up play is astronomical. Moralez can go back to playing where he fits naturally and where he had an MVP caliber season last year, and with those two attackers in front of him not only will give him more opportunities to set up goals, but the attention they’ll get up front will provide both Moralez and midfielder Alex Ring more space to contribute offensively. Goals from the midfield are always a good thing, and Ring is actually City’s leading goal scorer, but he shouldn’t be. As secondary scoring is imperative to team success, the goals will have to come from Héber and Mitriță. This move also opens the game up for whoever Torrent deploys at right wing whether it’s Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Jesus Medina, or Jonathan Lewis. It gives City a whole other layer of depth where players can play and thrive in their natural positions.
City’s next match isn’t until Friday, March 29th in Toronto because of the international break in the soccer world, but it is unclear whether Héber will be available for selection due to logistics. The long break is helpful but receiving a work visa is never a simple thing and can take some time, and even if he gets it in a timely fashion, he would still need to train with the squad at least once to feel comfortable playing him in a match let alone starting.
Likely the best case scenario is he gets the necessary paperwork in time to get one training session in before the Toronto match, where he can makes his NYCFC debut off the bench, hopefully come on for the second half or so and then he can make his first start the next match on Saturday, April 6th, when the Montreal Impact come to the Bronx. Héber also hasn’t played for Rijeka since December due to their schedule with a long break in January, so rust is one very valid concern, and it would be wise for City not to rush things along.
That being said Héber has the tools and the skills necessary to make a massive impact on this team and their 2019 campaign. He will never replace David Villa, but if he can provide some semblance of what Villa brought from that striker role, then he will be embraced by the NYCFC faithful. He also has a certain flair and style to his game that Brazilians are known to have and that’s also something that will land himself a place in the hearts of supporters all over the five boroughs.
Needless to say, but acquiring a striker should’ve been Plans A, B, and C for City in the winter and it wasn’t done until now which isn’t great but now if Héber pans out and can be the striker City needs him to be, then the potential is endless for club success both this season and seasons to come.
Featured Image: NYCFC