Colombian international forward Cucho Hernandez has agreed to a designated player deal with the Crew as the club’s new striker on a transfer fee between $10 million to $10.5 million from recently relegated English Premier League club Watford, sources told The Dispatch.
Hernandez is under club control for three and a half seasons, through 2025.
Multiple outlets, later confirmed by The Dispatch, reported Hernandez and the Crew were close to finalizing a deal on Saturday. The deal was completed as of Monday and will be announced as soon as Tuesday.
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The transfer fee for the 23-year-old Hernandez is the largest acquisition cost in the Crew’s history, surpassing the $8 million paid to acquire Lucas Zelarayan prior to the 2020 season.
Zelarayan signed a contract extension this offseason and has total compensation of $3.7 million, making him one of the top-10 highest-paid players in MLS. Hernandez is likely to be the second-highest, if not the highest-paid player on the team, in addition to being one of the highest-paid forwards in MLS.
The $10 million to $10.5 million transfer fee makes this one of the richest deals in MLS history.
For the first season, Hernandez will be part of the league’s U-22 initiative, which means his charge on the salary cap will be less than that of a traditional designated player.
The signing of Juan Camilo Hernandez Suarez, who is commonly referred to as “Cucho,” ends a long search for the Crew’s next top-of-the-line striker after trading Gyasi Zardes to open a designated player spot.
Hernandez, 23, fits the criteria the Crew had publicly laid out: a striker who is younger, can play in the prime of his career in his next contract, and is a burgeoning young talent who could be the face of the club and a recognizable name in the league following a stellar year at Watford.
Initial reports of the Crew’s search for a striker indicated a deal for Argentine Gustavo del Prete, but he was signed by Mexican club Pumas. The Crew had a backup option in Club Tijuana and formed Houston Dynamo player Mauro Manotas.
But Hernandez is easily the most established of those three, bringing experience from La Liga and the Premier League to MLS, which is rather unheard of for a young player entering the league.
Hernandez earned a call-up to the Colombian national team for friendlies in the most recent international window after scoring five goals in 25 games for Watford in the English Premier League. Watford was relegated to the English Championship at season’s end, which prompted Hernandez to consider playing elsewhere.
Hernandez signed with Watford at age 17 from his hometown club Deportivo Pereira but didn’t make an appearance with the English side in the world’s top league until this past season, when he played right wing and finished tied as the club’s second-leading scorer.
The striker was loaned back to the Colombian first division before making the jump to the Spanish second division with SD Huesca in 2017.
He was the driving force in Huesca’s promotion to La Liga, scoring 15 goals in 35 games.
Hernandez spent two more seasons in La Liga, one each with RCD Mallorca and Getafe, scoring 11 goals in 79 games. Watford then kept him on the roster for the following season.
Assuming completion of his visa and transfer certificate, Hernandez can play with the Crew on July 9 against the Chicago Fire at the earliest. The MLS summer transfer window opens July 7.
If he completes the proper paperwork before the transfer window opens, Hernandez can train with his new team.
Crew general manager Tim Bezbatchenko and coach Caleb Porter stated at the start of their search that they were looking for a striker who could connect well with Lucas Zelarayan and who would be able to score 15-20 goals, minimum.
Hernandez has already shown he can be a reliable attacking player in arguably the two best leagues in the world. Now he’ll get the opportunity to do so as the face of a franchise.