TORONTO – How good has Toronto FC been during its current winning streak?
The club has been so good that not even a dodgy piece of fish that led to defender Jason Hernandez becoming violently ill could derail the Reds’ momentum. Last Friday, Hernandez came down with a nasty case of food poisoning after eating grilled salmon in a local restaurant. He struggled through most of the night, but still managed to start in TFC’s 3-2 home win over Minnesota United the next afternoon.
It wasn’t easy, though.
“Chicken parm [parmigiana] and pasta is my go-to, pre-game meal. But I’m new to Toronto and still trying to figure my way around the area. I went to a restaurant that didn’t have it, but they had some grilled salmon, so I ordered that, thinking it was pretty safe,” Hernandez told Sportsnet.
“I had the meal around 7:30 and went home, and about midnight I started filling very ill. I was in the bathroom probably every half hour. That lasted until Saturday morning. At that point I started to drink some fluids, take some meds and get ready for the game which was a few hours away.”
Hernandez ended up gutting through the sickness and lasted 45 minutes against Minnesota before being replaced by Eriq Zavaleta at the start of the second half.
“The first half, I started off feeling like I could get through it. But as the game wore on, I felt more and more like a zombie, and I had trouble getting the energy just to even talk to my teammates. By the 40th minute I was pretty light-headed, and I made my way to the sidelines and got some water, and I saw Zavs, and I told him, ‘Listen man, I’m struggling here. You may have to come in for me,’” Hernandez explained.
As soon as the whistle blew for halftime, Hernandez scurried back to the locker room and went straight to the bathroom before telling coach Greg Vanney that he couldn’t continue.
“At that point, he didn’t care if I had a migraine or a stomach ache – he just needed to do what he had to do to win the match. He’s been great this season with making adjustments on the fly, and Saturday was just another case of it,” Hernandez said.
All’s well that ends well. Toronto went on to record its sixth consecutive win in MLS, a new franchise record, to consolidate its place atop the overall league standings. Hernandez also did his future prospects no harm with a solid and poised job of anchoring a three-man defence that kept Minnesota off the scoreboard through the opening half.
An MLS veteran with 277 regular-season games under his belt, Hernandez, 33, is one of the most experienced defenders in the league. His reputation also proceeds him, having played key roles in helping the San Jose Earthquakes make it to the conference finals during the 2010 playoffs and finish first overall two seasons later.
Last Saturday’s match was only Hernandez’s second appearance this year. He joined the Reds as a free-agent signing in March after the start of the season, and his late arrival – not to mention the stellar play of Zavaleta, Nick Hagglund and Drew Moor – meant that he didn’t even debut for the club until last week.
He’s had to patiently bide his time in Toronto, something he’s not used to doing. But to his credit, he’s taken it all in stride and with good grace. At the same time, he believes it’s only a matter of time before he’s regularly called upon by Vanney.
“With TFC, to see the defensive strength, I get why I haven’t played much. This is a deep team, especially in defence,” Hernandez stated.
“I’m not really someone who’s into myself and my reputation, but everywhere I’ve gone I’ve found a way to play. For whatever reason, managers have used me. I’ve done that my whole career and that’s not going to be any different here.
“I’m very happy with my performances, the team hasn’t conceded while I'm on the field, so I like the way things are going for me. I’m not concerned about playing time. It’ll come.”
He’s also not concerned about his dubious scoring record, and in fact, he gets a kick out of poking fun of himself over the fact he’s never scored a single goal during an MLS career that spans close to 300 regular season and playoff games.
“The streak is actually much longer than that because I never scored in college, either,” Hernandez quipped.
“Scoring goals is not my thing. I keep the balls out, I don’t knock them in. I let other guys do that. ... I don’t get up on attacking set pieces; I just hang around the halfway line. That’s my deal. There’s nothing glamourous about my game. I’m not going to show up on the stat sheet very often. Maybe that’s why I get overlooked [compared to] most defenders, but I’m happy with my career.”
Friday’s road game against the New York Red Bulls, who play in New Jersey, marks a homecoming of sorts for Hernandez. The veteran defender began his MLS career with the New York MetroStars (now known as the Red Bulls) in 2005, making three appearances for the club before being traded to Chivas USA the following season. Hernandez is also a native of New Jersey and went to school at Seton Hall, one of the state’s top universities.
“As far as my experiences with the MetroStars, it’s something I remember quite fondly. That was a long time ago, and the league has grown leaps and bounds since then. … But I had some good memories there, and I’ll have family and friends at the game on Friday, so it’ll be special,” Hernandez said.