By Ridge Mahoney
For Daniel Hernandez, the body just couldn’t keep up with the spirit.
The veteran midfielder, who’d signed a new contract last year that added an assistant coaching role to his playing duties, has opted to coach full-time. FC Dallas announced Wednesday that Hernandez, 36, will work exclusively with head coach Schellas Hyndman, for whom he played collegiately at SMU before embarking on a 15-year playing career that included stints in MLS and the Mexican league.
He joins a staff in transition, with John Ellinger having left the team and Marco Ferruzzi being promoted to first assistant coach. It added former U.S. international Fernando Clavijo as technical director during the season, and on Monday released five players, including a signing from last January, Panamanian left back Carlos Rodriguez, and two once highly touted youth prospects, Ruben Luna and Bryan Leyva.
Hyndman will count on Hernandez’s fire and leadership to rebuild a team that came within an overtime own goal of winning MLS Cup 2010, but since then has regressed. FCD finished sixth in 2012 and missed the playoffs after back-to-back postseason appearances.
“Daniel has been such a great leader for us in the locker room and on the field,” Hyndman said in a statement. “I’m very excited to have him back. He’s an integral part of our team. I had the pleasure of coaching him in college at SMU and I’m honored to be a part of this next transition for him and hope to pass along as much coaching knowledge as I can in the next three years. I’m sure he will excel.”
Critics called Hernandez's game "dirty," and he certainly roughed up opponents often enough. An important cog in the New England teams that reached two MLS Cups (2002, 2006), Hernandez melded a feel for the ball and good touch with the power forged by the college game. He believed the pro game demanded force as well as flair, and commitment along with ball control. Shortly after he returned to MLS late in 2009, FCD named him team captain.
He played with a torn meniscus, which required draining after every game, while helping FCD reach the championship game in 2010. Surgery was performed during the ensuing offseason, but his knee issues persisted; still, he managed to play 30 games (all starts) in 2011 and 28 last season. You could question his zealous adherence to being a hard man, but never his heart. In his 201 MLS games, he scored six goals and 20 assists, was cautioned 38 times and sent off on six occasions.
The otherwise forgettable 2012 FCD season will be remembered for an on-field ceremony last June during which Hernandez and his brother, Nico, posed for a photograph commemorating the establishment of a scholarship fund at their high school in Tyler, Texas. In the photo, Nico is seated in a wheelchair, the result of a car accident during his junior year at SMU that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
When I asked Hernandez last year about playing through pain and how the arduous process of recovering from injuries gets tougher with age, he spoke in reverent tones of his brother, an excellent athlete who played on a state high school championship team prior to enrolling at SMU.
Last year, Nico was chosen to toss the coin prior to a game in honor of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, established by the late actor who lived out the last eight years of his life confined to a wheelchair after being thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition.
“My brother is my inspiration,” said Hernandez. “After what he went through, how can I complain about anything?”