Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By JOSE M. ROMERO
TORONTO – Tyler, Texas will always be known for NFL Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell, the "Tyler Rose."
And to some extent, other local celebs such as actress Sandy Duncan and former NBA player Larry "Grandmama" Johnson.
Win the MLS Cup, and perhaps Daniel Hernandez will receive a key to the city and take his place in Tyler lore. After all, the FC Dallas captain is proud of his Texas roots, and excited to be close to bringing a championship to his home state.
"For years I've kept up with Dallas," said Hernandez, who signed with the club in September of 2009 after a long career between MLS and La Primera Division of Mexico. "It's no secret that I've tried to get back to Dallas for years, since I left college. I think it's all just played out perfectly for me. This is exactly why I wanted to be home, to have the success for this club, to take this franchise to a different level."
That is exactly where FC Dallas finds itself just a couple of days from playing for its first MLS title. Hernandez is a major key to the team's transformation from league laughing stock to powerhouse. The club's fortunes turned around the time Hernandez got into the starting lineup for coach Schellas Hyndman, which happened from the first day he joined the team.
"He's not only the anchor in the middle third, he's the captain of the team and a bit of an inspirational player," Hyndman said of Hernandez. "He's my right hand on the field."
Dallas ended the 2009 season on a roll, falling just short of making the playoffs. This year, the Hoops, a perennial loser in MLS, finally had their dream run and wound up with the Colorado Rapids as their last obstacle to reach the top.
"We finally have a great group of guys on the field… and for me it's just that much more special because it's my hometown. This is where I wanted to be. It feels like I have a sense of responsibility for the city of Dallas and the city of Tyler (96 miles east, but Hernandez played in college at Southern Methodist in Dallas)."
There is more to play for, and Hernandez feels less pressure than responsibility. Hernandez feels the Hunt family, which owns the club, deserves a title. Plus he is motivated by his built-in fan base, friends and family who get the opportunity to see him play often and up close.
For all of them he had a message, spoken in Spanish.
"We're ready," he said. "We're not overconfident but we're ready and focused for the biggest game of the year. We've already made history for this club, but we're out for more. This isn't done yet."
Don't think that Hernandez doesn't have some personal scores to settle. He's playing in his fourth career MLS Cup final and has never won one. With New England in 2002 and 2005, his team lost to the Los Angeles Galaxy. In 2006, the Revolution fell to Houston.
"Why are we talking about the past?" Hernandez joked when asked about what he's learned from past MLS Cup experience. "Obviously I've been fortunate enough to play in MLS Cups. Unfortunately I haven't won one yet."
But playing at home in Texas for Hyndman, his SMU coach, is nothing short of special for the 34-year-old Hernandez. The ultimate prize for him is within reach.
"I hope we can end [this year] on a good note and lift that trophy come Sunday," Hernandez said.