Herrera on board to boost Crew

The newest member of the Columbus Crew has been with the team for only two weeks. Sergio Herrera spent less than half of that time in Columbus, where he saw more snow than he could have imagined back home in Colombia.

Yet, his whirlwind schedule from training camp in Bradenton, Fla., to a couple of indoor practices in Ohio before jetting with the club Friday to Arizona could be invaluable as the 28-year-old forward embarks on his first MLS season.

"The group is great. Everyone is good to me. Learning the names is getting easier," he said as Crew assistant coach Ricardo Iribarren acted as his translator.

While Herrera adjusts to a new country, language and league, the Crew hope his abilities on the field speaks for himself. He joins the Crew after scoring 26 times in 92 games for Deportivo Cali of the Colombian first division. Herrera also has four goals in 11 caps for the national team.

Crew coach Robert Warzycha likes what he's seen so far but realizes it could take awhile before Herrera is comfortable in his new setting.

"It depends if he's going to find the same language as the players on the field, whether he's going to blend in," Warzycha said. "Everybody's different. Hopefully he's going to produce and we're going to be happy we signed him."

Having weeks to train before the Crew's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series on March 9 and 17 vs. Mexican club Toluca and the MLS opener March 27 against Toronto FC could be a major plus.

"If you go back and look at foreign players who have been successful in this league, they've probably had a preseason under their belt as opposed to coming midseason," Crew technical director Brian Bliss said. "That's going to help him acclimate as a teammate and acclimate to the style and get his fitness as well. We hope that's a positive and it should be."

He cites the example of Crew forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who had a good year after joining the Crew in May 2007 but won named league MVP the next year when the Crew won the MLS Cup.

"When you go back to 2007 when Schelotto came, look at his resume and it took him a good four months to kind of find his way, figure out the league and style of play and where he could pick and choose his spots," Bliss said.

Going further back, touted Colombian midfielder John Wilmar Perez was signed by the Crew the day before the 2000 opener against Tampa Bay and started 24 hours later. He seemed to be playing catch-up the whole season and had three goals and three assists in 30 games. The following year his numbers improved to eight and 15 in 25 matches.

Midfielder Freddy Garcia of Guatemala struggled after joining the Crew midway through 2002 but settled into a good flank player once he had time to adjust the following year.

Last year, Venezuelan forward Emilio Renteria was acquired in August to provide a boost to the offense. Although he was disappointing at times, he did score the goal at Puerto Rico that advanced the Crew to the Champions League quarterfinals.

Both Warzycha (Poland) and Iribarren (Argentina) were midseason acquisitions in the Crew's inaugural 1996 season so they understand the adjustment period for Herrera and other international players.

"As a club we have to do our best to provide him the environment off the field to help him get through stuff that's difficult for any foreign player so he can truly concentrate on what's happening on the field," Bliss said the key is making the transition as smooth as possible.

"If he's distracted off the field with housing, schooling for his kids, bank accounts, getting a car -- all those things we don't think about -- then it's a problem," Bliss continued.

Of course, there are exceptions.

"Some guys come in like (Juan Pablo) Angel and tear it up from day one," Bliss said of the New York Red Bulls star. Angel was signed on April 17, 2007, and still managed 19 goals in 24 games that year.

The Crew aren't looking for numbers like that from Herrera when he signed Feb. 5 but hope he can help improve the goal output that dropped to 41 last year, nine fewer than the previous season.

"I'm a forward who stays close to the goal trying to create chances to score and maybe I score as well," Herrera said. "Defensively, anytime the team needs me I try to help in any way I can."

He's seen MLS games on television and has been impressed after spending parts of his career playing in the Brazilian first division, the Saudi Arabian Premier League and Argentina's third division.

"The league is fast-paced, kind of like Europe," he said of MLS. "The teams are bringing in good foreign players and the league is improving year after year.

"I'm enthused by the chance to come to the United States. I was watching MLS games in Colombia and liked it. It's a good opportunity."

His adjustment included being greeted with a 10-inch snowstorm Monday after arriving from Florida with the team.

"I've seen snow before but not that much," he said. "I'm enjoying it right now."

Herrera plans on taking English classes once preseason ends and he's settled in Columbus, but for now has been relying on the Argentinean trio of Iribarren, Schelotto and defender Gino Padula to help him communicate.

"I played in Argentina for six months so I've been surrounded by Argentineans before and we had some play in Colombia so I know what type of language they use," Herrera said. "It helps a lot to have people of the same language around.

"I understand some (English) words if somebody speaks slowly. Talking is a little harder because I don't know too much."

Fortunately for the Crew he has time to learn.