ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Brazilian striker Heber Araujo dos Santos’s arrival to the Bronx helped flip New York City FC’s season around tremendously.

New York City FC striker Heber Araujo dos Santos is not a Number 9 he’s more like a Letter W.

Before The Pigeons acquired Heber, they were winless with a 0W-1L-3T record. The club even suffered one of the worst MLS losses in 2019 so far, falling to Toronto F.C., 4-0.

Since the Brazilian joined NYCFC, the team is riding a 4W-0L-3T record.

“In April, a key player arrived for us, Heber,” head coach Domenec Torrent said in an interview via the club’s website. “It’s not about ‘he’s a scorer.’ It’s about when you are in trouble you can pass him the ball. He has the quality to keep the ball, to create spaces. He’s a good player for us. Everybody’s better with this player.”

He later stated, “My responsibility was to try to win games. It was not possible a month ago [without Heber].”

The 27-year-old tallied three goals and two assists in seven matches with NYCFC, which is equivalent to 45 percent of the team’s goals.

Heber has more goals and more assists in his first seven games with the club than the superstar he was called to replace, David Villa. Villa notched two goals and one assist in his first seven games with The Bronx Blues.

Moreover, NYCFC has a better record in Heber’s first seven outings with NYCFC compared to Villa’s, guiding the team to a 4W-0L-3T record. New York held a 1W-3L-3D record in Villa’s first seven matches.

“Before it was David Villa. It’s not easy when you come and you have a player like that before you but I do my job, you know, I work hard,” the forward said about taking over for the World Cup winner in an interview via the NYCFC’s Twitter account.

“I know David Villa left but I don’t put the pressure on myself because you need to work. You need to work in training every day. You need to give everything when you give everything the goals come. The wins come also for the team.”

Since his first minute with the club, Heber showed what New York has been missing. He controlled the ball in the box before whipping a left footed shot. His shot was blocked but Ismael Tajouri-Shradi poked the rebound in the net. The goal was ruled offside. NYCFC tied the match 0-0 with Montreal Impact.

Heber didn’t make much of a contribution in The Boys in Blue’s following match. He only played four minutes due to his fitness. NYCFC drew that game 3-3 with Minnesota United.

A week later, the former HNK Rijeka player racked a goal and an assist in New York’s first victory of the season, a 2-0 win over D.C. United.

Three days later, he notched the game-winning assist of the Bronx-based club’s 1-0 win over Chicago Fire. Later on April 27, Heber netted the game-tying assist of NYCFC 1-1 draw with Orlando City S.C.

In his following match, the Colorado do Oeste native was neither on target nor guided any of his teammates on goal but New York blanked Montreal Impact, 2-0. In Heber’s last match, he netted the opener of NYCFC’s 2-0 victory over L.A. Galaxy.

It’s amazing how one player can change a team. The Bronx Blues were waiting to fill the Number 9 role for 111 days after Villa left. Torrent played a playmaker Maximiliano Moralez up top, he also tried midfielder Alexandru Mitrita but it didn’t quite work out. Needless to say, the arrival of a true number 9 turned The Pigeons around in the right direction.

New York only scored four goals in four games before Heber joined the team. Now they registered 11 goals in their last seven matches. However, offense isn’t the only reason why NYCFC suddenly changed their season around but also because they improved their defense.

After playing one of the worst defensive display by any MLS clubs this season in their 4-0 loss to Toronto, New York repented. Torrent’s men are now the second-best defensive team in the East, allowing 1.09 goals per game. Their embarrassing loss to TFC played a huge factor in NYCFC’s transformation.

New York racked three shutouts in their last three matches away from home, something the club has never done before. Since their defense is playing a major part in their success, it makes sense to say that it hasn’t been a solo effort from Heber.

Torrent expressed that their system is what’s been guiding the club to their defensive heroics.

“Nah, that is the system because when we have the ball we play with 3-4-3 but when we don’t have the ball we play five in the back,” the Spaniard explained.

“When you are in trouble they cross the ball—cause many teams cross the ball all the time—you have at least three players, at least, sometimes four players in the 18-yard-box. You play more comfortable, you know.”

Heber is the frontman behind NYCFC’s transformation but he’s obviously not the only player to give credit to. The defenders and keeper Sean Johnson are also playing a part huge part as well as Torrent on the sideline.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t take anything away from Torrent giving Heber the best compliments in sports.

“Everybody’s better with this player.”  Everybody’s better, including the defense. With Heber’s ability to hold the ball up, the team will lose the ball less which means less work for the defenders.

The last player at NYCFC who was consistently complimented on his ability to make the whole team better was of course Villa. However comparing the two players, Villa is obviously a superstar and Heber a star. Nevertheless, the Brazilian is exactly what New York needed, a season changer.

Originally from Haiti, Ralph 'Onz' Chery started his writing career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He also wrote for First Touch, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League and other local leagues. After graduating, Onz started covering the New York Red Bulls for ESNY and joined Haitian Times.