A year ago this week, Felipe Hernandez signed as a Homegrown Player with Sporting Kansas City. He became the first player to progress along the club’s full player pathway: Academy Affiliate to SKC Academy to Sporting KC II and finally to the first team.
Now, the 22-year-old looks to continue his upward trajectory as the club looks to rely more heavily on the young midfielder.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I’ve been doing with the club for the past five, six years: work hard and do what I can do to produce and help the team out on the field,” Hernandez said on Monday. “It’s not so much showing out and trying to impress people because the coaches have seen me for the past five years, so they know what I bring to the game. I just try to do my part and help the team out and win.”
After making two substitute appearances in the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, Hernandez has seen his minutes steadily increase since the resumption of the regular season with 15, 32 and 74-minute appearances in successive matches in August.
Hernandez’s uptick in playing time is just one way the first team is placing their trust in the former U.S. youth international. According to manager Peter Vermes, Hernandez’s mentality embodies the spirit of the team.
“I’ve always said that Felipe carries the DNA of our club,” Vermes said. “He’s got an incredible work ethic, great instincts for hunting the ball in that position as an eight. He has a really good mentality for working with the team. He’s taking his chances well. Every time he comes in, he helps the team and he’s an unselfish guy. All those things have helped him as he’s gotten his chances. It’s one of the reasons why he’s gotten those chances. He’s performed really well and those qualities are what resonate in the players we look for. He’s having an impact in the game because of those qualities.”
While the sport has taken him from his native Nashville and former Sporting KC Academy affiliate Sporting Nashville Heroes, Hernandez is finding his place within the first team as he takes notes from veteran midfielders Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez, Gadi Kinda and Ilie Sanchez.
“They’re all good guys,” Hernandez said of his midfield counterparts. “They teach you things on and off the field to be better. It’s not just them, it’s all the veteran guys on our team. They teach you to be better on the field and off the field and give you tips on things to make you better.”
Hernandez’s ability to absorb both trials and tribulations is what sets him apart from others according to Vermes. Taking both the good and the bad, Hernandez stands out from the crowd by being himself and never yielding in the face of adversity.
“I don’t think any two players’ paths are the same to becoming a pro,” Vermes said of Hernandez’s journey. “I think for him, one of the things that stands out is the fact that we signed him directly to SKC II and as he took that opportunity and he got game after game with SKC II, he saw a few players younger than him signed to the first team on a Homegrown contract. It probably would have been easy to be—I think most players would have been—discouraged or would have given up. It’s one of the things that’s very special about Felipe and that is, he never let that deter him from trying to make the first team or change his work ethic every day.
“His pathway was different but it’s not unusual when you look around the world and see how players can make it to a team,” Vermes added. “The whole idea is that you have to make it there so the one thing that you can’t do is give up or lack work ethic. Felipe had both and he also had a strong mentality to press forward and fight every day and take his chances. He’s done that and I’m happy for him because it’s good to see when people accomplish things even through some adversity. He kept his nose to the grindstone, and I respect that.”
Looking ahead to Wednesday’s home match with FC Dallas, Hernandez reflects on his first MLS start last October which came in the form of a tough loss at Toyota Stadium in Texas.
“It will be good and hopefully I’ll get some minutes,” Hernandez said. “Last year it was a rough game but it’s in the past. It’s a new game and a new season so we’re looking forward to it.”