Hernandez happy to be home in Dallas

May 27, 2010
By Justin Rodriguez

Sometimes, when he's going over the books over lunch or preparing for another busy night at the club, Nico Hernandez takes a moment to look at the poster hanging over his office desk and reflect.

There is his older brother, Daniel, playing for Mexican side Club Necaxa. Written in marker on the picture is a note from Daniel to Nico: "Nico, I love you, man. This is because of you, too."

These days, Daniel Hernandez, a hard-charging midfielder, plays for FC Dallas.

Hernandez
GettyImages / Tom PenningtonDaniel Hernandez is playing for his fifth MLS team -- but he's back home in Texas.

Finally, after 13 years in the pros, Hernandez is home. He grew up in nearby Tyler, played collegiately at SMU and has pined for a return to the Metroplex since he broke into MLS with Los Angeles in 1998.

Where does this guy get off? Hernandez knows that he's annoyed enough teammates, coaches and general managers with his requests.

"I know I rubbed some people the wrong way," Hernandez said. "To be truthful with you, it didn't really bother me much. I know playing in different cities is part of my job. But I'm just a home guy. I wanted to be around my friends and family. I know it might not have been the best thing, but when I have my mind on something, I go for it."

Being home means that Hernandez, 33, spends more time with his wife, Tiphanie, and their three young daughters in Sunnyvale. The rest of his family lives a little over an hour away in Tyler, where a soccer field is even named after Hernandez -- Estadio Daniel Demetrio Hernandez.

Being home means being closer to Nico, once a promising striker at SMU, but reduced to a wheelchair after a car wreck in December of 1998. He's paralyzed from the chest down.

"My feeling is that Daniel is playing for both of us," said Nico, 32, who runs his own club -- Club Nico -- in Tyler. "I never got the chance. I'm proud of him and it means a lot to me. I've never been able to see him play before. With (the wheelchair) it was hard and, when Daniel played in Mexico (2003-05 and 2007-09) there was nothing in the stadiums for the handicapped to sit."

FC Dallas is Daniel Hernandez's fifth MLS stop. He's played for Los Angeles (1998-99) the defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny (1999-2000), the Metro Stars (2000-02) and New England twice (2002-03 and 2005-07). He came home to FCD last September when his contract with Jaguares de Chiapas in the Primera Division expired.

Call him stubborn, selfish or spoiled for wanting to return home, but, this time, he was free to go. And he's reunited with Nico – once his rival. Growing up, they competed with the same clubs, Nico always being compared to his big brother, always trying to live up to the expectations. Meanwhile, Daniel always wanted to make keep ahead of his kid brother. Both say the relationship was often strained.

Daniel and Nico Hernandez
no_source / Courtesy of Nico HernandezDaniel and Nico both played at SMU.

"We bickered a lot, we really didn't get along," Daniel Hernandez said. "We fought a lot. Now, he's my best friend. It's unfortunate it took his accident for that to happen. I regret, at times, all we lost, as far as being close, growing up."

As for Nico the player, Daniel said: "He definitely would have gone pro (if not for his accident)."

Nico was the only freshman to start for SMU in 1997. However, the following year, he says, he played sparingly due to injuries. Like his older brother, Nico thinks he could have played in MLS.

Then came Dec. 10, 1998. Nico would never battle his brother on the pitch again. He was returning from Tyler to SMU for a final exam with his best friend from high school, Corey Witherspoon, on a rainy day. Just before noon on Interstate 80 in Mesquite, Hernandez's Mitsubishi Diamante hydroplaned off the road, slamming violently into a wall, before coming to a stop at the side of the road. Witherspoon was killed instantly and Hernandez suffered broken ribs, a broken back and a collapsed lung. Neither was wearing a seat belt.

With his spinal cord severed, doctors performed surgery on Hernandez, but he would never walk again.

"It's funny, right before my accident, I saw something on television about a football player who was paralyzed," Nico Hernandez said. "But when it happened to me, I was like 'Man, I'm happy to be alive.' I was just happy to make it. I'm lucky."

Still, after having his promising career ended, Nico couldn't watch a soccer game for two years. Now, he attends every FCD game at Pizza Hut Park, part of a Hernandez contingent that usually goes 20 deep. Meanwhile, Daniel is energized to look up and see his brother -- in Dallas garb -- in the stands.

Despite his late arrival in 2009, Hernandez's FCD teammates voted him team captain during preseason. Fresh off his stint in Mexico, Hernandez led the defense during the stretch run with his aggressive play, serving as a vocal leader.

"It's no secret that Daniel and (FCD coach) Schellas (Hyndman) have a history together (at SMU)," said FCD midfielder Dax McCarty. "I think something we were lacking when he came in was a strong leader. Schellas realized that and we're all happy with the decision. Daniel gives us a sense of toughness, he dishes out punishment, teams know they just can't come down the middle."

Hernandez's deal with FCD last year was only for the rest of the season. However, in January, Hernandez signed a contract which he says could keep him with FCD (2-2-5) for four years. He's home, he's happy, and don't expect Hernandez to ever ask for a trade again.

"I'll stay here as long as they'll have me," Hernandez said. "I want to finish my career here and leave some kind of legacy. This is where I've always played my best, it's a comfort thing. It's a mind thing and I don't deny that's my fault. But the important thing is that I'm home."

Justin Rodriguez covers USL, NCAA and youth soccer for ESPNsoccernet. He is the soccer writer for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., and can be reached at rodriguezespn@yahoo.com.