ORANGEBURG, N.Y. — The smile can’t seem to escape Héber’s face. An injury that sidelined him for a few weeks and even the oppressive New York summer can’t get the New York City FC forward down.
“This is Héber. It’s natural,” the Brazilian said after training Tuesday, a session that had to be moved up because of heat and humidity. “I like to be happy because I’m happy here with my teammates. They are great guys. So it’s nice when you have this happiness in the pitch because when you work happy, everything come easy.”
Including the goals.
Héber has set a club record by scoring in five consecutive games after finding the back of the net in a 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City last Friday. He’s got a ways to go to eclipse the league record of nine set by Diego Valeri of the Portland Timbers two years ago, but it’s a stretch he’s not experienced in his professional career.
“It’s very good, a good feeling, because the striker, the No. 9, it’s nice always when you score to get more confidence and to play well,” Héber said.
Héber credits his teammates for his current form, especially the fact NYCFC play with three No. 10s in Maxi Moralez, Keaton Parks and Alexandru Mitriță.
“They always look forward when they have the ball,” Héber said. “And I need only to run in the right moment.”
Although Héber has had no trouble finding the back of the net — he has nine goals in 13 appearances, including 11 starts in league play — he doesn’t have the burden of being the only scoring threat. Moralez has six goals, Taty Castellanos and Mitriță have five apiece and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi has four.
“They have a lot of quality,” Héber said. “They are great players. Where they played before, Mitriță especially, scored many goals. It’s our game, I’m there to play like a No. 9, to save the ball, to create space for them and now they have more space to score and create chances for us.”
Héber, who is scoring at a 0.83 goals per 90 minutes clip, was signed from HNK Rijeka using targeted allocation money on March 21. NYCFC coach Dome Torrent liked what he saw on tape — the runs he made in the box, his holdup play, his clinical finishing.
But Torrent thinks Héber might be better than advertised.
“I’m very happy with him. I say many times maybe he plays much better than I think about him,” Torrent said. “I watched many, many games and I spoke with [NYCFC sporting director] Claudio [Reyna] about this player. I say this player is able to play as a No. 9 because he has this quality.”
Torrent’s happiness goes beyond the goals scored though.
“And another quality to Héber is he helps the team all the time,” Torrent said. “It’s not about just his scoring goals. But maybe he’s getting better than I think about him right now. I’m very happy with him because he can drop to play with the midfielders and even when we don’t have the ball he fights for us 90 minutes.”
Torrent, though, warns Héber not to get complacent despite the early returns. Héber has gotten the message.
“It’s like what our coach say to us, never relax, always work hard,” Héber said. “Like every training session, when I can, I call to my teammates or the keeper and we finish [after training] because I know in the game sometimes who have only one chance and you need to be focused always. Because you don’t know when this chance comes. And when this chance comes, you need to be ready to score.”
And then smile.