Jose Hernandez entered the history books last December when he signed with Cavalry FC from Pacific FC, becoming the first player to move between Canadian Premier League clubs.
Hernandez, a 20-year-old native of Edmonton, made 19 appearances for Pacific in 2019, and showed a fair bit of promise in his first season as a professional. But the Tridents decided not to re-sign Hernandez at the end of the campaign, leading the way for him to swap allegiances and join the Cavs.
Prior to turning pro in the CPL, Hernandez trained with the FC Edmonton Academy, and he spent time in the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy in 2016. He also featured on Canadian under-17 and under-20 teams.
CanPL.ca recently chatted with Hernandez about his place in CPL history, his time with Pacific and playing for Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s Cavalry side this season.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What led to your decision to join Cavalry this off-season? How did you end up in Calgary?
Hernandez: Cavalry had the best professionalism. The entire organization was all set and together, where other clubs seemed to be starting over this season – Cavalry’s team structure was firmly in place and Tommy knew what he wanted to do, so that benefits me. To go into a team that is already structured and doesn’t have any problems in terms of how they’re going to play or what’s their tactical identity, it suits me because it’ll help me a lot to fit in.
Did you have other options? Were there other CPL teams interested in you?
Hernandez: I was looking at FC Edmonton, but Cavalry reached out first, so here I am. [laughs]
What has Tommy said in terms of how he plans to use you this season?
Hernandez: We’ve talked a lot about that. The first meeting I had with him was in Red Deer and we talked about my plans and what we’re going to do together. As I moved into the team he wanted to see how I would do in pre-season – he told me to show up to pre-season strong and hungry, and to work for a roster spot. That’s what I did; I felt I had a really solid pre-season (before the COVID-19 pandemic), and he was impressed with me. A lot of Cavalry’s players were impressed with me, and that means a lot.
Cavalry is a top team, and Tommy is a top coach, so going into a team like this you have to be at your best. Going into pre-season I had to hit the gym and get my fitness up even more, and be mentally strong so that when I entered camp I’d be where everybody else was, or even better. I wanted to prove to myself and to them that I have way more to give than what I did at Pacific last year, and I wanted to show them that I can compete at a high level with a top team like Cavalry.
Your move to Cavalry from Pacific was noteworthy in that it marked the first time a player changed teams within the league. How do you feel about your place in CPL history?
Hernandez: At first, I didn’t realize the history of the move. Once it was announced and I read that I made history, I was really happy. Not everybody get to make history like that, and I wasn’t expecting it, so it brought a smile to my face.
What explanation, if any, did you get from Pacific after the 2019 was over as to why they weren’t going to bring you back?
Hernandez: Mostly that they had other plans for the 2020 season, and those plans didn’t involve me. That was really it.
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How disappointed were you to that Pacific decided to let you go?
Hernandez: I was disappointed because I feel like it was unfair. Sometimes I would work so hard and didn’t get the chance, but that’s football and that’s the way it goes sometimes. I started off the season strong but once I injured my ankle I was out a few weeks and missed games; it’s hard because when you’re injured and then come back, everybody is playing and in form, so it’s hard to get back into the team. That was the hardest thing to overcome because I felt like I was in the roster to begin with, and the injury made it worse for me because the team started building without me. Once I got back in, I was starting to feel comfortable again, but then I tweaked my hamstring and it’s like, “here we go again” and at that point it was so mentally draining because I couldn’t do anything about it.
What hurt me a lot was my mentally; I wasn’t able to wrap my head around things and willing to face the fact that I had to get stronger. Now that I have that experience, I’m going to take care of myself better, and I think that’s probably why Pacific didn’t bring me back – that maybe I wasn’t mentally ready. But now in Calgary, I have to show them and prove them wrong, and prove to myself that they made a mistake letting me go.
I could see where Pacific was coming from, but the fact they didn’t give me another chance, it still hurt. I know what I can bring to the table, and I’m glad Tommy saw something in me and reached out to me to bring me here. I was thrilled to come here.
How do you feel as an Edmonton native playing for Cavalry?
Hernandez: [laughs] Honestly, it feels go. I like going to Edmonton, and I like playing against them. I like showing my family that I can play for a team that’s not from my hometown.
You were 16 years old when you left Edmonton to join the Vancouver Whitecaps youth system. How did your time in B.C. help shape you as a player?
Hernandez: It helped me a lot. When I was with the FC Edmonton academy, I never got a chance to play for Canada’s youth teams – they tended to take players from the Whitecaps, or TFC or the Montreal Impact academies. So when I went out west, it brought me a lot of exposure and helped me break into the Canadian youth team.
Also, you live on your own and you’re in a semi-pro environment when you’re there, so it really helped me grow. I trained with the Whitecaps first team a few times, so that taught me what it was like to be professional.