The enigma of Aberdeen right-back Ronald Hernandez deepened further as the Venezuelan international netted an injury time equaliser at the Copa America.
The 23-year-old, currently on loan at Atlanta United, came off the bench to head home for Venezuela deep into time added on to salvage a 2-2 draw against Ecuador in a Group B clash.
Hernandez’ goal kept alive Venezuela’s hopes of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the tournament.
Earlier in the Copa America, Hernandez had featured as a late substitute in a 3-0 defeat to defending champions and tournament hosts Brazil.
Yet the Pittodrie full-back could not get a start for Aberdeen and cannot get game time for MLS side Atlanta United.
Good enough to start against attacking talent like Messi, Firmino and Aguero, but not teams like against Kilmarnock, Hamilton or in Major Soccer League.
One of the most expensive signings in Aberdeen’s 118-year history, Hernandez arrived at Pittodrie on transfer deadline day in January last year in an £850,000 deal from Norwegian side Stabaek.
Hernandez signed a four-and-a-half-year contract with Aberdeen until summer 2024.
Although a left-field signing, the defender had undoubted pedigree and had starred in Venezuela’s run to the Copa America quarter-finals the previous year.
Hernandez played the entire 90 minutes of a 0-0 draw in a group game with eventual winners Brazil in 2019, who started with stars like Philippe Coutinho, Dani Alves (Sao Paulo), Thiago Silva (Ghelsea) and Roberto Firmino (Liverpool).
The Dons defender also played the entire 90 minutes in the 2-0 quarter-final loss to Argentina, where he came up against stars like six time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi (Barcelona) and Sergio Aguero (Manchester City).
So, good enough to start against attacking talent like Messi, Firmino and Aguero, but not against Kilmarnock, Hamilton or in the MLS.
Hernandez racked up just 220 minutes of game time at Aberdeen before moving on loan to Atlanta United, the Dons’ strategic partners.
There was an understanding when the defender initially arrived at Pittodrie that he was not fully match fit as the Norwegian season had finished at the end of November and he had not played a competitive game for two months.
Hernandez was playing catch-up.
He made his Aberdeen debut in the 1-0 loss to St Johnstone at Pittodrie on February 5 and was taken off after 66 minutes.
Hernandez would make only a four-minute cameo appearance off the bench in a 3-1 defeat of Hibs in the final game before football was shut-down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
They had been set to join Hernandez in the Granite City, but were left stranded in Venezuela when the country went into lockdown with travel restricted due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Being separated from your family is tough enough. When the stress and concerns of a global pandemic are also included the impact of that must surely have had an adverse effect on the defender.
When football eventually resumed after the shutdown, Hernandez started the 1-0 Premiership opening day loss to Rangers, but was as ineffective as the rest of the Dons that day.
The Venezuelan was taken off at half-time of the 1-0 win at St Johnstone on August 20 after again struggling to make an impact.
He only made two further cameo appearances for the Dons off the bench.
— Ronald Hernández (@RonaldH_22) June 21, 2021
Yet, despite that lack of game time at Aberdeen, the defender was still preferred at international level and played the entire 90 minutes for Venezuela in a 3-0 World Cup qualifying loss to Colombia on October 10.
He also featured as a substitute in a 1-0 defeat to Paraguay four days later.
Venezuelan international manager José Peseiro clearly saw something of note in the defender to retain faith with him despite the lack of game time at club level.
There was an argument that Hernandez did not fit into the three at the back system utilised by then Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes at the time.
However, Hernandez was signed by McInnes who, after such a hefty transfer outlay, would surely have pinpointed him for that role if a shift in system was imminent.
Furthermore, Venezuela have also been utilising three at the back, effectively switching to five with two wing-backs, at the Copa America.
Hernandez’ goal for Venezuela on Sunday came from a powerful run from deep into the box to head home – the ideal pace and attacking intent needed for a wing-back which was utilised under McInnes.
A loan move across the Atlantic to Atlanta United appeared to be an opportunity to reignite Hernandez’ career – but it has not happened.
Hernandez has yet to receive any game time for Atlanta and has been an unused substitute in seven of their MLS matches.
A Copa America call-up arrived with Venezuela hit by a Covid-19 outbreak.
They were minus 12 players due to the outbreak and injuries for the clash with Ecuador.
Hernandez’ loan spell at Atlanta United is for the duration of the MLS season, which runs until the end of the year.
The full-back will still have three years left on his Dons deal and the intention is for him to return to Pittodrie when his loan expires.
Aberdeen have a new manager now in Stephen Glass since Hernandez was sent on loan and he could perhaps utilise the right-back and maximise his potential.
Glass, the former Atlanta United 2 coach, held talks with Hernandez prior to jetting out to Scotland in late March and told the defender he would keep monitoring his progress in the United States.
If Hernandez does come back to Pittodrie, he is likely to face a battle for that right-back role as teenager Calvin Ramsay has impressed in that position under Glass.
There is also the bizarre situation of Aberdeen being set to take in right-back Jack Gurr on loan from Atlanta United – while the MLS side have the Dons Venezuelan international right-back on loan!
Scotland U21 international skipper Ross McCrorie can also play right-back and winger Connor McLennan had a degree of success in that unfamiliar role under Glass before the end of the season.
There is also the bizarre situation of Aberdeen being set to take in right-back Jack Gurr on loan from Atlanta United – whilst the MLS side have the Dons Venezuelan international right-back on loan!
Having failed to make an impact at Atlanta United it would seem extremely unlikely the American outfit would move to extend Hernandez’ time at the club.
That leaves the option of returning to Aberdeen and trying to make an impact in Scottish football (again), this time under a new manager.
If not then the Dons will have to recoup the significant six-figure outlay on the defender.
With Hernandez not receiving club game time, a successful Copa America could elevate his profile and generate interest in him – and ramp up his value.