Antonio Herrera thrives at loan club Chivas, Sounders development pathway continues to make an impact for Academy products

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Seattle Sounders Academy product Antonio Herrera made waves back in January when he was loaned to one of the biggest clubs in North America.

Sounders MLS NEXT Pro affiliate Tacoma Defiance sent the midfielder Herrera, 19, on loan to the Chivas de Guadalajara U-23s. The Mexican giants have produced some of the best players in the region, including Mexico’s all-time leading scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and former MLS MVP Carlos Vela.

On June 4, Herrera returned to Seattle with the Chivas U-23s for a friendly against USL League Two’s Ballard FC. Ballard won 3-0, but despite the result, Herrera was thrilled to be back in the city where it all began.

“I think it's always great to be back at home and coming with the team, [Chivas], that I have always supported,” said Herrera. “I’m excited.”

Herrera was loaned through the end of 2024 with the option to purchase at any point. There’s a strike price at the end of his loan, so Chivas could acquire his playing rights, or he could return to the Sounders system. Either option is plausible.

“His dual citizenship opened some other doors for him in terms of experience and ability to experience a different culture,” Sounders Technical Director Henry Brauner said of Herrera. “The qualities and profile that Antonio possesses, they might be a good match for Liga MX, and it might be an area where he might actually thrive a little bit more, where he is currently as a player. And that gave us the opportunity to expose him to a different market, a different window, a different culture altogether that he wasn't necessarily able to achieve if he was here domestically in the U.S.”

Chivas historically has only played Mexican players. It’s been a hallmark of the club. Recently, though, Chivas has begun to bring in dual citizens, like Herrera, to become more global. Earlier this year, Chivas signed Mexican-American, but U.S. international, Cade Cowell from the San Jose Earthquakes in a landmark transfer.

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“[Herrera] is part of that next generation of what Chivas is evolving into,” said Brauner. “He’s afforded that opportunity through what he’s done on the field and through his willingness to take himself out of a comfort zone and put himself in an area where it’s completely new. He seems to be adapting well.”

Brauner described Herrera as “a magnifier.” He makes everyone around him better by making the next action easier for the next player receiving the ball through his passing and his movement. That allows his team to be more successful in the final third and, ultimately, win more games.

Herrera joined the Sounders Academy in 2017 before signing a pro contract with Defiance prior to the 2023 season. He started 11 of 19 appearances during the 2023 campaign, recording a goal and an assist while helping Tacoma win its second straight Pacific Division title and reach the Western Conference Semifinals.

The Sounders pipeline has prepared Herrera for this opportunity, and it’s one that Brauner & Co. feel is replicable.

“There are a lot of players who have come through the Sounders development side and haven’t been able to progress to the First Team, but they’re now still plying their trade as a professional in other places,” said Brauner. “That’s what we want to do is give players the opportunity to become a professional. It’s a good first step in your career.”

Things are going well for Herrera in Mexico. In the four months since he’s joined, the Chivas U-23s won a Liga MX youth title and Herrera was a key contributor. Time will tell whether this move will be a stepping stone to a Sounders First Team contract, a permanent move to Guadalajara or somewhere else entirely. But this loan is only the beginning of more high-profile exposure opportunities for Sounders Academy products.

“I wouldn't be where I'm at if it wasn't for the Sounders,” said Herrera.