Irvin Herrera: “I’m here to work hard, train hard, be at the best level I can be at and be at, just wait for that time to be called up and hopefully I’m on the list.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The conversation occurred a little while after Andres Flores set up Irvin Herrera for the game-winning goal for El Salvador to qualify for this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup and after the latter signed with the Cosmos.

Herrera said Flores told him: “Oh, you better give me those kind of assists with the Cosmos.”

He then smiled.

To date, the 25-year-old forward hasn’t been able to grant that request because he had been hampered by a contusion in his glut for the opening weeks of the North American Soccer League season. Herrera said he was ready to go full throttle.

“That’s gone. Nothing to worry about now,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m just trying to get back to 100 percent fit.”

As it turned out, that goal helped open the door for forward to join the two-time defending NASL champions after that 1-0 win over Nicaragua that helped the Salvadorans secure third place in Copa Centroamericana and that Gold Cup berth in Panama City, Panama Jan. 22.

“Before that, there was no negotiations with the Cosmos. There was no agreement yet,” Herrera said. “A week after we finished the tournament, everything started working out with the Cosmos.”

Actually, you have to give Flores another assist for helping Herrera join the club.

“He said they asked him about me,” Herrera said after Cosmos training at the Mitchel Athletic Complex. “Since we were national team teammates, he said I could be a good addition to the team. Thanks to him and thanks to Gio [Savarese, head coach] for giving me an opportunity to come to this club. It’s a big club, big history.”

St. Louis FC, with which Herrera had tallied 14 times in 25 matches in the United Soccer League last season, had to sign off on his loan to the Cosmos. He became the third El Salvadoran international on the team along with midfielder Richard Menjivar and Flores.

“I had a couple of options, some interest from MLS and then I heard the Cosmos,” Herrera said. “Nothing worked out with MLS. I thought the Cosmos could be a good opportunity for me.”

Needless to say, the 5-9, 150-lb. Herrera’s goal received much publicity in his homeland, but he downplayed his role in reaching the biennial tournament.

“It was huge,” he said of qualifying. “I’m glad I was the one to score that one goal that got us through, but it was all because of the teamwork that the team did in the last game, all the hard work that we put into the last couple of games that we had there. It’s always big to be in one of those big tournaments.”

Herrera hoped that he will get the call to represent El Salvador this summer.

Of course, the best way to prepare is to play and get into top match-fitness. Entering Saturday night’s game at the San Francisco Deltas, Herrera has logged only 71 minutes this season over two matches, starting once.

“That’s what I hope,” he said. “I’m here to work hard, train hard, be at the best level I can be at and be at, just wait for that time to be called up and hopefully I’m on the list.”

El Salvador kicks off Group C play against Mexico at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego July 9, continues it at Sports Authority Field in Denver July 13 and concludes group play vs. Jamaica at the Alamodome in San Antonio July 16. The top team finishers from each of the three groups qualify for the quarterfinals, plus the top two third-place sides.

“We have a pretty hard group,” Herrera said. “We have Mexico, we have Jamaica, Curacao. It’s good for us to start preparing now for that tournament. I know those kind of tournaments help us gain that experience for future tournaments — for example, World Cup qualifying games and stuff like that.”

While he has not received much playing time early in the spring season, Herrera has adapted to his new team and surroundings quite well and quickly.

“New York, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff to do. I’m glad I’m here. I still have a lot of places to go to, but actually I adapt pretty well. The Salvadoran community here is big. They made me feel welcome anywhere we go. A lot of people are friendly and even the team, we have a really group. We’re all united, so that’s a big thing.”