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Heber to return as NYCFC begins MLS playoffs

Héber Araujo dos Santos of NYCFC is shown

Héber Araujo dos Santos of NYCFC is shown during an open training at Citi Field on Oct. 22, 2019. Credit: Chris Ware

New York City FC will have its leading scorer available for its postseason opener, but for how long remains unclear.

After missing the regular-season finale earlier this month, Héber Arujao dos Santos was removed from the injury report ahead of NYCFC’s Eastern Conference semifinal against Toronto FC on Wednesday at Citi Field.

“Héber is ready to play,” said head coach Domènec Torrent. “I don’t know if maybe he’ll start, maybe play 30-40 minutes, I don’t know, but he’s ready to play. He’s not injured right now, it’s good news for us.”

On Tuesday, Héber trained with the team at Citi Field, first working away from his teammates with a coach and then running drills and attacking strategy alongside other players. He moved gingerly at first when working alone but showed bursts of speed once he joined his teammates.

The Brazilian was scratched from the lineup in NYCFC’s match with Philadelphia on Decision Day due to a lower leg injury suffered during warm-ups and didn’t play for City in a tune-up scrimmage with the Chicago Fire last week.

Torrent is pleased to get back his top striker, who led the club with 15 goals in the regular season, but also stressed the importance of playing the correct lineup for the match at hand without pushing his players back too fast.

“I don’t know, every day I say the same because that is the reality — I need to find the right players to play against Toronto,” Torrent said. “And that means for me, the best players are the players in the moment who have rhythm and have more chances to play than other players.”

NYCFC enters the match without any players listed on the official injury report. Central midfielder Keaton Parks, who missed the final three matches of the regular season with a hamstring injury, participated in the scrimmage in Chicago for 80 minutes and is expected back in the lineup. Attacking midfielder Ismael Tajouri-Shradi also played against the Fire despite leaving the regular-season finale with an ankle injury, getting 40 minutes of game time ahead of the postseason.

“Keaton needed to get rhythm and minutes, Ismael as well,” Torrent said. “I think both are ready to play tomorrow."

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