Matías Pérez García announced, becomes third Designated Player in San Jose history

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Monday’s rumors have come to fruition, something that should be met with delight from fans of the San Jose Earthquakes. Becoming the third designated player in franchise history, 29-year-old Argentine Matías Pérez García is on the verge of joining the 2012 Supporters’ Shield winners, with only the arrivals of his visa and international transfer certificate standing in the way of a new life in Northern California.

San Jose announced the signing on this afternoon, with the now former Tigre playmaker set to join current DP Chris Wondolwski as focal points of Mark Watson’s attack. In the process, Pérez García, who has recorded 13 goals over the last two Primera División campaigns, gives the Earthquakes’ head coach the ability to give the team’s attack a much-needed facelift.

“We’re very excited to sign Matias,” Watson said, via San Jose’s website. “He adds a very experienced, technical attacking quality that will be a great complement to the squad we already have. We look forward to having him join the team.”

[ RELATED: San Jose about to bring in its own South American playmaker ]

Complement is a great word for it. Typically operating behind a lone striker, Pérez García had become Tigre’s most-reliable scorer, partially because of the rotating cast in front of him. Functionally, he operates as a playmaker, giving San Jose the type of Argentine maestro that’s been so successful in places like Salt Lake (Javier Morales), Columbus (Federico Higuaín), and Portland (Diego Valeri).

“It’s a monumental moment for the club,” general manager John Doyle said. “Matias is a dynamic, attacking player that will create chances for teammates as well as himself. I’m very excited to see the impact that he can have on this league for years to come.”

According to earlier reports from ESPN Deportes, Pérez García’s transfer fee could be $2 million. San Jose, per league policy, did not reveal details of the move.

We’ve already talked about some of the signing’s implications (link, above), but before the transaction became official, we skipped many of the on-field implications. With Pérez García confirmed, we can talk about the impact on San Jose’s squad – an influence that could evolve into a turning point in how the Earthquakes go about their soccer.

Unless Watson institutes a huge change in formation, you can expect Wondolowski to start up top with Pérez García in support. Yannick Djaló’s versatility will allow him to move wide, opposite Shea Salinas. Sam Cronin and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi should man the middle, and when Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon are available, Watson will have the option to go with more typical number nine up top, potentially dropping Djaló to the bench.

It’s a more flexibility team than Watson had yesterday, giving the team hope of creating more scoring opportunities without relying on set pieces and crosses (the Earthquakes are next-to-last in the league in open play goals). While their ability to generate chances that way can remain a strength, the accumulation of players like Pérez García and Djaló give Watson another option.

Perhaps as importantly, it will improve perception, something that’s important when you’re moving into a new venue. Soccer purists can argue all they want about the virtues of a more pragmatic approach, but at some point, people want to be entertained, and while not everybody enjoys the same style, people tend to enjoy it when the more skillful, technical side comes out. To this point, San Jose’s strengths have lied in other areas, a balance that becomes more difficult to justify when pragmatism does not lead to results. Ultimately, pragmatism isn’t always that practical.

With Pérez García, San Jose may try to strike a different balance, but will it lead to better results on the field? Unfortunately, when bringing in a player that has so little experience outside one league, it’s hard to assess how they’ll adapt; however, if Pérez García can assimilate quickly, his record (and, the record of similar Argentines that have come north) suggests he’ll have a significant impact. The Earthquakes should be able to pass Chivas USA.

As far as the rest of the West, that’s more difficult to say. When you look at the rosters of teams one through seven, they still look better than San Jose’s, and given the Earthquakes have failed to transcend that talent over the last two years, it’s hard to overlook at how they stack up at central midfield, fullback, and potentially on the wings (depending how their first choice XI shakes out). When teams as talented as Vancouver and Portland are having trouble cracking the West’s top five, you’re reminded how competitive the West’s become.

Even if San Jose can’t get back into this year’s playoff race, this move should pay benefits in the future. The Earthquakes are moving into a new, larger venue next year, and while Pérez García’s name won’t see tickets, the product he’ll help produce could. Even if that doesn’t get San Jose back into the postseason, it will move the team forward.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.