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.”
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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.