We're nearing the end of our series on season reviews for all of the Chivas USA players in 2011, and today's entry was one of the key members of the squad. Defender Heath Pearce was new to Chivas, after coming from FC Dallas in an offseason trade, and he made a major impact for a team that was sorely searching for stability. Although he probably ranks third overall as team MVP for the season, his absence for a key stretch at the end of the season left the team reeling, and persistent defensive lapses buried their playoff chances, so his effect was very apparent. If that isn't enough, Pearce had to switch to a brand-new position, but he handled the move quite well.
Pearce was initially slated to be a full back, likely on the right side, when he arrived. But fellow veteran defender Jimmy Conrad's career-ending concussion in just the second match of the season, against the Colorado Rapids on March 26, left a huge void at center back, and Robin Fraser decided to put Pearce in Conrad's spot, I think with the expectation that Conrad wouldn't be missing much time. As it turned out, Pearce played 28 of his 30 appearances on the season at center back, mostly because the other options on the squad didn't have the same skills and experience as Pearce. He anchored the backline, and played well enough that he received a second consecutive all-star selection in 2011.In addition to the key position switch, Pearce handled the set piece duties for the team early in the season. He didn't score any goals in 2011, but he had three assists. All of them came in a six game stretch from April 23 to May 28, and Chivas won two and tied the other game in which he provided an assist. On a more intangible-based front, Pearce helped to mentor some of the younger players on the team, particularly rookie defender Zarek Valentin. Not only did the two work on the field together, but they were also roommates, and Valentin's departure from Chivas this summer led to a flurry of sad but ultimately lighthearted tweets between the two players.
If he hadn't gotten a hamstring injury August 27 against Real Salt Lake, I think Pearce would have played every match for the season. Up to that point, he was an iron man, and his play for Chivas led to attention by new U.S. Men's National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who called him into a couple of friendlies in August and September, although he didn't play in them. He was left out of the latest round of friendlies, in November, but Klinsmann did invite him to the upcoming annual USMNT January camp. It's difficult to know what the depth chart for the national team looks like at this point since they have yet to play a competitive match under Klinsmann, but I think Pearce could get some consideration due to the relative absence of high quality full backs in the player pool. My hunch is that he probably won't get a lot of time in games that matter over the next year or so, but he is capable of elevating his game, and if Chivas improve substantially next season, especially on the defensive end, it could bode well for his national team prospects.
There are a couple of holes in Pearce's game that I think held him back at times in 2011. I noted that he took set pieces for much of the early part of the season, but he seldom got the ball into scoring positions, and Fraser tried out Simon Elliott, Marcos Mondaini, and even Juan Pablo Angel during the rest of the year. None of these players set themselves apart, and this is a big hole for the Goats moving into 2012. Furthermore, Pearce is not fast, and his lack of pace meant speedy attackers such as Dominic Oduro of the Chicago Fire literally blew right by him. You can't really improve speed, and hopefully the team can try and address the general lack of pace on the team next season, but I hope he can work with his teammates to try and mitigate those deficiencies in the next campaign.
Besides that, however, Pearce had a really strong season, and with the exception of Juan Pablo Angel, whose salary was either partially or fully subsidized by the LA Galaxy, was the highest-paid player on the team in 2011 ($247,825 base salary). That's not saying much, considering Chivas' reputation on the financial front, but I don't think anybody could argue that Pearce was not a worthy addition to Chivas in 2011, or that he was not worth the price. Here's hoping he can continue to help Chivas, and perhaps even get them back to the playoffs in 2012.
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