Chivas USA 2012 Player Postmortem: Heath Pearce

Pearce: Sad to see him go? - Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

It's another player who is no longer with the team.

Heading into the season, would you have believed Heath Pearce was going to be traded in May? Probably not. He had a strong 2011 season, despite the pieces around him, and the quest looked like it would be finding a good center back to pair with him. Through the first couple months of the season, however, he played fine, and had a couple of very good moments, but his form seemed to be much more inconsistent than in 2011.

The reality was that Pearce was probably Chivas USA's best trade chip in 2012. An MLS All-Star and fringe U.S. Men's National Team member who can play at full back and center back, those of us who watched him regularly knew that although he had some very good skills, he also had some real holes in his game. If you don't believe me, talk to a New York Red Bulls fan. It's striking to hear the feedback they give him too - "An All-Star? Uh, I guess. But man, is he slow."

That's why I think he was the team's best trade chip. Unlike, say, Dan Kennedy, I think Chivas can actually get good value for Pearce, and while the Juan Agudelo project hasn't yet paid the dividends we had hoped, here's hoping he comes good in 2013. Still, a firmer USMNT player who's considerably younger for a fringe USMNT player? It looks like Chivas got the better deal, since Red Bulls fans know Pearce's limitations as much as we do.

Don't let me get carried away with the negativity here, though. Pearce helped Chivas through two key early wins in the season (and remember, they didn't have all that many in 2012): away to Real Salt Lake, and away to Toronto FC. I never saw Pearce as animated on the field in his entire tenure with Chivas as during the RSL win, when he was getting in teammates' faces, making sure they were focussed on the task at hand, and getting into the right positions to help Kennedy weather the siege late. Of course, that performance leaves me to wonder what might have been if Pearce was more of a vocal leader, but once in about 40 games means it isn't something one can count on with him.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, Pearce preserved the Goats' narrow victory with a miraculous goalline save, after Kennedy had turned away a few shots that looked like they were destined to go in the net. Once again, his positioning and awareness of the conditions around him helped him get the vital save, and help the Goats get three points (which was 10 percent of their ultimate points tally for the season).

These are Pearce's stats in 2012 with Chivas USA:

Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS Regular Season 10 10 900 0 0 3 1 0 0
U.S. Open Cup 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 10 10 900 0 0 3 1 0 0

One of the most interesting developments was that with the Red Bulls, Pearce started scoring goals. He scored a pair in the league, and another in the U.S. Open Cup. What a remarkable turn of events, right? Not so fast. Pearce did have three assists in 2011, but that was because he took most of the set pieces last year. Now, one look at Chivas' set piece delivery in 2012 showed that nobody was capable of staying on the field and providing consistent service, but Pearce didn't really strike fear in opponents, either. In New York, freed from that burden, and with set piece takers like Thierry Henry, he was able to get some goals for his new team. The point? Having somebody who is good at taking free kicks and corners can really help a team offensively.

So, in the end, was trading Pearce a good move or a bad move? At this point, I can't say. If Agudelo has a strong season in 2013, then it will have been worth it. Would Pearce have prevented the late season swoon by the Goats? I doubt it, considering he was part of a late season swoon in 2011 too (although part of that came from his hamstring injury). We still need more time to know, but my evaluation of Pearce is that he is a good MLS player, but his reputation has been inflated.

Grades:

Scoring Threat: B

Well he didn't help Chivas all that much in this department but his ability to make smart runs and getting his head on the ball earned him two goals for New York (both headers).

Playmaker (Passing/Creativity): B

Pearce did well to get up and down the field. His ability to link directly to New York forwards certainly helped spur their explosive attack (the Red Bulls were third in the league in goals with 57).

Defense: B

The thinking was Pearce, 5'10", was too small to play center back so a trade to NYRB would allow him back to a more natural full back position. Not quite. He did finish the season (and play two playoff games) at left back, however the bulk of Pearce's time in New York was at center back. He made gaffes and seemed overwhelmed at times but always seemed able to score a goal to perform a goal-line save to correct his misdeeds.

- Matthew Hoffman

GM's Evaluation:

I'm still not quite sure how I feel about Pearce being gone. While I was glad to get Califf and Agudelo, Heath Pearce was our best defender last season. In the games he played this year, he definitely didn't put up the same quality performances, but he was still up to par. It's one of those questions where, if he had stayed, would he have paired with Califf well enough to give us the defense we needed? Or would he have continued to be average? We won't ever know, and we can only really move forward. I know this sounds like a non-answer, and it probably is, but Pearce is a decent player and there's always discomfort for me when we let those go.

- Rachna Kapur

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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