With the addition of midfielder Matías Pérez García, Jason Kreis now has a few offensive options to play around with. Orlando City fans got to see Pérez García in his first appearance in a purple shirt on Sunday, and it was one of the lone bright spots in a lopsided loss to the Seattle Sounders. Pérez García was only on the pitch for 35 minutes, but he provided a much-needed offensive spark that gave the Lions life at the end.
It was a stark contrast with both Hadji Barry and Brek Shea, who were invisible for most of the contest. Shea, who had recently been penciled in as the starter on the left wing, has the most to lose from his lackluster performance and the Argentine’s emergence. But Brek might have a lifeline as the schedule becomes more congested.
At first glance, Matías is the obvious choice to plug in and spark Orlando’s offense. It’s encouraging to think of Pérez García, Kaká, and Kevin Molino causing havoc behind Cyle Larin. MPG fits in well with Kreis’ system and play style; he provides an offensive spark and technical ability that the rest of the roster -- after Kaká and Molino – lacks. Shea has not been that spark. He does not have the same technical ability. He can’t send in an accurate cross from the wide areas. There was a definite difference in Orlando City’s offense in the last half hour with Pérez García compared with either Shea or Barry, and fans took notice.
But the stats are not as slanted as the eye test. Matías Pérez García has had more of an offensive impact in the last two seasons but, surprisingly, not by much. Pérez García’s eight assists and two goals for the Earthquakes is barely better than Shea’s six assists and one goal in the same period of time and while Shea has played more minutes than Pérez García by a fair distance, part of that is to be expected given Shea’s long stints at fullback with some stretches of appearances on the wing. He may lack the creative flair and technical ability, but Shea has been nearly as influential on the scoreboard.
The stat most attributed with Pérez García is the number of fouls he has suffered. He puts himself in a threatening position and takes hits that give the team an advantage, if only a slight one. He took four against the Sounders on Sunday, resulting in some dangerous opportunities for Orlando. It helps that the Lions have historically great free-kick takers like Kaká and Júlio Baptista at their disposal, and getting Matías the ball around the box will undoubtedly result in a positive play at some point, even if he’s only taking a kick to the legs. He does it to a degree that no one in MLS does.
The biggest concern over the Argentine in San Jose was his inability to play for a full 90 minutes. He was on the field for the full match for only nine of his 31 starts in the past two seasons and he was often taken off around the hour mark. Shea brings the exact opposite to the table, often praised for his physical fitness and stamina. Shea can give more for longer even if he’s not as effective on the offensive end. If Kreis brought Pérez García in as a super sub or Kaká insurance, as he has insinuated, asking him to pick up that role when the Brazilian is inevitably injured or needs rest becomes even more taxing if he’s starting every match. The Lions may have to sacrifice creativity in the beginning of most matches just because MPG can’t afford to start often.
Another glaring issue for Matías is his ineffectiveness outside the No. 10 role. Once Carlos Rivas came on at the end of the match against Seattle and Pérez García was shifted wide right, he disappeared. It’s a major concern when Kaká is the focal point of the offense. While the Brazilian play-maker is perfectly capable of playing wide left, it takes him away from the center of the action. Pérez García and Molino are capable of shouldering more of the offensive load, but asking Kaká to defend more will be draining for the aging star.
If both Kaká and Matías are gassed, where does Kreis go for instant offense late in matches? Especially as the fixtures begin to come thick and fast and the playoff race heats up, bench production becomes paramount to success. Baptista shouldn’t, and likely can’t, be asked to constantly shoulder all of the offensive responsibility late on. Brek proved that he can have some impact as a substitute, albeit against a reeling New England team, and Rivas has the pace and the ability to provide some offensive punch, but asking either to be the go-to offensive option off the bench is a stretch. Perhaps, with the addition of Pérez García, offense wouldn’t be as large of a need late in matches, but Orlando’s defense hasn’t proven it can give up fewer than two goals consistently, so that’s unlikely.
So even with his apparent offensive advantage, maybe MPG should remain in a key reserve role. Being able to spell Kaká will be vital to keeping both fresh for the home stretch of the season and with the Lions embroiled in such a tight fight for playoff places, having both readily available will be key.
Shea may not be the best available option, but he’s not terrible. He’s got adequate pace to deal with MLS fullbacks and can play on either side of midfield. Kreis would be wise to give Matías time as a starter, but Shea is probably the wisest choice for the squad to operate at peak efficiency for the final dozen matches of the season. The bottom line is having a player of the caliber of either Shea or MPG available off the bench is great for Orlando’s playoff outlook.