Sometimes the smallest guys on the field can have the biggest impact. At only 5-foot-5, midfielder Matias Perez Garcia isn’t going to intimidate anyone with his stature. So, he has to impress with his play on the field. MPG left it all on the field Sunday on both ends, melding selfless team defense with creativity and danger on the offensive end.
Perez Garcia led Orlando City’s offense with three chances created and the Lions’ defense with six tackles. He also drew three fouls, tallied an interception and a clearance, and fired two shots on the day. In general, he looked more comfortable playing in the middle of the pitch than we’ve seen when he’s limited to one side.
“I thought Matias worked extremely hard today and was quite a bit of a physical presence for us and really has been since we brought him here,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after Sunday’s match.
The diminutive Argentine left the field absolutely shattered in the 84th minute of Sunday’s 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls after taking part in a battle royale against Felipe Martins, the visitors’ stalwart, deep-lying midfielder. Felipe has the skill to boss the midfield and turn a game in a moment but he no doubt sat for a good spell in the ice tub after a physical day against MPG.
The two had a few memorable collisions on the day. The first came just three minutes into the contest. Felipe went hard into Perez Garcia and was whistled for a foul. The Red Bulls midfielder disagreed with Ismail Elfath’s call and gave the referee a Dikembe Mutombo finger wag, but it was a fairly clear call.
While tracking back in the 20th minute, MPG appeared to nick the ball and turned to break in on goal but he was called for a foul. It was a bit puzzling to see the same type of action let go on numerous other occasions and Perez Garcia was visibly upset with the call. Four minutes later, MPG came close to scoring his first goal as a Lion, taking a pass from Carlos Rivas that slipped through the legs of a defender and sending a left-footed shot that just missed the target.
The scariest collision between Felipe and MPG came near midfield in the 43rd minute. MPG and Felipe collided hard and the game continued down the field, where Scott Sutter just missed opening his Orlando City account with a shot that sprayed just inches wide of the left post. MPG fell awkwardly on his arm and needed several moments to gather himself. Meanwhile, Felipe got up more quickly after taking MPG’s boot either in the upper thigh or a much more sensitive area in the collision.
In the 60th minute, someone else took a turn getting physical with Perez Garcia. It was Sacha Kljestan who went over MPG, fouling the Lions’ attacking midfielder and knocking him to the ground. Seven minutes later, the Argentinian produced maybe his best moment of offensive magic on the day.
Taking a quick back pass from Rivas, MPG scorched a one-time pass that hit Cyle Larin perfectly in stride. With a deft first touch, the Canadian left two defenders in his wake and broke in on goal, only to see Luis Robles make a diving save to keep his team in the match. Perez Garcia’s pass – and Larin’s first touch – deserved a goal on the play but New York’s goalkeeper in the USMNT picture for a reason, and made one of his best of several great saves on that particular shot.
In minute 72, Perez Garcia and Felipe renewed acquaintances. While working hard to try to win back the ball near his own penalty area, MPG went up on an ill-advised attempt at a header but ended up taking Felipe’s head to his back for his trouble. Though it was an unwise foul, it was an aggressive mistake while trying to win possession for his team. Just 12 minutes later his shift was finished – a workmanlike effort that caught the attention of his coach.
“I’ve been really amazed with the defensive work that he’s been capable of doing and willing to do for us, because this is a very attacking-minded midfielder and often times those players don’t really have a whole lot of interest in things when the team doesn’t have the ball, but he’s worked extremely hard,” Kreis said. “I think he’s bought into everything we’re about.”
Perez Garcia’s stats weren’t gaudy on Sunday, and he didn’t score or register an assist, but no doubt Kreis will gladly take more performances like Sunday’s from his 32-year-old attacking midfielder.