Nine months have passed since Orlando City sent Darwin Cerén to the San Jose Earthquakes in exchange for Matias Perez Garcia in a shock move that saw the Lions lose a fan favorite. It was the first big move Jason Kreis made to the roster Adrian Heath left him.
There were originally mixed emotions from fans; Cerén had won the MLS Latino Del Ano award in 2015 and had become a roster staple for Orlando in the club’s early days at the highest level of the American pyramid. But central midfield was crowded with the up-and-coming Cristian Higuita, dependable Servando Carrasco, and Antonio Nocerino, whom the club had committed an exceptional amount of capital to, all vying for playing time. Cerén was the odd man out.
Now, as Orlando travels to face San Jose for the first time since that deal was struck, it comes to the forefront again as City fans will see Cerén in Earthquake blue rather than royal purple, trying to strip the ball from Higuita rather than dominate the midfield right alongside him.
Orlando got a minute dynamo of a Designated Player that seemingly had the ball glued to his feet and a temporary international roster spot, to keep the club compliant until green cards came in. MPG provided a second creative spark to pair with Kaká and take the pressure off his shoulders. San Jose got the steely box-to-box midfielder in Cerén and opened up that international spot for 2017 and beyond, adding another quality central midfield option to a team that relied on solid defending.
Too often, fans of the teams involved in trades look for winners and losers in these agreements. But if there was ever a quintessential fair trade, this might be it. MPG has shed his DP tag, taking a regular senior roster slot, same as Darwin. The cap hits have equaled out as well, with Cerén receiving a raise in his contract, bumping him up to just $10,000 shy of his Argentinian counterpart in guaranteed money. They’ve even had an identical number of starts for their new clubs with 16 each.
But the real judge of trades like these is whether or not the clubs filled the proper holes in their respective rosters. Outside of the hard figures, did the Lions and Earthquakes come away satisfied? Even here, it looks equal. Cerén is an upgrade for Dom Kinnear in central midfield, a proper No. 8 that can roam from penalty box to penalty box. He’s been his normal self, winning the ball in dangerous areas but not quite providing the finishing touches on the offensive end. The Salvadoran has yet to register an assist or goal for the Quakes through his 20 appearances.
MPG, on the other hand, has already chipped in three assists for the Lions, providing creativity and an eye for clever passes that the rest of the roster has generally lacked. He’s the player OCSC expected, too, who hasn’t been able to consistently go for 90 minutes at a time (he’s finished out just six of his 16 starts) but gives his all when he’s on the pitch.
It may be trending away from that equality as Cerén becomes a bigger part of the Earthquakes’ starting squad, which has been especially true since they moved from the 4-4-2 to the 4-3-3, and MPG takes a backseat in Kreis’ new diamond behind Kaká. It’s the nature of trading a younger player for an older one, though the Lions’ need for more seasoned MLS veterans was apparent.
But Orlando might not miss Cerén with Higuita and Will Johnson manning the box-to-box roles in the middle of the park. Even off the bench, MPG fills a big need in depth and is a quality spot starter when called upon. His play on the right wing and as the attacking midfielder was crucial to getting results while Kaká was on the sideline, including the game-winning assist against the Philadelphia Union.
Even if Cerén becomes a staple in the San Jose lineup and Perez Garcia is relegated to a role player, both the Earthquakes and Lions can feel satisfied with their decision to swap.