How does a trade of 34-year-olds change the balance of power in the Western Conference?
On the surface, not much, yet by swapping striker Blas Perez and midfielder Mauro Rosales Vancouver and FC Dallas have further refined their identities three months after both failed to reach the MLS Cup final. Both have been training with their new teams during preseason so the adjustment process shouldn’t be severely difficult.
A heated rivalry between these teams stemming from a controversial 2-1 FCD victory in the 2014 knockout round didn’t deter them from dipping into each other’s ranks. Perez gives the Whitecaps a physical front-line presence that they have often lacked. Rosales is yet another skilled, creative player who fits snugly the game of possession and connection instilled by FCD head coach Oscar Pareja.
No Western Conference team compiled more points last year these two teams. FCD topped the group with 60 points and Vancouver tied for second with eventual MLS Cup champion Portland with 53. The Timbers toppled both teams in the playoffs, knocking off Vancouver on a 2-0 aggregate in the conference semifinals and ousting FCD, 5-3, in the finals.
Circumstances have prompted the departures from Portland of several key contributors -- Will Johnson, Rodney Wallace, Max Urruti (to FCD), Jorge Villafana -- and many conference rivals have been nearly as active. The Galaxy has added three MLS veterans, a trio of Europeans, plus a young Ghanaian; the changes in Vancouver and Dallas aren’t as drastic, yet the swap of Perez and Rosales indicate just how deep teams will dip into their roster to get better.
Combined, they started 33 of a possible 68 games in 2015, and both are at that age when nagging injuries take a greater toll than they did five years ago. On solid teams, they can be used effectively as starters or off the bench.
In Perez, who scored 36 goals for FCD in 97 appearances after arriving from Mexican club Tigres in 2012, the Whitecaps get an experienced target man well-versed in the ways of MLS and Concacaf. He’s not overly large at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds yet his robust, boisterous style has bruised many an opponent and earned five red cards. Perez played the villain to perfection against Vancouver by scoring four goals and triggering several melees in 10 games against the ‘Caps, yet they welcomed him into training camp with the intent to get a deal done.
Deploying Perez as a focal point that can tie up defenders and carve out space to be exploited by Vancouver’s powerful, pacy duo of Kekuta Manneh and Darren Mattocks as well as forward Octavio Rivero -- who fizzled after a hot start to finish the season with 10 goals -- and newcomer Masato Kudo is an enticing option for head coach Carl Robinson.
“We know Blas is an excellent player from playing against him in the past four years and we're excited to get the chance to work with him on a daily basis,” Robinson said in a statement. “In the short period of time that he's been here, he's shown how he can help our team, and also our group of forwards improve.”
Rosales joined Seattle in 2011 and played three seasons before moving on to Chivas USA and Vancouver, for which he played 24 games in 2015, logging one goal and three assists. In 142 MLS games, he’s scored 13 goals and registered 48 assists. He can step in for Mauro Diaz in the playmaking role as well as fill other needs. He seldom looked comfortable in the Whitecaps system featuring Pedro Morales, who battled injuries and inconsistency last year after winning Newcomer of the Year honors in 2014.
“He can play on the wing or in the middle,” Pareja, who has also added midfielders Carlos Gruezo and Juan Esteban Ortiz and defender Maynor Figueroa to go along with Urruti and Rosales, told FCDallas.com. “He can help us a lot in creating options to score, he’s a great crosser. "He’s a player who has skill on dead balls and can contribute on set plays and as I said in our young core of players that we have I think he can play an excellent role in the locker room and on the field too.”
While Rosales adds depth, Perez addresses an urgent issue. Down the stretch, the ‘Caps couldn’t score in big games. In head-to-head meetings a week apart last October, FCD took four points by tying 0-0 at BC Place and winning, 2-0, in Toyota Stadium. Vancouver’s offensive struggles continued in the playoffs when they were twice blanked by the Timbers, and by welcoming a nemesis has confirmed its title aspirations.