November 29. The rain was starting to pick up and the temperature continued to drop. It seemed as if all was lost. We were down 4-1, on aggregate, and time was ticking away. The fourth official holds up the board for a substitution and on comes Blas Perez. Like some many times before that season, his insertion into the squad sparked the team. Not even five minutes later, we get a goal back; 4-2. From that moment, the onslaught began. The midfielders start whipping crosses into the box, hoping our hero, the man who came through some many times before, would do it again. Of course he did and of course it was on a set piece. We were back in the match and had 12 minutes to find the equalizer. If it wasn’t for some split second defending by Nat Borchers, the game could have possibly gone to extra time. Unfortunately it didn’t.
With that, our comeback ended, along with the season. I was determined to fight the weather, for a little bit longer, just to applaud our leader, hero and workhorse for the last time. I wanted to do my part to show appreciation to the player who gave everything he had, whether it was 38 degrees and raining or 95 degrees and muggy. I understand I was just a face in the crowd to him that night. That moment wasn’t just for him though. It was for myself as well. I was saying goodbye to a guy that I loathed in 2012 but came to absolutely love by 2015.
The new season is upon us and I am really excited about all the new faces. FC Dallas might be the deepest team in the league, and we have speed all over the field. We are gong to be able to outrun and outwork everyone during the dog days of summer. We are going to be able to play an exciting brand of soccer up and down the field. My main concern though is, how are we going to handle the departure of Perez?
I’m not worried about the games in the middle of July in Frisco where we just put it to opposing teams at Toyota Stadium and by the 70th minute, the visiting teams are swimming in their own sweat. Instead, what happens when we play the teams that muck up the midfield? Or what happens when a team starts getting ‘chippy’ with Mauro Diaz or Fabian Castillo? Who is going to be able to fill that void? Who is going to be willing to do the dirty work? Do we have a player that is going to be able to fill the shoes of the guy who scored the scrappy, ugly goal?
Perez averaged nine goals a year with FC Dallas from 2012-2015. A lot of those goals were of set pieces, or put backs. They were garbage goals that were the direct result of hard work and a quality striker’s niche ability to be at the right place at the right time. I’m worried that we don’t have that guy on the roster at this time. When you play the top tier teams in MLS, you have to grind out victories. This is a very physical league that can punish you, especially the finesse teams. They lean on you, hold you and constantly badger you until you’ve had enough. Perez never had enough. He excelled when teams tried to body him up. Tried to get physical with him. He would flip the script and put the pressure back on opposing teams; whether by hard tackles, late challenges or just being a constant nuisance.
Maybe that guy is on the roster already. Maybe he has just been waiting to get his turn in the spotlight. To show what he can do when the lights are shining the brightest. I feel like it’s going to have to be a collective effort to fill that void. It’s going to need to be Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, Maynor Figueroa, and Ryan Hollingshead getting on the ends of corners. Kellyn Acosta, Victor Ulloa, Carlos Gruezo becoming the ones who make the hard tackles, setting the tone now.
I’m beyond excited about this season and absolutely love the new additions to the team. I feel like as a whole, the squad is going to be better suited to challenge for some hardware this year. I just hope that adding more midfielders and "shoring up" the back line is going to be a case of addition by subtraction. In the end, time will tell.
As for now, for this fan, I am going to miss Perez. He won me over. I will miss your constant nagging, irritating nature and most of all, your production. It was a pleasure seeing you put on that red jersey and wearing proudly. Let us not forget the guy who put this team on his back and willed them to countless victories. I know I surely won’t.