UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Heath Pearce was getting treatment prior to training with Chivas USA on Thursday when he was told to go see head coach Robin Fraser.
As he walked into Fraser’s office, Pearce knew immediately something was brewing. Normally, several members of the coaching staff would occupy the room. But that was not the case this time.
Fraser informed Pearce that he was part of a finished deal that would send the 27-year-old defender to the New York Red Bulls. Both coach and player exchanged pleasantries, but Pearce still admits the move that sent him East for striker Juan Agudelo and future considerations took him by surprise.
“If it was sudden from your perspective, it was more sudden from mine,” Pearce told reporters after training on Friday. “I had no idea. It was kind of out of left field, but I’m excited for the opportunity, obviously, to be traded to a team like New York Red Bulls that have so much tradition here and demand and pressure to get results. I like that environment.”
Friday’s practice may have marked the first time Pearce trained under Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe, but it’s not the first time the two have crossed paths. Pearce said he met Backe and other members of the Red Bulls coaching staff during last year’s All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena, and got to know them more personally when he sat with them during a team meal.
But Backe’s familiarity with Pearce goes far beyond those moments. The coach has known about Pearce for years.
“I’ve seen Heath many times in Denmark when I was coaching in Denmark, also in Germany when he went there,” said Backe, who managed FC Copenhagen from 2001 to '05. “He’s very composed. He can play probably four positions: right back, center back, left back and I guess such a good footballer could also play in midfield if necessary.”
Pearce is no stranger to getting traded. He was shipped in early 2011 from FC Dallas to Chivas USA, and he admits that experience is part of the reason why transitioning from the Goats to the Red Bulls has been easier.
“Obviously on a success level we didn’t achieve the playoffs last year, but the principles that they’re instilling into the club there are good principles,” said Pearce. “It was an honor to represent Chivas while I was there, but now my focus is here. There’s no time to sit and think about what my time was like there.”
It’s more than a turn of phrase. Pearce took a redeye flight from Los Angeles to New Jersey on Thursday, was picked up by friend and teammate Dax McCarty, and played center back with the first team in training on Friday morning.
The whirlwind continues for the veteran defender this weekend. The Red Bulls confirmed on Friday that Rafa Marquez will miss Saturday’s road match against the Montreal Impact (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), and Backe said that Pearce will take the field at the Olympic Stadium for the “shorthanded” Red Bulls.
Pearce is looking forward to getting on the field for his new club. And once he gets past the Impact, he can look forward to making his home debut next Wednesday. The opponent in that game? None other than Chivas USA.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.