D.C. United was poised for a busy offseason after the departures of Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta and other key starters from 2019. On Tuesday the club made their biggest move yet.
Peruvian international forward Edison Flores was officially announced as a member of Ben Olsen's squad, following an impressive stint in Mexico with Monarcas Morelia, where he registered 12 goals and six assists in 45 appearances in Liga MX since joining the club in 2018.
Flores’ time in Mexico was the most successful spell of his club career since leaving Peru in 2016. Playing on the left wing or as a second striker, the man nicknamed Orejas (ears) was the focal point of Morelia’s attack, especially during this season’s Apertura.
Upon arrival, Flores was a regular starter out wide. However, he truly hit his stride when he formed a partnership with former Philadelphia Union striker Fernando Aristeguieta. The South American duo scored 13 of Monarcas’ 31 goals during the Apertura, en route to a semifinal finish in the Liguilla. Flores himself scored three goals in the two-legged quarterfinal triumph over León.
The Peruvian’s pace, dribbling, work rate and willingness to shoot from distance (53 of Flores’ 78 shots for Monarcas have come from outside the box) have been staples of his game for years, but the switch to a central role has unlocked more qualities.
Playmaking was one notable change. According to data from Wyscout, Flores averaged 0.21 expected assists (xA) per 90 minutes and 0.78 key passes per 90 in the last calendar year. Both totals are ranked in the top five in each category among all attacking players with at least 2,000 minutes in Liga MX in 2019.
Flores’ positional flexibility, off-the-ball effort and his all-around offensive traits should endear himself to D.C. United fans, as will his unique career path that was met with plenty of trying moments.
Flores began his career at Escuela Deportivo Hector Chumpitaz from 2004 to 2008 before joining the academy of Universitario de Deportes, one of the biggest clubs in Peru. In 2011, La U won the U-20 Copa Libertadores, beating Boca Juniors in the final, with Flores named as player of the tournament.
Those performances caught the eye of several European teams. Eventually, Villarreal secured Flores’ signature in the summer of 2012. However, Flores couldn’t crack Villarreal’s first team, instead spending his time with the club’s “B” side in the Spanish lower leagues.
After two years in Spain, Flores returned to Universitario. After a solid first season back in Peru, 2016 was his breakout year. Playing in an attacking trio involving current MLS players Andy Polo and Raúl Ruidíaz, Flores bagged eight goals and 11 assists in 24 league games.
Thanks to those contributions, La U won the 2016 Apertura whilst fending off potential suitors for Flores. His form led to regular call-ups to the Peruvian national team, including to the US-based Copa America Centenario where he first established himself as a go-to option for coach Ricardo Gareca.
That Copa America tournament convinced Danish Superliga outfit Aalborg BK to sign Flores in the summer of 2016. Showing his maturity as a player, Flores' start to life in Denmark was far more encouraging than his first European excursion. Flores logged regular minutes with the first team until niggling injuries took their toll in the months leading up to the 2018 World Cup. His inability to lock down consistent playing time and this subsequently affected Flores’ performances in Russia.
Thankfully for Flores, he landed in Morelia and has risen back to prominence and a big-money move to MLS.
Flores, who has already been spotted in D.C. trying out a local Peruvian chicken joint, will not be short of compatriots in the MLS ranks. He is the sixth active Peruvian in the league, and he might not be the last to join this offseason. Peru’s No. 1 goalkeeper, Pedro Gallese, has been heavily linked to MLS, with Orlando City named as a possible destination.
With more Peruvians plying their trade abroad, MLS is now seen as a viable destination. It could continue to be a viable market for the league. Peruvian clubs sign the majority of their players to short-term contracts, so MLS teams can capitalize by acquiring players for a reasonable price, sometimes without a transfer fee at all.
In turn, MLS teams can offer better quality of life and a platform to impress, regardless of the player’s experience.
For example, Ruidíaz was one of the top strikers in Mexico with Monarcas before he moved to the Seattle Sounders. Marcos Lopez, on the other hand, was a teenager with only 23 professional appearances to his name when he signed with the San Jose Earthquakes.
Performing well abroad is crucial for the growth of Peruvian soccer. If Peruvians are foundational pieces in a growing league like MLS, that will boost the reputation of the country and can only lead to future transfers for other players.
Flores will be hoping that he can be the next Peruvian to do his part in boosting the country’s stock stateside.