The stress of being Heath Pearce is clearly weighing on Red Bulls center back.
Around practice, Pearce is known simply as the “Commissioner” because he counts the passes in the warm-up game known as “Boxes.” Played in a small space outlined with cones, seven players form an outer circle and play keep away with two players in the middle who are in pursuit of the ball. The goal is for the players on the outside to string together 20 consecutive passes while the players in the middle try to take it away.
“I’m just trying to make rules and help people respect them,” Pearce said. “They look to me when they need something and when it is them in a tough position, they get agitated. The crown rests heavy; it is a lose-lose situation for me. I didn’t ask for this responsibility.”
Snarky, sarcastic and a bit of a free spirit, Pearce’s arrival to the Red Bulls helped turn a laughingstock of a defense into a solid unit.
Pearce, nothing short of a revelation in the New York backline, was acquired by the Red Bulls in May in a trade that sent promising young forward Juan Agudelo to Chivas USA.
“I think he’s fit in here quite well,” head coach Hans Backe said. “He’s rather solid back there and makes good decisions and choices and he’s become very much a leader of the back line.”
Even though his role as the commissioner is tongue in cheek, it is a sign that he is coming into his own on this New York team. Whether on the practice field at Montclair State University or during games at Red Bulls Arena, Pearce has stepped up as one of the organizers of the defense.
Defender Markus Holgersson has cited his partnership with Pearce in the middle of the New York defense as a reason for their solid showings. A big reason has been Pearce’s willingness to be vocal and take on the role of bringing the defense together on the same page.
“It’s been a transition from midfield to outside back to now center back over the past two years, and it isn’t that you’re more vocal there but when you’re in the middle of the park, you control more things around you. It’s something I’m trying to get better at, be more effective at. It’s something that I’ve worked on over the past few years,” Pearce said.
“It’s definitely something I had to kind of embrace because I’m not the most vocal person in general. In my career, I’ve always been one of the ‘pull your own weight types’ and it took me until maybe last year to realize the benefit of being someone who organizes and talks a lot. I’ve been trying to implement that this year so we can be stronger defensively.”
Follow Red Bulls writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.