Every team needs steady professionals, and Chivas USA got one with Agustin Pelletieri in 2014.
The Argentine left his domestic league for the second time in his career this season, leaving Racing to head to MLS for the first time. On a free transfer, the then 31-year-old came to a rebuilding side to try something new, and slotted into the lineup from day one.
Playing as a holding midfielder alongside Oswaldo Minda on day one, it appeared Pelletieri made a good partner for the Ecuadorian, as Minda's physical aggression was paired with Pelletieri's more cerebral approach in cutting out passing lanes.
But while Pelletieri certainly didn't commit as many yellow card-worthy offenses as his partner in the middle, he matched Minda in red cards for the season (even if Pelletieri's was perhaps a bit iffy) and committed almost as many fouls (36 to Minda's 41).
And with Minda out of the lineup due to the World Cup and a few yellow card suspensions, and with Chivas' defense struggling mightily, Pelletieri was the most steady option in defensive midfield over the course of the season. But that didn't mean Wilmer Cabrera wasn't afraid to chop and change his lineup, playing at various times Pelletieri, Minda, Thomas McNamara, Marky Delgado, Carlos Alvarez, Nathan Sturgis, Matt Dunn, and Nigel Reo-Coker in either pure defensive midfield or box-to-box roles in central midfield in 2014. Needless to say, that's a lot of bodies moving in and out of the middle.
Here were Pelletieri's statistics in 2014:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|MLS Regular Season||27||22||1,684||1||0||10||4||4||1|
|U.S. Open Cup||1||1||120||0||0||0||0||0||0|
So let's talk about the positives of Pelletieri's run with CUSA. As I noted at the top, he was steady, not really showing considerable dips in his form as the season wore on. He played the most minutes of any d-mid on the roster, and fit into a Goats side full of upheaval without any issues. While I didn't see him being demonstrative on the field, I do think he helped guys like Dan Kennedy, Carlos Bocanegra, Mauro Rosales and Reo-Coker as a model professional and a leader in the locker room for his younger teammates, many of whom were pretty new to the professional game altogether.
But this wasn't his team, and while every soccer team needs starters who will put their heads down and just do their work, the rousing example that Pelletieri showed while with Racing and Lanus wasn't really on display in a new league. Whether he purposely deferred to teammates with MLS experience, or he was trying to get his bearings in a new league and new country, is unclear. He did score a goal, one that helped Chivas come from behind to beat the Vancouver Whitecaps, and he tried to set the tone in the U.S. Open Cup game penalty shootout against the Carolina RailHawks by taking the first PK, and scoring it (of course, too many of his teammates couldn't replicate that task, and CUSA were bounced).
But the question I circle back to regarding Pelletieri is whether he's better than a theoretical American equivalent on an MLS team. That is probably in some respects unfair to him, since his game was far more subtle than say Minda's or Reo-Coker's, but even with the intangible assets he provided like consistency and experience, did he truly lock down his part of the field? Could he dominate opponents? Could he rally his teammates to make a change in the game for the better?
As a result, I think Pelletieri fits in the somewhat-obscure category of "Starter-caliber but not able to singlehandedly take over a game" among MLS players. Of course, there aren't a ton of players in the league who can take over the game, but my point is that Pelletieri's defensive responsibilities in the midfield are vital but not quite at the level that people will look back on his games and say, "Whoa, Pelletieri really bossed that match."
I'm not surprised he hasn't gotten picked up by an MLS team for 2015 yet, and given the fact that he was coveted in the Argentine Primera back in the summer before he reportedly addressed the rumors, saying he wanted to see the season out in California, it seems he won't have many issues finding a club back at home.
That's not to say that he can't fit an another MLS team. In particular, I see him fitting in well at FC Dallas, which has a plethora of talented attackers and good defenders but has had problems with holding midfield in recent years. But again, Oscar Pareja could opt to find an American player who may be at about the same level as Pelletieri without having to use an international slot.
If my critiques of Pelletieri make it sound like I don't like him, that's certainly not the case. If Chivas USA had more guys with his makeup, they might not have been as inconsistent as they were. A role player starter may be a weird description for the guy, but to me, it fits Pelletieri's style in 2014 perfectly.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!