Amidst Chivas USA's policy of signing experienced players on free transfers were a few younger players who came in on loan. Erick Torres may have been the best known of these, of course, in 2014, but another regular contributor who came via this route was Leandro Barrera.
The Argentine winger/forward, who joined the Goats from Argentinos Juniors just before the start of the season, became a veritable fixture for the team, either as a starter or coming off the bench, and played the second-most games on the team in 2014, behind only goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.
So that means Barrera was a rousing success in MLS, right? Not so fast.
Barrera had one elite skill in my mind, and that was his ability to take a defender on one-on-one. There simply aren't many MLS players who are capable of this, and so defenders are often not prepared to defend an attacker directly with the ball, and Barrera often had a field day taking on either overmatched fullbacks or slow-footed center backs.
But what else did he contribute? Since he could beat his defender, all he needed to do was get a good cross in and see the goals stream in. But Barrera's percentage of successful crosses was abysmal, and he only set up two goals all season. It became quickly frustrating to see him do all the hard work, then kill a promising play by sending a wild ball out of bounds.
And while he was billed as a forward, Barrera never found anything resembling scoring form up top, and his only goal on the season was an "empty net" goal common in hockey but unusual in soccer, when he iced a win vs. the Vancouver Whitecaps with a long shot with the 'Caps keeper nowhere around the goal. Hey, a goal is a goal, but his was not really of a variety that it could be said he'd do it again with any regularity.
Here were Barrera's statistics in 2014:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|MLS Regular Season||32||24||2,071||1||2||36||16||3||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||1||1||105||0||0||0||0||0||0|
Now, despite disparaging much of Barrera's game, most notably that he simply was not nearly as productive as he needed to be, his energy level and ability to stay healthy certainly helped him get as many minutes as he did. And for a team that was stratified between young guys and old guys, having the 23-year-old step up and eat up so many minutes on the left flank was useful indeed.
And it seems clear that despite the weak crossing ability, Barrera's best position in MLS is going to be as a winger, and most guys can develop their crossing game if they work on it. We saw dramatic improvement by Jorge Villafana once he really started working on it, and given Barrera's age, he can certainly round into a useful (and productive) winger. But he's going to need to put in the work, and find a good situation for him to develop his game. I do think he's capable, but he can't light up the league based on his natural talent, as he showed with CUSA.
The San Jose Earthquakes selected Barrera in the Waiver Draft last month, so his MLS rights are held by the team now led by Dominic Kinnear. If the Quakes opt to bring Barrera in, either on loan again or buy purchasing his contract, he would join Chivas teammate Kris Tyrpak in the Bay Area.
And since San Jose did select Barrera, one has to expect they want to bring him in, but it isn't necessarily guaranteed. Still, I'm not certain how Barrera would fit on Kinnear's team. On one hand, his teams typically have a major need for wingers pumping crosses into the box, so Barrera could see plenty of time once again. But I'm pretty sure Kinnear would not give Barrera as long of a leash as Wilmer Cabrera, especially if he can't provide good service from the left wing.
And it may ultimately come down to the terms of Barrera's loan, or renegotiated terms with Argentinos Juniors of whether he returns at all. Barrera only made $50,000, according to MLS Players' Union figures, in 2014. But if Argentinos, who were promoted to the Argentine Primera for the 2015 season after spending a year in the second division, want to play hardball, will San Jose be willing to spend much in the way of a transfer fee on him? I say no. At this point, he's still a project, despite having a season of MLS experience.
All in all, I appreciated Barrera's hustle and his ability to beat defenders, but found his lack of production maddening. All things considered, he was one of only a couple of true wingers on the team, which led to him getting so many minutes, but I wish he had been able to contribute more along the way in his year with Chivas USA.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!