Over the course of an entire preseason on trial with the San Jose Earthquakes, Germany defender Andreas Gorlitz impressed the technical staff enough that he was signed to an MLS contract earlier this week. Per team and league policy, terms and conditions of the deal were not announced. The 32-year old defender will join the team following the receipt of his P-1 Visa and international transfer certificate.
Gorlitz began his career in the youth ranks of German club TSV 1860 Munchen before joining Bundesliga giant Bayern Munich in 2004. An injury suffered in a 2004 UEFA Champions League match against Juventus derailed his promising start for Bayern, and he never quite regained the form that brought him to the storied club. Gorlitz continued to play in Germany at a number of clubs before making the move to MLS in January.
He has good quality on the ball," said head coach Mark Watson to reporters following the announcement of the team's newest signing. "He has great tactical awareness, and as a professional, character-wise, he's been excellent. He comes in with a smile every day and works hard, so after seeing him for a month we thought he'd be a great addition. He gives us incredible competition at right back."
Gorlitz stepped into the starting right back role early in the preseason following an injury to newcomer Brandon Barklage, and the former Germany international looked all but certain to have secured the role heading into the regular season. An injury suffered in training prior to the Rose City Invitational in Portland, described by Watson as "a little hamstring issue" has kept him out of action the past two weeks, but the Earthquakes were impressed enough in what they saw prior to the injury to sign the 12-year veteran.
Along with fellow defenders Clarence Goodson (31-years old), Victor Bernardez (31), and Jordan Stewart (32), Gorlitz makes up a back four that would be the oldest in collective years in all of MLS. However, to goalkeeper Jon Busch, himself the elder of the team at age 37, the Earthquakes stand to benefit from their know-how.
"It's good to see those experienced players in front of you," said Busch to Center Line Soccer. "Championship teams are built on defending first and we've got some very good defenders on this team. You always want to add a couple guys, the young kids, but if you can get the experienced guys that have been through the battles and know what it is about, it's even a bigger bonus."
Less than 12 months ago, it was a couple of those young kids starting at outside back for San Jose, as 2010 MLS SuperDraft picks Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow began the year with high hopes of matching their All-Star caliber 2012 season. Instead, both were traded away this past offseason -- Morrow to Toronto FC after losing his starting role to Stewart and Beitashour to the Vancouver Whitecaps when his rookie contract ran out -- signaling the team's focus on featuring a more experienced back line. With his extensive time playing in the Bundesliga, Gorlitz fit the bill for general manager John Doyle.
"Andreas is an excellent right back with a ton of experience," said Doyle in a club statement. "He's great at getting forward and we're excited to have him join the club."
The effectiveness of Beitashour as an overlapping right back will be hard to match -- the former Earthquake notched 16 assists over the past three seasons, though only 3 last year -- but Watson does not see that as a problem for Gorlitz, and he has set-up his team tactically to take full advantage of what the German has to offer.
"He likes to attack," said Watson. "In the games he has played, he's looked to go forward quite a bit. I think it is one of his better qualities. He has a good tactical awareness and picks the right moments to go forward, and when he does get into the attacking third, the quality is good."
The Earthquakes were among the top-three points earners over the second half of the 2013 MLS season, and most of that came as a result of a tightened defense that kept the team in numerous games they would have likely dropped points in earlier in the campaign. The emphasis on defense again this season will be a priority for San Jose, and Busch is pleased to see Gorlitz come aboard to help bolster the ranks along the back four.
"He's consistent game in and game out," said Busch. "He's nice and solid, not flashy, does his work, and is good on the ball when he needs to be. He's a good defender and he has a good soccer brain."
For a team that is built less on stars and more on team players, Gorlitz would seem the embodiment of that ethos. The "blue collar" Quakes, as Busch often describes his team, embark on another challenging MLS season when they host defending Western Conference champions Real Salt Lake on March 15. And it wouldn't be a stretch to call their newest right back, with his poise and work ethic, the perfect Earthquake.
"Yeah," said Busch, "he'll fit right in."