With the San Jose Earthquakes' playoff hopes last season in the balance, Matias Perez Garcia, the team's playmaker in midfield, didn't deliver. A moment of petulance against FC Dallas star Mauro Diaz in the last game of the 2015 season prompted the referee to reach for his red card, banishing MPG to the locker room and leaving the Quakes a man down on the road against the Western Conference leaders.
And Dallas took advantage, turning a deadlocked match into a 2-1 victory. The results elsewhere on Decision Day didn't go the Earthquakes way anyway, but it didn't stop the blame-game against the Designated Player for letting the team down when it mattered most.
"Yes, it was frustrating not to make the playoffs," said the 31-year-old Argentinean through an interpreter, "but it is a new year, and we are back in camp with excitement for the season and hopefully we will get in the playoffs this year."
Perez Garcia is eager to look forward, having used the off-season to recharge both mentally and physically from a tough 2015 season on and off the field. He won't be able to put the red card against FC Dallas completely behind him -- MPG is suspended for the Quakes regular season opener against the Colorado Rapids -- but he does plan to use the preseason to refine his sharpness ahead of his third season in MLS.
"I am happy to be back," said Perez Garcia. "Every year, the object is the same, to make the playoffs. Play well during the year, and do the best we can, so that is what we want to do this year."
MPG earned another red card for tearing his jersey off in a goal celebration -- rules dictated a yellow card, his second of the match -- following his late game winner against Real Salt Late in September. He admitted at the time that it was a lack of mental focus that resulted in the infraction, something he hopes to avoid in this season.
One part of Perez Garcia's game that is unlikely to change in 2016 is the demands he puts on opposing defenders, which more often than not lead to a foul. In 2015, MPG was the third-most fouled player in MLS -- MVP Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC and Darlington Nagbe of MLS Cup champions Portland Timbers were one and two on the list (see below) -- sent to the ground 84 times in only 2032 minutes of play. And while the Earthquakes were rewarded with numerous free-kick opportunities as a result, the fouls were not always an advantage.
"The one thing it did do was stop our attack," said head coach Dominic Kinnear. "A lot of time he would pick up the ball in midfield, he would get fouled, and it would stop the flow of the game. You can't do anything, because, a) sometimes players do it on purpose, and, b) sometimes he is a little bit too tricky and a foul is a foul. For us, it's taking advantage of those dead ball situations."
Due to the wear-and-tear he suffered as of result, Perez Garcia did have to deal with some nagging injuries. His sharpness decreased over the season as a result, and his temper got the better of him by the end.
"As the year went on, it made me physically feel sore, and as you get more fouls, it becomes harder and harder to recover physically from that," said Perez Garcia. "But my style of play is that way. Back in Argentina, I was the player most fouled as well, so I'm used to that. Hopefully this year I get less fouls and physically I feel as healthy as I can as the season goes on."
The Earthquakes will hope their diminutive DP does hold up for the 34-game schedule, especially as the team endeavors to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2012.
2015 MLS Player Statistics -- Top-Ten Most Fouls Suffered (FS)