Reunited with Valdes, Perlaza hopes to provide spark for Union
CHESTER, Pa. -- Since Jorge Perlaza began his professional career at age 16, the striker has changed clubs six times. He’s played as a reserve and a regular in Colombia’s top-flight, enjoyed a stint on the national team, made the transition to MLS, and most recently swapped coasts following Philadelphia’s June 6 trade with Portland for Danny Mwanga.
For Perlaza, it’s all part of the journey.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” the 12-year pro said via a translator, “which has shown me how to grow as a person. When I was young, I always dreamed of being a soccer player. ... I’ve worked very hard to get to where I am, and I’m very happy for being able to play the game.”
Perlaza’s prolific goal-scoring form in his home nation is what initially attracted MLS suitors. Then, despite playing on a Portland field that failed to utilize Perlaza’s impressive speed due to its small dimensions, he managed to score six goals as a first-year MLS player. Recently, however, he’s had trouble finding the back of the net. The forward didn’t score in six starts with the Timbers this season, part of the reason he’s happy to join a different club where new prospects await.
“Coming to Philadelphia is a wonderful opportunity,” he said, “and I hope to contribute as best as I can in each chance I get on the field. I will work as hard as possible for the team’s benefit and, God willing, things will work out for us here in Philadelphia so we can score plenty of goals.”
Easing Perlaza’s latest transition is the familiar face of fellow Colombian Carlos Valdes. Perlaza and Valdes met during their academy days and both played professionally in Colombia until making their MLS debuts in 2011.
“I met Jorge when we were very young and we had the opportunity of playing together for many years,” said the Union captain. “I think that having and preserving this friendship until today and meeting up with him again here in Philadelphia is a great feeling.
“He’s a very calm person, a great guy, and a player who is very dedicated to his family. … Jorge is the kind of person that started out from the bottom, who one day set out to achieve his dreams, and with that strength and desire has made them a reality. I’m glad that he can be part of this team and work towards the things that both life and soccer have given us so far.”
Perlaza, 27, seems a seasoned veteran on a Union roster that boasts an average age of just under 22 years. It may only be a matter of time before the Union’s newest player grows into one of the locker room leaders.
“Guys will lead in different ways,” said sporting director Diego Gutierrez. “You’ll have some leaders that are vociferous, that are outspoken. … Knowing Jorge, he’ll be a guy that will lead by example more than anything.”
Above all else, the Union will look to Perlaza to help turn around an offense that is tied for last in MLS with only eight goals scored so far this season. Perlaza saw his first MLS action with the Union Saturday at PPL Park against D.C. United. Entering in the 82nd minute, his impact was limited, but if and when Perlaza sees more substantial minutes he’ll be expected to give the offense a much needed lift — if not by scoring, then at least by creating.
“We bring forwards in to score,” said Gutierrez. “The expectation is there that at some point he’s going to find the back of the net for us. There’s no doubt about that. But we can’t put pressure on new players by telling them that you have to score otherwise you’re not a success. … Creating opportunities, stretching the field for us, and basically doing the things that we brought him here to do — I think that’s considered a success.
“His work ethic and his professionalism are second to none,” Gutierrez added. “I’m sure that not only will he wear the Union colors proudly, he’ll wear them well.”
WATCH: Perlaza nets first-ever goal at JELD-WEN