Sweden might be the land of ABBA, Volvo and IKEA, but Heath Pearce hopes it becomes the land where his soccer career gets a fresh start – one that catapults him back to the highest levels of the sport.
The 30-year-old Johansen High School graduate, hindered by a hip injury for much of the past four seasons, has proclaimed himself 100 percent fit after his first preseason training camp with IFK Göteborg of Sweden’s top league, Allsvenskan, which begins play April 5.
“I missed the second half of the season two years ago and played the whole season last year and re-found my pace and form and the ultimate confidence in myself, which I had lost due to my physical limitations,” Pearce said Thursday in an interview via Skype. “The idea now is to prove that to myself that I still have it. In my mind I do, but it’s one thing to talk about it and another to prove it.”
A natural left back, Pearce can and has played everywhere on the back line during his professional career – a journey that began in Denmark in 2005, took him to Germany in 2007, and then to stops in MLS with FC Dallas, Chivas USA, the New York Red Bulls and last season with the Montreal Impact.
He’s played in 129 games and made 120 starts and three all-star teams over seven MLS seasons and has earned 35 caps with the U.S. Men’s National Team, including stints during the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2009 Gold Cup. He was on the 30-man preliminary roster for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and a return to the USMNT remains high on his list of inspirations.
“Yes, there is that unfinished business,” Pearce said. “I’m in a position now with this club where I can prove that I belong in consideration because no one is going to hand that to me. I need to put myself back on the radar and see for myself where I am as a player. Am I a young 30 or an old 30? That’s the challenge I’ve presented myself with.”
He said he began to have problems with his right hip in 2011 while playing for Chivas USA and tried to play through the pain, then had surgery in 2013 while a member of the Red Bulls. After making 20 starts with Montreal last season, the Impact left him off its list of 11 protected players in the MLS expansion draft as the league added teams in New York and Orlando.
Pearce went to Orlando City SC with the 13th pick in the Dec. 10 draft, and then ... crickets. He heard nothing from his new team for three weeks, which meant he went home for the holiday season as a member of the Lions in rights only.
“I didn’t hear from anybody on the club, which was unexpected for me,” Pearce said. “I expected to be welcomed onto the club and then we’d talk about business, but three weeks passed before I got an offer from them. The lack of contact made me feel like I wasn’t a part of their bigger plan. It didn’t feel to me like they thought I was a guy they needed to improve their squad.”
On Jan. 12, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Pearce and the expansion team could not agree on a contract, and he signed with Göteborg 17 days later. Several soccer fan sites said the move reflected the ongoing problem in the MLS of not paying players enough to keep them from bolting for Europe, but Pearce denied money was an issue.
“This wasn’t a money move; this was an ambition move,” he said. “I was receiving offers from abroad, and it opened my eyes. I’m 30 and I have no physical limitations, so why not go to Europe and see where I stack up against the competition. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to come here to a big club, where I am going to be able to challenge myself daily.”
Pearce is not ready to target an expiration date on his playing career, but he does have post-soccer goals that involve Modesto. He said he’d like to come back to the area and help develop the soccer talent – talent he said has gone largely unrecognized and thus undeveloped over the last 20 years.
“There’s so much talent in the Central Valley from my generation of players that went to waste,” he said. “Kids are having to be driven to the Bay Area to play with the better players, and I feel there’s so much talent there that the Central Valley, from Modesto to Sacramento, should be able to stand on its own feet as a soccer hotbed.”
But that’s down the road. Right now and for the next few years, Pearce plans on getting as much as he can out of himself.
Imagine the career of a professional athlete expressed as two lines on a graph – one measuring health and raw athletic talent, the other charting the wisdom that comes with playing at the highest level. Pearce believes his lines are right now intersecting at a high level on that graph.
“That’s the idea, right?” Pearce said. “As I found my mental game, this physical limitation affected me in a pretty short window. I needed to fix the issue and put myself on the radar again on an international level.
“I’m the strongest I’ve been in years and now have to prove that to me and to everybody else. I do have the mental game I’ve developed over the last 10 years, and I believe the physical side has caught up.”
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Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2150. His blog is at
The Heath Pearce file
Height: 5-10 Weight: 175
Position: Left back
Born: Modesto, Aug. 13, 1984
Schools: Johansen High, University of Portland
Pro career: FC Nordsjaelland (Denmark) 2004-07, Hansa Rostock (Germany) 2007-10, FC Dallas (2009-10), Chivas USA (2011-12), New York Red Bulls (2012-13), Montreal Impact (2014), IFK Göteborg (current)
National team: U17 (2000-01), U18 (2003), U20 (2003), U.S. Men’s National Team (2005-12, 35 caps).