Former U.S. national team midfielder Hugo Perez
may have been the first playmaker in U.S. history. And he is largely unknown in this country. "I think Perez really flew under the
radar," said former U.S. international Marcelo Balboa
, who was Perez's teammate on the 1994 World Cup team. "That was the sad part. You really didn't know much about Hugo back
then until you started playing on the national team, and you realized who Hugo was and what he could do ... You couldn't stop him. He could cut you to the right, he could cut you to the left, and
then lay a ball 20 yards into space so a forward could run onto it. You look at the history of U.S. soccer, and that was the first playmaker we really had with that much technical ability. He was
the first American where you said 'Wow.'"
Perez, who moved from El Salvador to settle permanently in the U.S. as an 11-year-old, had a career that suffered from a series of
unfortunate circumstances. He was just blossoming as a player with the San Diego Sockers of the North American Soccer League when the league collapsed in 1985. After toiling in indoor soccer for
several years, he missed his chance to join up with Johan Cruyff
's Ajax team in 1987 because he hadn't made enough international appearances to secure a work permit. U.S. national
team coach Bob Gansler
controversially left Perez off the 1990 World Cup squad, a move that prevented Perez from securing his dream move to Italian side Parma. Perez, however,
still enjoyed plenty of success in his career.
"I can't complain, because [the disappointments] are part of life," Perez said. "It would be nice if I had played in the 1990
World Cup, because I was 26, and I had those dreams. I didn't, and I got a second chance in 1994. Just to close my career with that, I think how many players in this world don't get into World
Cups, good players." Perez played 73 times for the U.S., scoring 13 goals. He was finally enshrined in the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2008.
Perez, 45, now works as a
technical advisor for the U.S. Soccer Federation's Development Academy. In addition to developing highly technical players, Perez says that he wants to tap into the Latino talent that has been
historically underrepresented on the national team. "Is U.S. Soccer doing enough?" asked Perez of its ability to nurture Latino talent. "I don't know. I know they are trying. Can we do more?
Yes, we can do more. We need more people. We can still do more work, not only for Latinos but African-Americans. We've got to reach those places. And I think we're starting to do that with the
Development Academy. Sometimes talent is hidden in certain places. But you need to get there."
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