Hugo Perez Searches for Future U.S. Stars

By Mike Woitalla

One of the greatest players ever to wear the U.S. jersey -- and perhaps the most skillful -- now searches for future national team talent.

Hall of Famer Hugo Perez is a U.S. Soccer Technical Advisor -- charged with identifying young talent and evaluating Development Academy clubs -- and this year beccomes U-15 U.S. boys national team coach after having guided the U-14s.

He knows from his own experience that it’s worthwhile to search far and wide for future stars: He got his break by responding to an announcement in Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion to an open tryout for the Los Angeles Aztecs of the old NASL when he was in his mid-teens.

That led to a 15-year pro career, which included 73 U.S. caps, appearances at the 1984 Olympics and 1994 World Cup. He played a key role in qualifying the USA for the 1988 Olympics and 1990 World Cup.

That it all started as an open tryout is something Perez, who emigrated from El Salvador at age 11, remembers as he assesses the young talent gathered at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., site of 7Up Sueno Alianza National Finals, the crowning event of Alianza's Hispanic player identification program that began with tryouts in 11 cities.

We spoke with Perez about the current state of U.S. Soccer’s youth scouting and player development, and the qualities of good coaching.

SOCCER AMERICA: What is the charge of a U.S. Soccer Technical Advisor?

HUGO PEREZ: To evaluate academies, evaluate coaches, evaluate players -- and pick players for Training Centers, for the national team pool, national team camps. We also run the Training Centers. [U.S. Soccer ran more than 200 Training Centers last year.]

SA: An often heard complaint by non-Development Academy coaches is the claim that U.S. Soccer is excludes non-Academy players ...

HUGO PEREZ: That’s not true. We pick players for the national teams who aren’t in the Development Academy.

SA: Can young talent, particularly from the Latino community, with national team potential still fall through the cracks?

HUGO PEREZ: Yes. The country’s so big. Obviously the step that U.S. Soccer took with the Academy has helped. But there are always going to be players you miss. That’s a reason why I come here to Alianza.

SA: Why is it possible that exceptional players might stay under the radar?

HUGO PEREZ: Sometimes there’s not enough information for them. As you know, the American club system can be difficult to navigate. Some coaches don’t want players to find the other avenues because they don’t want to lose their best players. Some live in areas without Academy clubs.

The advantage of the Academy is those kids are seen 80 to 90 percent of the time each weekend. The ones who are not seen every weekend, we still work with clubs who are not part of the Academy.

Training Centers help us identify the non-Academy talent. And [Technical Advisors] have people around our areas look for talent.

I go to meetings, NorCal for example, to present what U.S. Soccer is doing. What the purpose is. What the goal is. We reach clubs outside the Academy and we want those clubs to send players to the Training Centers. The more we do it, the more we reach players outside the Academy.

SA: What about ODP?

HUGO PEREZ: Yes. ODP, PDP, they have players also. ...

But at the Training Centers we don’t just evaluate players. When a kid comes to a Training Center, we to introduce them to what the national team does. The training, the type of soccer we want to play. We do a lot of stuff.

SA: What advice would you give coaches at the youngest ages?

HUGO PEREZ: One, to give the players confidence. Second, not to put them down when they make a mistake. Third, at those ages you don’t coach, you need to teach. And you need to teach in a positive way and encourage players to be creative. Not to be robots, but to be creative. At the youth level, we need to think about our kids first, and put ourselves second.

SA: What’s an important thing to keep in mind for coaches of players in their mid-teens?

HUGO PEREZ: A lot of things happen at those ages. Culture, peer pressure. When they start high school they start thinking differently. You’re dealing with those things. I think we can help them to maintain a balance.

We always forget that the player not only deals with soccer issues four, five times a week. There’s also the social and the private life. We’re not their parents, but I think we can be mentors. Give them give them counsel. Help them.

Sometimes we forget when we only see them for 90 minutes or two hours at practice that there’s more to it than making sure he hits the right pass.

SA: Players want to know their coaches care ...

HUGO PEREZ: I talk to them individually. “How you doing? ... How are your parents? ... How’s school. ... How do you feel about this? ... What do you guys do in your spare time.” We want to know them as a person

If I see a player not talking much, I ask, “Is everything OK? Can we help you?”

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, has coached youth soccer for Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif., and referees NorCal games. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper, and More Than Goals with Claudio Reyna. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

12 comments about "Hugo Perez Searches for Future U.S. Stars ".
  1. C Parent, September 22, 2013 at 3:25 p.m.

    I believe that Hugo Perez (and other coaches at the higher Academy levels in CA)shows favoritism to Latino & Hispanic players. Caucasian kids have a harder time being selected from many of these coaches even if they have the same talent (or are even better). I have seen it first hand. I hope things change soon. They need to notice the player and not the race.

  2. James Froehlich, September 22, 2013 at 4:37 p.m.

    I truly hope that "C Parent" is engaging in some very subtle sarcasm !!!! For 30 years I have watched as Latino/Hispanic youth players have either been ignored or else just frozen out of youth soccer due to the pay-to-play scenario. If they actually made it onto the field they were heckled for "playing" with the ball instead of "booting" it. There is a dirty little secret about youth soccer that no one wannts to talk about. As American football and basketball became dominated by African-Americans, the college scholarships that were a god-send to suburban whites began to disappear. Fortunately, soccer began to get established enough to warrant the issuance of college scholarships. This treasure trove was soon the object of attention by every white soccer player and his parents. But guess what, another minority threatened this loot. Fortunately, the pay-to-play system, accompanied by the structure of pay-to-play clubs, ODP, regional teams feeding directly into the National Teams was a perfectly legitimate way to keep the treasure in the family. The really great thing about it was that there really was no conspiracy ---it just happened. The eventual conspiracy was never active -- just passive -- change nothing and continue to ignore the pitiful results of the so-called youth development systems. If you detect a note of frustration and even anger in my tone, you're right!! I have no skin in the game other than a real love for the beautiful game and a desire that the best and most dedicated players make it to the top in the US. IMO that hasn't been happening but it APPEARS that it may be changing. If in the process, Latino/Hispanic youth are given an extra boost, it's ok with me because it's about time.

  3. cony konstin, September 22, 2013 at 5:28 p.m.

    First of all great interview Mike. Second of all Hugo keep up the great work. I have been coaching for 38 years and things lately have been changing in a positive way. Yes a little slow for my taste but things have been moving forward. I do not like the word caucasin, or latino. These are dirty words that are used to divide us within our nation. We are USONIANS, people of the United States of America. Our colors are red, white and blue. This is who we truly are. So I would appreciate that people like C Parent would not use words like caucasin or latino to describe who we are. We are USONIANS and be proud of it.

  4. Bruce Gowan, September 23, 2013 at 7:45 a.m.

    Sorry to be a downer on this interview but reading it just highlighted for me what is wrong with the US identification and development of players. If the US professional teams were developing their own players like in Europe and South America there would be little problem in identification. Unfortunately the US club system including the Academies are more about generating income for the clubs so they can stay in business. Another source would be open regional tryouts not connected to clubs/ODP. That would bring in players who are not a part of the "system". The problem then would be how does the US develop players who are identified outside of the "system". It always comes down to money.

  5. David Villano, September 23, 2013 at 9:41 a.m.

    True, some players on the current youth national teams come from non-academy teams but that hasn’t stopped Perez and his network of scouts from suggesting to top players that sticking with your club (or high school) will sabotage your prospects for a call up. I coach both club and high school in Miami and more than a few parents have told me that the message from US Soccer is clear: Academy play is the only way to the top.

  6. C Parent, September 23, 2013 at 11:57 a.m.

    James might be talking about over 20/30 years ago, but I am talking about the last 8 to 10 years. Things have changed! My point is that the players should ONLY be noticed for their ability, not their race. Sterotyping is being done.

  7. Emiliano Zapata, September 23, 2013 at 1:40 p.m.

    C Parent, Do you feel as strongly about basketball and how even a greater majority of national team players chosen are african anerican??

  8. Emiliano Zapata, September 23, 2013 at 1:43 p.m.

    And also C Parent, have you been as critical about this issue 20/30 years ago As James pointed out or is your concern coming at a time itvdirectly affects you?

  9. C Parent, September 23, 2013 at 4:39 p.m.

    Emiliano,.... James' comment says he is okay if causasian kids are being overlooked now because he thought it happened to hispanic/latino kids over 30 years ago...well, how does that make it right? I was a child 30 years ago, so I don' know how competitive/academy teams were formed back then.....I just see how it is now and I see favortism being given by some of the academy coaches towards some of the hispanic/latino players. Not all coaches of course, but many in the CA area sterotype. Hugo Perez seems to like the hispanic/latino players over the caucasian players. If it happened 20/30 years ago it was wrong, and if it happening now it is wrong.

  10. C Parent, September 23, 2013 at 4:44 p.m.

    Oh, and Emiliano...regarding basketball, if the black basketball player is better than the white, hispanic, asian, etc....then they should be chosen for the team. If they are just being picked because of the color of their skin, then it is wrong. Same goes for soccer.

  11. Emiliano Zapata, September 23, 2013 at 4:50 p.m.

    C Parent, the question is, does it bother you as much what happened 30-20 years ago?? I would say that a greater Hispanic influence in usa national soccer has been noticeable in the last 3-4. Not 10 unless you have proof of that statement. Were you ok with a majority caucasian players picked for usa national teams as little as 5-10 years ago? Look at Richie Willians U17's tlast year. Majority caucasian. All I am saying is that if facoritism towards ethncity is your main problem there are possible examples all over. Your problem with overall favoritism would be more crrdible if you mentioned an example like Richie U17 as well. Best should be picked no matter who but lets be honest in our conxerns.

  12. Emiliano Zapata, September 23, 2013 at 5:06 p.m.

    C, Ok. So if that is your answer for basketball and african americans then why are you so suspect of Hisoanics and soccer?? You seem to be ok with the basketball example wich is tremensously and overwhelmingly targeted towards one ethnicity and not ecen close a comparison wuth soccer and huspanics in usa. Can you explain your suspicion for one but not the otger?

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