Hugo Perez is known as someone with strong connections in the California Latino communities. He also has an exceptionally keen eye when it comes to recognizing young players of promise. Those two attributes ought, one might reasonably suppose, to be of considerable use to U.S. Soccer and its national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Perez, in fact, had been employed by U.S. Soccer as its part-time under-15 coach for the past two years. A position in which he unashamedly stocked his teams with Latin talent. His reward for that service was to get fired earlier this year.
I’m not about to claim that Perez was constantly discovering young whiz kids. The caliber of his players is not really relevant, though I will stress that it was certainly no worse than the long succession of anglo-dominated teams that have been produced by U.S. Soccer in the past.
The point about Perez, one that U.S. Soccer is oblivious to, is that he was different. How many other Latino coaches does the USSF have -- has it ever had -- who are devoted to nurturing Latino talent? The mere presence of Perez as a USSF coach -- a part-timer -- had an importance far beyond the immediate necessities of the job. It meant that, for the young Latinos of California, and hopefully elsewhere, there was a hugely sympathetic presence within USSF. I do not believe that has ever happened before, and I cannot exaggerate its importance.
USSF has chosen to throw that valuable asset out. No explanation has been offered. We are left to assume -- what else can we assume? -- that Perez, in some way -- maybe tactically, or maybe he’s not organized enough, or, yes, maybe he recruits too many Latinos -- is a lousy coach. What makes this situation even more unpleasant is the realization that, as soon as the decision is made to make the U-15 post a full-time appointment, Perez is dismissed, and the decidedly non-Latino John Hackworth is moved in.
That does not indict Hackworth, he is not the instigator of this move, though he is certainly the beneficiary. I imagine that Hackworth, who has plenty of experience in youth coaching, is seen as a better administrator that Perez. So be it. But what Hackworth does not have is the devotion to Latino players and the Latino game that fire the soccer soul of Hugo Perez.
In short, we’re looking at a step backward here. Getting the Latino soccer community fully involved in the activities of the USSF has proved quite absurdly difficult. Both sides have shown a reluctance to adapt. But it has always been the responsibility of the USSF, as the controlling body, the one with the money and the authority, to see that the Latino soccer community is fully integrated. Why would it resist that, when the Latinos have so much to offer?
But resistance there has clearly been -- drawn-out, dogged resistance -- and the Perez story shows that it still exists. Perez was given an influential, if relatively minor, coaching job by USSF. Instead of quietly playing things in the traditional anglo way, Perez made no secret of his intention to favor Latino players -- because he feels they are the most skilled.
OK -- so what if Perez doesn’t fill the USSF vision of the ideal coach? A vision that has been fashioned by decades of anglo-dominance. So what if Perez is a troublesome presence? It is the USSF’s job to know that he is a presence they need, its job to find a way of accommodating this troublesome Latino. Instead, the USSF simply dismisses him. A shabby, and -- ultimately -- cowardly act.
I am told that Klinsmann -- a man known to covet control, and a man who has by now made it glaringly clear that he has little interest in Latino players -- played no role in the Perez debacle.
Oh? That makes it especially interesting to hear Hackworth expounding on what he sees as key aspects of his new job: “One key component is taking the messages from the senior national team and keeping them consistent throughout all the programs, so that players know what is expected at the highest level and we are properly preparing them to advance through our national teams.”
Did Hackworth make that up, or is that an official part of the job requirements? If it is, then where else would it come from, if not from Klinsmann?
As an aside, this notion that having everyone in the national team program playing the same style is necessarily a huge plus needs examining. As far as I can see, it is totally unproven.
One thing such a demand for uniformity is more than likely to produce is uniform players. Will Hackworth’s job, then, be to produce a swarm of Jermaine Jones clones? That is something that Perez would -- could -- never have done. And Perez no longer has the job.