Hugo Perez on style of play: 'The USA has the players to play possession-oriented, offensive soccer'

Hall of Famer Hugo Perez, undoubtedly one of the most skillful players ever to have played for the U.S. national team, coached U.S. U-14 and U-15 national teams with players, including Christian Pulisic, Jonathan Gonzalez, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams. We checked in with Perez as new U.S. men’s national team General Manager Earnie Stewart  is in the process of hiring a new head coach while charged with “instilling and supervising a style of play vision” for the USA.

Hugo Perez currently serves as Technical Director of Silicon Valley Soccer's U.S. Soccer Boys Development Academy program.

SOCCER AMERICA: What did you think about Earnie Stewart’s description of a style of play for the USA being one that is aggressive, “in your face”?

HUGO PEREZ: I don’t think that’s really it.

SA: What style of play to you think the USA should pursue?

HUGO PEREZ: I'll tell you what style not to choose -- the one we've had for the last 20 years. That's hustle, counterattack soccer. Tentative. Little risk-taking.

Obviously, some people have been happy because we qualified for the World Cups -- except for the last one. But I don't think it's gotten us to where we can say we’ve made strides. I hope I don't keep seeing it.

SA: When we spoke one year ago, I think you put it rather well when you said we should be embrace “creative, entertaining, total soccer” …

HUGO PEREZ: This country has the players to be able to play a more possession-oriented, offensive style. But at the end, because we don't have a structure here that we follow, whoever they hire, he's going to implement his style regardless of the players.

If he likes direct, counterattack football, that means he's not going to pick mostly technical players who are more possession-oriented. He's going to pick players who are more suitable for his style.

SA: If we agree that we want to play creative, entertaining, possession-oriented, total soccer – some may say that our soccer culture doesn’t produce players for that style.

HUGO PEREZ: Again, I say we do have the players. When I coached the youth national teams, nobody imposed that style on me. The people who worked with me, because I as the head coach, agreed this would be our style and how we play. And I told the scouts, find me these types of players.

I was open to every type of player, whether it was Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, African-American. But we looked for certain attributes: technical ability, soccer IQ, creativity.

If Earnie likes a possession-oriented, offensive style, he would have to look at coaches like Pep Guardiola, Marcelo Bielsa, Mauricio Pochettino, Maurizio Sarri -- who play that type of soccer.

It can work. With the new generation that is coming up -- I still think they can play better football. I still think they can dominate if we wanted them to, but we have to get somebody who really believes in them. It doesn't have to do with culture, it has to do with whoever the coach is going to be and the type of soccer he wants.

Tyler Adams is an example.

SA: How so?

HUGO PEREZ: Tyler Adams is a defensive midfielder. When I had him in the youth national team, I played him as a center back most of the time. Not because he was aggressive. I picked him because he had some technical skill, and I wanted somebody with technical skill in the back to play out of the back. And I put him with other guys with similarities in technique and with different visions, and we were able to complement that.

And you can do that with the older team.

SA: For example?

HUGO PEREZ: If I were coaching Michael Bradley ... Bradley is a good technical player for me. Now, how can we use Bradley better than how they've used him? Because he's got technical abilities, he can pass the ball. I need to surround him with players who have not only technical skills but the same ideas of how to play -- and Bradley would look better.

He can still fit in my system because technically he's good and I'd surround him with people who understand the kind of soccer that I want.

We haven't been able to that with Bradley, because the soccer was always different and so he has to adjust to that type of soccer. But Bradley is the type of footballer I would have in my team surrounded by the right type of players and he would play good for me.

For years, people have been saying, where's Michael Bradley playing? Is he a 6, is he an 8, is he a 10? Nobody figures it out.

For me, if I surround him well, he's not a 6, he's an 8. An Andres Iniesta, Xavi. He's not a dribbler, but he can play and he gets into the final third well -- like very few.

I have to surround him with a good No. 6 who is technical and can win balls. A Casemiro or Sergio Busquets type. Players who are technical but also know their roles.

SA: When I watched the last few Boys Development Academy championships, I saw a good amount of Latin-style soccer from some of the most successful teams. Do you think that because of the growing presence of Latino players at the grass-roots, we could be headed to a tipping point in which the USA will embrace a more Latin type of play? After all, it’s extremely successful in international soccer.

HUGO PEREZ: You and I know whoever they hire, he is going to be the one who chooses what style they're going to play. That's the reality, because we don't have an established style in this country.

If they were interviewing a coach from Barcelona, you know what kind of style they want.

The thing that worries me is that we still focus more on the physical, athletic aspect than we think about the quality technical intelligent players.

I have nothing against athleticism. I recently watched Brazil beat El Salvador, and the Brazilians had some big boys. There are big boys in there, but they're skillful, they're technical.

SA: Tab Ramos is U.S. Soccer’s Youth Technical Director, as he was when you got fired as U-15 head coach and technical Advisor when Jurgen Klinsmann served as full national team coach and overall Technical Director. You and Tab, former teammates, have in common that you are both among the most skillful players ever to play for the USA -- and spent your early youth soccer in a Latin soccer environment. What do you think about Tab’s role, as Youth Technical Director, in leading the USA to a more desirable style of play?

HUGO PEREZ: Tab was one of the best players who we ever had in the national team. No question.

I was also assistant with him with the U-20s. I would have to say we both believe in the same soccer, because we love it, it's inside of us. But I think the difference is how much we believe in it, to pursue it, and really go for it. I don’t really what know what Tab’s situation is. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t made full national team coach. And I have no idea if he has the power to implement changes.

SA: But you do believe that, whatever else happens in American soccer at the various levels, a national team head coach could lead the USA to play what you consider an ideal style of play?

HUGO PEREZ: If you believe in that style of soccer, and you get hired to coach here in America, you bring in the guys who play in MLS and the ones who play in Europe. And you get a base of players.

The first thing you look at is individually, technically, who they are. The second thing is, to implement, you have to teach a style and with that style you have to convince the players that it's the right style for them.

After that, you're going to have to design sessions and team exercises that complement that style to put it in games.

29 comments about "Hugo Perez on style of play: 'The USA has the players to play possession-oriented, offensive soccer'".
  1. Goal Goal, September 17, 2018 at 10:18 a.m.

    Hugo is absolutely correct on the ability to play possession. But if you have ever been to the younger boys 15, 16, and 14 the coaches frown on possession.  If a kid holds the ball and attempts to be creative they are yanked and criticized. I have been there.  I have seen it.  Thus we have what we have.  It is not the players it’s the coaching, management and on and on and on. 

  2. Goal Goal, September 17, 2018 at 10:23 a.m.

    W e play damn the torpedoes full speed ahead. An addendum to my original comment.

  3. beautiful game, September 17, 2018 at 12:03 p.m.

    Hugo Perez is 100% correct. We have players with technical talent; it's up to the coaching staff to stop suppressing it.

  4. frank schoon, September 17, 2018 at 1:16 p.m.

    Mike, thank you for the great interview, it makes up for the Landon Donovan one, LOL. Hugo sounds so much more intelligent  as compared to LD when it comes to soccer. Hugo talks 'nuts and bolts" and understands the interconnectedness of the game as compared to LD's high school drivel that's more on the level one reads from sports journalists, too superficial. I enjoy reading what Hugo states for he gets more into the nittygritty which is rarely seen in SA coaches interviews; this is why I"m still waiting for JK interview,for I like to know  the jib of his opinions. We need more of these types of nuts and bolts interviews that go more into weeds of things and it requires follow up in depth questions, which can only educate the reader.
    That Hugo states we need to play "possession" style soccer is true but what should have been followed up with the question, what does 'possession" soccer really imply, in terms of technique, tactics, training, and what are the implications for the USSF coaching academy.
    Technically ,players need good ball handling skills and able to look for options or rather secondary options, all while under pressure with the ball. And that means CONFIDENCE on the ball. Furthermore the players need to be taught to look for the second pass not the first pass. Meaning third man implications, if A passes to B, then C has to be moving off the ball in field of view of B behind the opponent(s), while the ball is traveling to B. Players need to be looking not at B but aware where C for there is more than one C...The level of sophistication grows as a team chooses to play more's more brainwork, creativeness. Tactically, players need to know how to position off the ball which is the most if not "THE" most important aspect of soccer to master for that facilitates fast or faster ball movement. Remember technical players are not speed demons they make speed/tempo with the ball which is much faster than running with the ball. Also be ware that technical players by nature are not good in secondary balls, for they are use having the ball come to them instead of having to chase it and fight for it. Also when you work with technical players , they have a tendency to become complacent...What I'm saying here is the changes Hugo wants will come with new factors that coaches are not use to dealing with, which means new emphasis in coaching courses in teaching the coaches.See next POST

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, September 17, 2018 at 1:47 p.m.

    Great interview Mike. Timely too. Hugo speaks his mind, but he was fired from USSF. That was a message to anyone that might speak up for change.

    I too don't understand why Tab Ramos wasn't appointed MNT coach 12 months ago. 

    We have US coaches and US players who could play a more sophisticated style of play. What is USSF scared of? It is the first step to making the MNT more competitive.

    It is also going to be necessary to keep the WNT on top. Status quo does not win championships.

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, September 17, 2018 at 1:48 p.m.

    Sorry Frank, I must of hit reply instead of comment.

  7. frank schoon replied, September 17, 2018 at 2:04 p.m.

    10 push ups for you Bob...

  8. R2 Dad replied, September 17, 2018 at 7:59 p.m.

    You're right Bob--we've already hit bottom--what's to fear now? Everyone says they want Change, but what that really means is change they can control,  which is really just the status quo.

    Good interview. Tells it like it is. But definitely NOT an insider, which is why he's no longer in the Nats silo. Refused to drink the koolaid.

  9. frank schoon, September 17, 2018 at 1:52 p.m.

    The most important aspect of soccer to master is the "Positioning game" which is the pre-condition for  Possession style of play where fast ball movement is the salient feature. The dutch KNVB coaching academy is weak in teaching the 'positioning' game for their teachers lack the deep knowledge by having not played at such a high level to understand it.. So you now can understand what the USSF coaching academy faces. They need to bring in people who played that type of game to teach the coaches.
    Guardiola is so successful because he knows how to teach 'positioning' in all of its facets due to having learned from Johan Cruyff. Cruyff's practices are nothing but positioning games,that's it. That is how important Cruyff views 'positioning". Ronald Koeman and Michael Luadrup(Iniesta's idol) were asked what Cruyff does in practice, they answered "postioning , positioning ,positioning, till it runs out of your ears,and anything else like shooting, corners, heading, you do on your own time.
    Next Hugo states, wants to combine"offensive soccer' and "possession' style soccer, then you need to bring in the use of Wingers on either flank. Wingers are "SPACE CREATORS" and Guardiola employs wingers, like Henri, Ronaldinho, Messi, Robben , Ribery,etc. Wingers create space in three ways. One, they stretched out the opponents backline giving the center lane more space for attackers thus also placing the defenders in an awkward one on one postion; two, by moving inwards create space for overlaps by the halfback and back; three, which is an important aspect of 'possession' "the build up" of an attack from the back, there the wingers creates space for the midfielders by moving as far downfield as possible.  Creating space makes it important, technically to pass and receive the ball with alacrity, through positioning, and velocity, thus giving the opponents less time to adjust to the ball. Bada boom.

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, September 17, 2018 at 2:31 p.m.

    Wingers are key. Most people in the US associate wingers with long sprints down the touchlines and crossing the ball when they cannot run any further. In others words creating space vertically instead of horizonally across the field. Some people only think about tactics one-dimensionally, vertical movement. Players think in at least 3 dimensions (width, depth, and time), and sometimes height (e.g., chips).   

    Like in basketball, zones defenses are broken down by forcing the defense to adjust to passes until space opens up. Wingers are necessary to stretch the defense horizonally across the field. Diagonal passes are preferred because they require the defense to adjust in two directions (depth and width) instead of just one direction. 

    Forcing opponents to defend the flanks creates space in the center channel of the field. Just like basketball. So a winger's primary objective is to create space in the center and deliver the ball to open teammates in that space. The better skills the players have, the smaller open space they need to play in. 

    On a team with good skills, wingers set their teammates free.  

  11. frank schoon replied, September 17, 2018 at 2:58 p.m.

    Bob, Excellent...

  12. frank schoon, September 17, 2018 at 2:03 p.m.

    This is just a small sample of how you parse and take apart and break down a system for that needs to be done before choosing the players who best can fit this style of play. So it is not only a question convincing the players to play that style but also the need the ability to play it.
    Hugo is right concerning which ever coach is chosen , he will choose his style of play he wants. Well , I think , US soccer must turn over a new leaf into how we play which to me is what Hugo suggests. So we choose a coach who follows this type of soccer and certainly NOT what has happened in the last 20 years; we want technical, creative and offensive soccer.
    I would like to see Hugo become MNT coach and I would to see some former greats to be added
    to his coaching staff.

  13. Farid Hadj-Hamou, September 17, 2018 at 2:54 p.m.

    Frank Schoon - I can't agree more - thank you for the excellent inputs - 


    .....What I'm saying here is the changes Hugo wants will come with new factors that coaches are not use to dealing with, which means new emphasis in coaching courses in teaching the coaches

  14. frank schoon replied, September 17, 2018 at 3:12 p.m.

    Farid, exactly and well summed up....

  15. Ric Fonseca, September 17, 2018 at 4:08 p.m.

    It sure takes a helluva long time to wake up and smell the coffee brewing, plus then smelling the roses.  Hey, can someone please buy coach Perez a new hat?  The one he's wearing on the photo is well worn, then again, maybe it is his lucky hat.  As to why Ramos wasn't appointed some 12 months ago, well, pilgrim, I'd give you a wild guess, lastly, I am not too sure that you are or "were" aware of the good old boy network that has persisted to exists for so many years, going back to the Dettmar Cramer days of the early 70's and thereafter? 'Twas (and maybe still IS) quite a group to behold and know!  And so in danger of sounding a bit like a trouble maker-or stirring the pot, I remember one occasion at the Cal St Long Beach US Soccer Coaching course, when an instructor openly challenged another "colleague" asking him directly and openly, where his allegiances were, intimating that unless the answer was the "correct one" he'd be but a historical annecdote for that week, meaning he was to get his gear and leave.  (Note: the names of the persons are left out to protect the "innocent...")  So what I am sayting is that old habits are difficult to break, perhaps this being one as to why he, Ramos, wasn't appointed to a higher coaching position, or for that matter, why was Martin Vazquez suddenly shunted aside after his stint with JK?  Anyhow, just wondering.... 

  16. frank schoon replied, September 17, 2018 at 4:25 p.m.

    Ric, Remember Teofilla Cubillas...that says enough.....

  17. Ric Fonseca replied, September 23, 2018 at 1:05 p.m.

    For those who do not know or remember Teo Cubillas, the South American Great, when he enrolled in a US Soccer Coaching course, he was denied an "A" License simply and because he had not gone through the "B" and this factoid demanded of an International Player of reknown who played allbe it briefly with the then Ft. Lauderdale FC - if memory serves me correct....- So, then was it the doings of the "Good Old Boy network" that decided to stick by the "rules" estblished by an ad hoc committee on how to establish then enforce US Soccer Coaching rules and regs for licensinc coaches?  You betcha, pilgrim!!!

  18. beautiful game, September 17, 2018 at 5:21 p.m.

    Nice to see some substantive talking points. I would like to include a sound-byte for "handling pressure"; meaning not wandering into pressure and having the ability to relieve it. Every player should be analyzed in this area of pressure situations and their reaction to it.  

  19. beautiful game, September 17, 2018 at 5:21 p.m.

    Nice to see some substantive talking points. I would like to include a sound-byte for "handling pressure"; meaning not wandering into pressure and having the ability to relieve it. Every player should be analyzed in this area of pressure situations and their reaction to it.  

  20. frank schoon replied, September 17, 2018 at 5:28 p.m.

    Hey, BG, I noticed you posted 2 comments...were you under pressure ,LOL

  21. Wooden Ships, September 17, 2018 at 9:57 p.m.

    Ric, look at Hugo’s mug/profile, the hat is as determined as he is. You’re correct in the good ole boys club, but then you know first hand too. Times will eventually change, hope that Earnie will reconsider his public style of play stance. Tab was a skilled player but he doesn’t have the strength of personality of Hugo. I’ve listened to so many of our former capped players, talking drivel and their party line, that I want to do a Lewis Black and stick a fork in my eye (ear). Have always been a Hugo fan and have even had my ankles nearly separated from my ligaments marking his feints a time or two. He was younger-haha. I’m truly disappointed in his generation of peers and since. We’ve really lost 30 plus years worth of evolution. As Ric eluded to, the truly soft footed player threatens the heavy footers. If they come calling Hugo, give them a listen.

  22. frank schoon replied, September 19, 2018 at 12:28 p.m.

    Ships, I understand what Earney is saying "about in your face,etc." This is how the Dutch describe playing offensive, for you have to be arrogant, in your face, can do attitude, play offensive.
    Ajax is a perfect example of arrogance, in your face ,can do attitude, for without it you can't dominate and play offense. To play for Ajax you better have that inner feeling of yourself as a good player with the attitude about your opponent, "of just try me'.The dutch in their arrogant way did that to the Germans in WC'74 by passing the balls 18 times ,from the kickoff, in a row making the Germans so angry.  As a player I always made sure my opponent thought of himself as the lesser. It is all about psychology by how you present yourself and walk on the field and able to back it up with your feet....
    Beckenbauer had that in your face arrogance . When  he played sweeper for Bayern, it was a no, no for any opponent to come at him because his status as the Kaiser. The coach of the opponents team told his wing to go after Beckenbauer. As he came at Beckenbauer, Beckenbauer stated" get out of my presence, you dog". The player apoligized and stated his coach made him do it..

  23. Wooden Ships replied, September 19, 2018 at 2 p.m.

    I certainly agree Frank that it’s about letting your opponent know they are outclassed, but that is backed with technical abilities before in your face or aggression. Your reference to Franz and the Dutch (you can include the English) has been the most dominant influence in our style for half a century. Those 3 countries principally. Mainstream, suburbia self identifies (race and ethnicity) with them, which is why the Central and South American influence has been largely excluded. You desire graceful, rhythmic play, look south of us and throw in Spainish and Italian play. They all have an arrogance, without spittle-in-your-face. Most will pressure so tight you’d swear you are sharing socks. It’s a subtle, yet no less effective, style not requiring brute to accomplish dominance. My fear with Earnie’s comment has to do with talk, talk, talk and more of the same. JK promised more technical, I just hope ES delivers more than in your face. Somewhere in this thread it was mentioned that we didn’t have a style of play in the US. Of course we have, it’s what we’ve been watching for years and years (USWNT too), it’s physically (in your face) based and primitive. PV or CB as manager won’t change that. They didn’t grow up with it, couldn’t play it, JK with all his accomplishments couldn’t play it. 
    I was more than surprised about Hugo’s comments regarding Michael Bradley. I was so disappointed with Bradley’s automatic Captaincy that it had never dawned on me that had he had skilled players around him that his legacy would have been much better. Along side Benny after South Africa might have taken us in a different trajectory. Nice finish Ajax. 

  24. frank schoon replied, September 19, 2018 at 2:49 p.m.

    Ships, you're right your of just talk,talk , talk. I wish Earney was more visible and vocal about things. I wish he would have been more specific in where he wants this country to go. In other words, he should be stating were are looking for a coach that offensive minded, that means wing play, good ball handlers in the backfield, possession type ball, blah , blah, blah....But instead, we don't hear from him or what kind of plans or type or ideas....He needs to step up more, for he is going to be the face of what American soccer is suppose to be in the near future.
    I was just thinking another possibility of a coach, Brian Laudrup. He like Ronald Koeman are Cruyffian adepts ,know the game well, played at the highest level  and knows the "positional insides" of the game like Guardiola. I would like to see him come in whatever capacity to be involved with USSF soccer. We need guys like that to come to help build and improve the US game.....Guys who have been taught and coached by Cruyff shouldn't be lost to soccer. This is another angle Earney should follow about looking at retired players who have learned the game from Cruyff to try in bring them in.....

  25. Bob Ashpole replied, September 19, 2018 at 5:12 p.m.

    WS Bradley has usually be poorly supported. There was one match where Graham Zusi played CM in an 8 role that got me very excited. I was never happy with him playing winger as for international play he was slow. In CM, the play came to him rather than he having to chase after the play on the wing. I though he played very well with Bradley. I forget who was in the 10 role. This may have been during the 2013 gold cup which JK largely treated as a B or C squad game. Zusi never repeated in the CM 8 role. I was very dissappointed.

    I am convinced that the coaches at the time just didn't understand how to use the more technical players. So they didn't get selected.

  26. don Lamb, September 19, 2018 at 11:32 a.m.

    I take it Hugo would be a fan of a Gregg Berhalter hire. Totally agree that Ernie Steart's comments about our style being "in your face" was embarrassing if that's all there is to it. That would suggest a Vermes hire. Something much more in line with what Hugo is talking about would lead to a Berhalter hire.

  27. Mike Lynch, September 19, 2018 at 12:37 p.m.

    Amen to Coach Perez’s insights and recommendations. Absolutely, the coach selects and rewards a playing style. It is feasible to have both - technical possession style and American “hustle” intensity. Isn’t this what the top teams are striving to do now? I’ve always felt America, more than anyone, can implement the best of many styles because of our mindset and lack of an existing tradition. 

  28. cony konstin, September 21, 2018 at 9:20 a.m.

    I agree with Hugo that we need to create our own style. But we have no magical players to take us to the next level. We need to create our own way. We need create the Usonian Way. And to do so we first must create 600,000 futsal courts in the US. We need a soccer Revolution in the USA. We need 600,000 futsal courts so kids can play king of the court, 24/7/365, for free and with no adult interference. We need to create a Rucker  park version of soccer. We need to create Courts of Dreams. You build them. They will come



  29. Ric Fonseca replied, September 21, 2018 at 2:42 p.m.

    Cony Konstin!!!  Where have you een amigo??? Been wondering if you have set out to construct the 600,000 futsal courts, and have started the "soccer Revolution," and kids have started playing the 24/7/365 with no cost or "pay for play" necessities!!!  Play on, I say, PLAY ON!!!

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