Ralph Perez on his 46-year coaching journey with U.S. national teams, the pros and college -- and the icons he worked with

Ralph Perez  has worked alongside a Who's Who of American soccer coaches -- plus a few international legends -- in a 46-year career that has taken him from NCAA soccer to the U.S. national team, on to MLS and, for the last decade and a half, back to the Division III game, where in 1974 he snagged his first real coaching gig.

As assistant coach, he worked with Bob Gansler at the 1989 U-20 World Cup and 1990 World Cup teams, Lothar Osiander in two Olympics, Bora Milutinovic as he started the U.S. national team on its path toward 1994, and with Sigi Schmid, Carlos Alberto Parreira and Carlos Queiroz in MLS.

Perez, who got his first coaching job at D3 Whittier in 1974, guided Santa Clara, Cal State Fullerton and Old Dominion in NCAA Division I, started programs at Cal State Los Angeles -- he recruited future U.S. Soccer coaches Carlos Juarez and Martin Vasquez to play for the Golden Eagles -- and Cal State San Bernardino, worked with the Olympic Development Program and, in the interim between Octavio Zambrano's dismissal and Schmid's arrival as head coach, guided the LA Galaxy past San Jose in April 1999, his only MLS outing as a head coach.

He's in his 15th season in charge at the University of Redlands, a Division III school where he's posted a 208-67-21 record with three 20-win seasons and another three with 16 or more wins, nine regular-season and four tournament titles in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and six NCAA appearances with two trips to the elite eight and another to the sweet 16. Alum include Richie Marquez, who played for the Philadelphia Union, Harrisburg City and Bethlehem Steel in 2014-18.

SA: When you were a player, did you know you'd become a coach?

RALPH PEREZ: No. My focus then as a player was I was going to be a teacher. And if there was an opportunity to do coaching, then maybe so. When I graduated [from Oneonta State], I was offered at my high school, in Brentwood on Long Island, to coach basketball and soccer at the junior high level. But I didn't really ... let's put it this way: I never envisioned going where the game has taken me.

SA: You've worked with so many who meant something in the American game the past four decades, which speaks to your place in the landscape as well as part of the group that took us from the darklands of the 1980s to where we are today. ...

RALPH PEREZ: I think the one thing that really opened my eyes to the game from a coaching side was going to take my coaching license. I did the first one in 1974, with Walt Chyzowych and Bill Hughes and Bob McNulty and Bill Killen. I mean, I was taking the course, and these guys were instructing, and then I went on in '75 to do my B license up at San Francisco State. And that's where I met Lothar Osiander for the first time. Then people like Timo Liekoski and Walt were my instructors. And then doing my A license in '77 at UC Irvine, having Walt and Nick Zlater as my instructors.

[It all] opened my eyes to the game of coaching. And it was really a breath of fresh air to see how much goes into coaching and learning all the intricacies that you need to know to be a good coach.

That was in my younger years. ... Having the opportunity to work with different people in the game, and even some great international coaches like Carlos Parreira and Carlos Queiroz with the MetroStars, I would honestly say that when I look at what I experienced and who I worked with, it's been a real blessing.

And then you throw in the American guys like Sigi [Schmid] and Glenn “Mooch” Myernick and Bob Gansler, those are really influential people in the sport of soccer. ... In my years of broadcasting with the Galaxy, I got to see Bruce Arena and his staff work and see some of their success. It's been a lot of fun.

SA: You were Bob Gansler's assistant with the U.S. team that finished fourth at the 1989 U-20 World Cup and with 1990 World Cup team. How important was the 1990 team, which took USA to the World Cup for the first time in 40 years?

RALPH PEREZ: I think it was a good foundation, a good group of young men who were willing to do anything and everything for us. It was a low-budget infrastructure at that time, that we were really limited as far as finances, but clearly it was a group of young men who served the game very well. And in our choosing of players, we were very conscious of the fact that in '94 we were going to host the World Cup, so we wanted a group who if they continued to grow and were there, were maybe possible for the '94 team.

And that was the thinking that Bob and I had with the youngest team at that World Cup. But clearly, it's a group that when you look at that picture, 85 percent of those guys are still involved in the game of soccer in one shape, form or another.

I stayed on to help, at Bob's insistence, because I felt loyalty to Coach Gansler. I was asked to be Bora [Milutinovic]'s assistant for the first year and a half [after he took charge in 1991]. We won that first Gold Cup in '91 in L.A., and it showed me that to be the best team in Concacaf in '91, in that short two- to three-year period, we made some fantastic growth. And being able to coach that team was really a thrill. Especially winning those games in L.A. and beating Mexico in the semifinals. That was a rewarding experience.

We had some guys that really were uniquely capable of dealing with what we had to deal with, because we didn't really have that bona fide pro league. We had some guys that were playing overseas at the time. Tab Ramos over in Spain, and [Peter] Vermes in Holland and Hungary, and Steve Trittschuh in Czechoslovakia and [Paul] Caligiuri in Germany, so we were really doing things that a lot of people today don't realize how difficult it was. We had some other guys that were playing for the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks [and teams] like that, like the John Doyles. We brought in guys like Dominic Kinnear in that '91 Gold Cup and Brian Quinn.

So we made some good headways there, and then, obviously, it just continues. The Olympic team in '92, that brings in players like Alexi Lalas and Claudio Reyna and Joe-Max Moore and Cobi Jones. And Lothar had asked me to work with that group; I had a good opportunity, I would say, from working with the under-20s, working with the Olympic team in '88 and '92, then qualifying for the World Cup. It was a great time.

* * * * * * * * * *

Ralph Perez on working with ...

Bob Gansler
A soccer genius, a soccer mind, very clear on what he wanted to do. He knew what we had to do, he knew what we could do, and he also knew what we couldn't do.

Lothar Osiander
His genius was his ability to relate well with the players. If you ever talk to any player who ever played for Lothar, they all loved playing for him. They're all grateful for what he gave them.

Sigi Schmid
One of the qualities that I loved about Sigi was that he knew where he came from, he was proud of what he was, and he really just never stopped thinking of the next play, the next day, the next week. Even when you won a championship with him, the next day he was back to work: “What do we got to do to repeat?” or “What do we got to do to be as good?” or “How can we improve?”

Bora Milutinovic
Bora was just Bora. It was “Bora Time.” When he said it was time to start, that's when it started. His ability to deal with and handle the press was much better than all of us, because he'd dealt with that, being in Mexico, being in World Cups, having all that experience. I always asked Bora that: How do you deal with that all the time? The same questions but in a different language? And he always told me that was a big part of the job.

Carlos Queiroz
His attention to detail ... everything that he did in preparation for training to prepare for games was second to none.

Carlos Alberto Parreira
A good, wholesome, humble personality. He had a good balance. Meaning the game was very important to him, but also his family was important to him. So he taught me that.

* * * * * * * * * *

SA: You started what became the LA Galaxy Academy 15 years ago or so. What was the landscape like for you at that time, and what are the differences with where that that landscape now stands?

PEREZ: One of the things I tried to do when I was asked in '04 by [late Galaxy GM] Doug Hamilton was to go and try to find players who aren't part of the mainstream. Going into areas where the kids don't play on big travel teams, they just play in local leagues. And we went in there, [then-director of special projects] Blane Shepard and I, and we found some players.

But at that time, the MLS rosters were very small, they weren't as big as they are now. There wasn't the landscape of the Galaxy having a lot of control of all the fields at Home Depot Center [now Dignity Health Sports Park], so we were limited. If we started anything, we couldn't even do it there. Now they have full control and autonomy of all the fields and all the space out there, so there is money, there is a budget there that clearly is there for player development.

Then they made that decision that they were going to do the Galaxy II and were going to build the academy program. There's no doubt in my mind that the talent between Santa Barbara and San Diego is as good and rich in talent than anywhere in the United States. And I'm not saying that biasedly, because I live in Southern Cal, I coach in Southern Cal. I just know from my travels.

SA: You've coached NCAA Division 1, of course. How different is it coaching at D3, with Redlands?

RALPH PEREZ: I think the biggest issue for me going to D3 is I identify a talented player, I like him, but now it comes down to I don't have athletic-scholarship dollars -- no Division III schools have that -- so you've really got to be a good student who can get an academic scholarship or a good student who also has a high financial need and can get a financial package. And then you can build a good program that way, and that's what we've been able to do, thanks to the quality assistants I've had to help me, because it's surely not a one-man show.

Division III soccer, is in some ways a step back in time, where these kids will work hard for you, they're not prima donnas, in the sense of their attitude, and they just love the game and they love school and it's been a real nice environment to work with. Where I see other guys trying to get their players to stay eligible, trying to get their guys to stay in school. Guys go to college and then they go to MLS after a year or two.

That's got to be a lot of turnover, you know? We all know turnover makes for not good continuity. So we get guys who play for me four years, they get done, and I've been able to put three guys into MLS [Richie Marquez (with Perez in photo below) Ross Schunk and Adam Acosta], which is unheard of in Division III soccer. We've been able to do that by finding players who have been missed. There's always players that are going to be missed at every level of sport, so finding the right guys has been fun, and then, more importantly, they work hard for me.

SA: What's most rewarding about coaching at Redlands?

RALPH PEREZ: Whether it's me starting the men's program at Cal State L.A. and getting them to the NCAA final within four years, or me coaching at Santa Clara, then after two years I leave and they go to the final, and Old Dominion ... the good thing is you are responsible for the people you recruit. So if you do a good job in recruiting and recruit good young men, it’s always fun.

Whether it's D1, 2, 3 or anything like that, I just find that coaching for me has been always an enjoyment of working with young men and watching them grow from an 18-year-old young man to a 21-year-old guy, and that's been the real job, the development of them as young men. There's making them better in soccer, and then I think the third part is being successful is always fun. Losing seasons, poor seasons are not as much fun. I believe there is a strong correlation between the fun factor and winning and losing, but I think also it's good to see a team go from not being good in late August to being very good in early November. That's a real passion of mine.

SA: If we were talking about the greatest assistant coaches in American soccer history, you're right there in that conversation, perhaps leading it. What are the most important elements to be a great assistant coach?

RALPH PEREZ: That, I think, was a learning curve for me, because I started out in '74 as the head coach at Whittier College, at the age of 22 without having been an assistant. The first time I was an assistant wasn't until later on, when I got involved with the national team program.

I think you've got to be supportive. You've got to really be honest. I think most head coaches want a guy who's always going to cover their back, because players will come to you and try to put you in the corner to go against the coach's decision: “Why am I not playing?” Or “why are we doing this?” You've got to be very careful of how you choose your words, what you say to players.

I think loyalty in all jobs is important. I think you've got to really outwork the head guy. You've got to be there on his call, but then you've got to be there to make sure that you're doing all the things so when they say to you, “Hey, did you call Scott French to get the lowdown on that scouting report on Municipal from Guatemala?” you have all the information that they need. Don't ever be unprepared. I always made it a point to be there before and leave after the head guy left. I didn't ever want him to think I was working less than him.

Whatever the job requirements are, do it, do it all, and if you can, do more. For example, when you go scout or you're preparing a scouting report, or you're going to break down videotape, do it diligently, so the head man, when you're presenting it to him or the team, is satisfied. That's the bottom line.

SA: Going forward, what aspirations do you have in the game?

PEREZ: Well, I really would love to be somebody's technical adviser, someone to -- even to this day -- say, “Hey, could you come in and run our academy?” Or “could you come in and coach our reserve team?” Or “could you come in and be our head coach?” I think in any of those positions, I would still be energetic and feasible for that opportunity. Just like if U.S. Soccer came to me and [wanted me to coach a youth national team]. I think working in those capacities is great. They're fun, they're challenging. There's nothing better than to coach for your country, and there's nothing better than to coach in the highest league in your country.

Photos by Molly Craighead/courtesy of Univ. of Redlands Athletics

19 comments about "Ralph Perez on his 46-year coaching journey with U.S. national teams, the pros and college -- and the icons he worked with".
  1. Blane Shepard, January 12, 2021 at 11:24 a.m.

    Loved the timeline piece Scott. During the United Soccer coaches convention Ralph and I have always had a good time together and I would be able to tag along to sit in with Ralph at a coaches session, maybe an exhibit with the "who's who" in US Soccer at the annual meetings, it was always thrilling for me. Ralph has been a mentor and a teacher for me for quite some time now and we have devloped and ran some terrific programing together through the years but the best thing to come of all of it is the friendship we have with our families especially with him and his wife Marrissa. 

  2. Ralph Perez replied, January 13, 2021 at 12:57 p.m.

    I have always enjoyed our time together whether it was working with the Galaxy or outside of soccer. Thanks for your continued support.

  3. Dan Cerwinske replied, January 15, 2021 at 10:33 a.m.

    Great read, Scott.

    Thanks, Ralph (and Blane), for all you've done for the game in our country

  4. Kevin Sims, January 12, 2021 at 12:05 p.m.

    Great piece. Ralph's a good man who has contributed very well at various levels. He builds through collegiality as well. I'm glad to have crossed paths with Ralph when he coached at Old Dominion and to call him a soccer friend. 

  5. Ralph Perez replied, January 13, 2021 at 12:59 p.m.

    Enjoyed our time working for the Virginis Beach Soccer Club. Proud of your contributions to soccer over the years.

  6. TIM Ryerson, January 12, 2021 at 12:45 p.m.

    Class act and has done so much for so long. 

  7. Ralph Perez replied, January 13, 2021 at 1:03 p.m.

    Truly appreciate your comments, but more importantly your friendship.

  8. Frank Kohlenstein, January 12, 2021 at 12:49 p.m.

    Nice to see an article about a coach that maybe was not in the headlines but did so much on so many levels.  Ralph was always helpful to many coaches and very willing to share and help other coaches grow.  As he states in the interview still passionate and learning today.  Great that like many experienced coaches he is looking for the next chance to help the sport its coaches and athletes.  Keep going Ralph and Thanks!

  9. Ralph Perez replied, January 13, 2021 at 1:07 p.m.

    We are part of that veteran group of coaches that just loves being on the field working with players. I always enjoy running into you and having a chat. Take care.

  10. Mark Mallon, January 12, 2021 at 1:29 p.m.

    Congratulations to Ralph Perez for a well deserved and distinguished career in US Soccer!  

    His charismatic personality and kindness to everyone is noteworthy...Especially back in the days when the US Soccer Coaching schools weren't always the most friendly environment to aspiring coaches he was one of those that would take anyone under his wing and give them words of encouragement. Ralph is a great mentor that is now benefiting players at the D3 college level after coaching D1 and national teams which completes the "cycle of growth" for US  Soccer which is firmly on par with the world stage in youth player development.  Keep Kicking !   Mark Mallon 

  11. Ralph Perez replied, January 13, 2021 at 1:11 p.m.

    Appreciate your comments and wishing you continued success. I really enjoyed having you in northern California especially when you were at Cal. Long time no see.

  12. Alan Goldstein replied, January 15, 2021 at 12:11 p.m.

    Totally agree with Mark Mallon. Way back in 1981 I was at US coaching school. I was doing very well coaching hs and youth teams in Maryland, but ran into the culture that Mark refers to and frankly disagreed with some of the instructors as to their opinions on some technical aspects. This made me question myself. While waiting in line for dinner one night, Ralph was behind me and we chatted. He knew about my programs, he was very supportive, he made me feel valued. I never forgot that chat or his encouragement. 

  13. Richard Beal, January 12, 2021 at 3:36 p.m.

    Ralph was my instructor in the C coaching cours 40+ years ago.  He did a great job and every time I have seeb him at the Convention, he stops and talks to me.

  14. Ralph Perez replied, January 13, 2021 at 1:16 p.m.

    Sorry I won't see you at the convention, but it's always been nice to see you and talk at the previous conventions. Can't believe it's been over 40 years that you took your C License with me.

  15. Thom Meredith, January 13, 2021 at 6:41 a.m.

    I’ve been lucky to know Ralph for over 50 years since his days at O-State and to say l have cherished
    my friendship with Ralph every day over that
    time would not be an understatement —which is even
    amazing when you folks who don’t understand 
    are told how much us Hartwick guys never really 
    warm up to those folks on the ‘other hill’ in
    Oneonta..there have been a few, but not many
    but Ralphie is one of them❤️  Respect
    the hell out of that guy and always will. Class Act
    in every regard. 

  16. Ralph Perez replied, January 13, 2021 at 1:22 p.m.

    We have seen a lot of things occur in soccer. I am truly blessed that our paths crossed back in Oneonta.  I have always been impressed with your attention to detail whether working the convention or running a venue for US and international games.  Clearly the best and always enjoy our time together.

  17. Wayne Rasmussen, January 15, 2021 at 11:35 a.m.

    Great coach, Great mentor, a great human being, and a great friend to so many!  So proud of everything you have done for the game and the countless players and coaches lives you have positively affected, and the key role(s) you have played in growing the game here in North America.  

  18. Bret Simon, January 15, 2021 at 3:39 p.m.

    Ralph is a great coaching treasure, an important part of the glue that holds our country's soccer culture together.

  19. Ric Fonseca, January 15, 2021 at 3:52 p.m.

    Mr. Scott French, thank you very much for your article on Coach Perez!  I want to add that I am one of those fellow amigos del futbol but more importantly, can boast having met and the pleasure of knowing Coach Ralph, going back at least when he arrived to the "wiuld-wild-west" coast and took over the coaching duties in '74 at Whittier college.  Back then I was the team manager and administrative assistant for UCLA Soccer tasked with the duties of representing the Bruin team at most if not all meetings, and it was at those meetings when I first met Coach Ralph.  I must add that it was suprising and welcoming to see another Latino, or in Ralph's case, a Puerto Rican coaching futbol in the Greater Los angeles area.  I had the pleasure of working with him as a fellow member of the then college coaches association, and then witness his ascencion to the coaching gig at Cal State L.A., in addition to being one of the coaching instructors of the US Soccer Coaching/Licensing programs.  I must also add that it was through his perservearance and dedication that he played a significant role in the advancement of the collegiate -soccer coaching programs in the Greater Los Angeles Area.  Lastly, it was through his generous time and appearing to almost never to say "no," that I was appointed as HC of another local university.  But what cemented our friendship, is when he and Coach Bill Killen, graciously came to our house after the last coaching evening, not only to just partake and discuss the preceding week at the school held at CSU Long Beach (1977?), but simply and because my wife, also from Puerto Rico, made some Puerto Rican delicacies with some arroz con gandules!  And yes, we partook in enjoying such Puerto Rican delights that we talk about even to this day, the three of us, myself, my lovely wife, and infant son Tito, enjoyed Ralph and Bill's company.  And so, to all of this I will add that Coach Ralph Perez has graced our not so-small-Latino Soccer Coaching community, but is - Un Gran Caballero y Amigo!!!

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