CARSON, Calif. – The most meaningful moment for U.S. Soccer fans from Tuesday night’s scrimmages at the Home Depot Center between the U.S. U15 Boys National Team and two local Development Academy squads was not a goal or a save, but rather a defensive play.
Joshua Perez carelessly hit a square ball across the middle of the field that was easily intercepted in the opening game against Strikers FC. Instead of bellowing at teammates, Perez put his head down and raced back to cover for the players who had committed forward.
Forty-five yards later, Perez had chased down the player, won the ball back, and immediately started to move possession forward into an advanced position.
In a culture that has prophesied the next great soccer star many times before, Perez, who has drawn the spotlight from this ’98 age group, showed, in the relatively meaningless scrimmage, that he is not like certain others who have come before him, but is just as committed to this team as any other player on the roster.
“[Perez’s] motivation is not an issue,” U15 Boys National Team head coach Tony Lepore told TopDrawerSoccer.com after the games. “He is a highly motivated player who we want to push when he gets into camp to be more consistent and keep that level throughout the game.”
Perez, a Chivas USA Academy player, showed those moments of brilliance as well on Tuesday on his way to scoring two goals and leading the U15 BNT to a 4-2 win over Strikers FC. Orrin Gaines and Hugo Arellano had the other two goals.
The first goal of the game came unassisted on the score sheet, but it was a delicately designed run by Joe Gallardo that opened everything up for the U15 BNT.
Perez with the ball on his feet 35 yards from goal on the outer left flank cut inside onto his right foot. Gallardo darted across the Strikers backline and drew the eye of both center backs with his run. That was all Perez needed to cut up field and fill the space that Gallardo left open. With the composure of a seasoned veteran, Perez easily placed his shot into the corner of the net for the opening strike.
Gaines, who goes by the name McKinze, doubled the lead minutes before half on a penalty kick. Lucas de La Torre slipped in a beautiful through ball to Gaines who was taken out by the keeper. The Lonestar winger made quick work of the spot kick.
The tilt of the game shifted in the second half as Strikers amplified the pressure on the U.S. defense and tried to exploit the youth national team’s preference to play out of the back.
“Both of the goals [conceded] came from trying to play out of the back, and that is really important to us even if it does come at the expense of giving up some goals,” Lepore said. “We want them to learn how to do that, and Irvine was a good pressing team so it was a good lesson to learn tonight.”
Strikers’ first goal came off a strike from Christian Gutierrez who hammered the ball into the empty net after a shot clanged off the crossbar and left the U.S. defense and goalie out of position.
The second goal came on a header by Bryan Reyes off a corner kick by Gregory Osequeda.
In between the two Strikers’ goals, Arellano scored on a header off a corner kick by Juan Manuel Albizar and Perez added his second of the night with a screaming effort off his left foot.
De La Torre started the movement on Perez’s second goal with a brilliant pass to Juan Ramirez, who in turn slotted it to the left wing for Perez to finish.
“We feel like it is a good starting point,” Lepore said about the performance. “Also, a big part of this camp is evaluation as it is the first camp for this cycle.”
In the second game of the night, the U.S. U15 Boys National Team played to a 1-1 draw with LA Galaxy. Haji Wright scored the lone goal for the youth national team while Adrian Vera provided the equalizer for the Galaxy. The score could have been much higher, but wet conditions played a factor in a few missed chances in front of the net for both teams.
U15 BNT second half substitute Edwin Quiroz was one of the bright spots of the game with his energy off the bench. U.S. goalkeeper Andrew Verdi also did well on a couple of saves.
Lepore said after the games that the coaching staff has not decided on an ‘A team’ or ‘B team’ yet with this camp, but does plan to work in that direction for the next set of scrimmages later in the week.
U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was in attendance for the opening game between the U15 BNT and Strikers FC. Lepore said Klinsmann spoke with the players after the game about the similarity of the playing style from the top team down to the youngest U14 team in the national team structure. Klinsmann chatted with the players for about five minutes.
There are nine players who are new to the U.S. youth national team system at this camp. Lepore said that he is leaning on some of the experienced players in this group to help those feel welcome into the camp.
There is also a new coach to this camp as well as Chivas USA U16 head coach Mike Munoz is the assistant coach with this staff. Munoz appeared to have a heavy influence on the second game, as he was instructing a number of players throughout the game.