Trials with European clubs are becoming a semi-regular occurrence for American players. However, it is pretty rare for a player who has not even started high school yet to get an invitation to train with one of the top clubs in Italy.
Joshua Perez, who is a 14-year-old in the Chivas USA Academy, has spent extended periods of the past year on trial with ACF Fiorentina. The nephew of U.S. U14 national team coach Hugo Perez recently returned to his club team, and coach Mike Munoz gave TopDrawerSoccer.com an update on his prepubescent star.
The Chivas USA U16 head coach did not know if that was in the cards for the Perez family, but he does know the MLS Academy had plans of its own for the bright, young talent.
“It is fine for him to go during the offseason and get that experience,” said Munoz about the trials. “But we do have a plan in place for his future with the club.”
Munoz mentioned that it is the philosophy of the club to play players up an age or two, but Perez is playing against 16-year-olds even though he just turned 14 last week.
“When he plays against bigger, stronger players, he is still a little kid,” said Munoz. “It is our philosophy and it is what we want to do. We think in the big picture it will pay off.”
So far this season, Perez has not looked out of place in the Chivas USA U16 lineup despite the gap in age between him and his opponents.
“To his credit, he has played and started in most of the games,” said Munoz about the left-footed midfielder. “He has been great this year. He has done really well.”
Physically, Perez does not look more mature than any players his age; it is his technical ability that sets him apart. His quick interchange with passing and natural calmness on the ball has belied any disadvantage in size for the 5’5” middle school student.
Against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday in a 1-3 loss for the Goats, the 14-year-old entered the game late in the second half and held his own against taller, faster defenders. His composure and quick thinking helped facilitate a few movements for the trailing side, but he did not completely find the rhythm of the game.
On Sunday, Perez returned to the starting lineup and delivered a better performance. He registered his first goal of the Development Academy season in a 7-3 victory over California Development Academy.
Chivas USA is hoping it is the first of many goals for one of the club’s highly touted prospects.