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Q&A with U.S. U-14 Boys' National Team Head Coach Hugo Perez

With the U.S. U-14 Boys' National Team in their fourth domestic training camp of this cycle and an important trip to Europe in the near future sat down with U-14 head coach Hugo Perez to get his perspective on where his current group players is right now, how they can be successful with the National Team in the future and the challenging trip to Europe later this year. Heading into this camp what are your thoughts on where the U-14s are right now?
Hugo Perez: “This will be our fourth camp, we started with a big number of players in August and for this trip we’re bringing in 30 players. Obviously, with this group it is the first time they’ve been introduced to the National Team program, but everyone so far has responded well and they continue to work hard. We have a core of players right now that we’ve identified in the last few camps, although we are bringing four or five new players that have been here either once in August or not at all.” What is the primary goal for this particular camp?
HP: “This camp is important for two reasons: one, it is our last preparation before we go to Europe next month for the Croatia trip. For that trip we’re only taking 20 players so it’ll be an interesting week because obviously we want our kids to work hard and earn a spot to go to Croatia. The second thing is, we’re bringing in a couple new guys one born in 2001 and the other in 2000, who are talented and we looked at them through scouting and we felt we should give them an introduction to what the National Team is at a young age and see how they cope with the group.” After completing the upcoming trip to Europe, what will you hope to look back on that made the trip a success?
HP: “I think it is important that those players go abroad and compete at different levels than they’re used to here in their clubs. It also helps at the international level to see where they’re at. Also anytime our players leave the country to compete it’s an international experience that will help them in the years to come with the U-15s and the U-17s. We want to make sure that we not only compete but we play good football, that’s the first thing we’re looking at with this group. We want to win every game, we want to compete hard but the way we play is the most important thing.” What are you expecting out of the opponents you’ll face during the trip in Europe?
HP: “Depends on the teams we play, most of the teams we’ll play have a lot of players that are already in professional clubs so that’s going to be a good test for our kids. But I still believe that as good as they are in Europe, that our players still have some talent and they can compete, it’s going to take hard work from them and from us. So when we go to Europe next month it’s to go there and compete, compete playing good football, making sure the kids understand what we want to see in them regardless of what the score will be. At this stage we evaluate their performances more than we evaluate the whole team and whether we won, whether we tie or whether we lose, it’s more how are they going to perform in that atmosphere against those players and as they go forward which are the players that can play at that level.” What is it like working with a group that has some players going into their fourth camp with the Boys National Team and others coming in for the first time?
HP: “The ones who are here for their fourth camp obviously know what we expect and we expect that those players who have been here welcome the players coming in for the first time. Nobody has a secure place in this group, it’s a developmental group, it’s a group that has been introduced to the National Team program for the first time and need to understand how serious it is to represent our country and also the way we’re trying to change the way they think, the way they play and the way they behave and what it takes to not only be a National Team player but an elite National Team player.” What do the players in camp need to accomplish during their experience at the U-14 level in order to be successful at the U-15 and U-17 levels and beyond?
HP: “We feel in this country there is a lot of talent so we want to make the most out of it. Every time they come here they have to work very hard, there’s a lot of video we review, there’s a lot of activities outside of the field we do to prepare them, to make them understand and to teach them things that could help them become players for our National Team in the future. We also try to make them understand that there’s no pressure coming here, obviously we want them to perform and play well but we want to take that pressure away because they’re kids and our main objective is to teach them and for them is to enjoy playing good football. So we try to make it that atmosphere as much as we can throughout the whole week, but in a very serious way, in a very professional way.” Is this year different compared to previous years in terms of continuing to integrate the style of soccer that you want to play?
HP: “For me no, because I had the ’98 group, we started that group that Tony (Lepore) has now and we’ll try to do the same thing we did with them with this group. As we push them up we want to make sure that they have a good foundation, they understand what we want to see from them and the type of football we want them to play. That’s been established for the last year and a half when we had the ’98 group, this is obviously the ’99 group now but I would think some of these kids in this group might be part of the ’98 group for the 2015 World Cup.”