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Q & A with Hugo Perez: 1983 FIFA World Youth Championship

The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team is gearing up for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey starting on June 21, and the squad has a unique experience having two coaches who were part of the event 30 years ago. U-20 MNT head coach Tab Ramos and assistant coach Hugo Perez played on that 1983 squad, with Perez scoring a goal in that year’s tournament. caught up with Perez about that event and now helping Ramos heading into the 2013 stage: What are your fondest memories of playing in the 1983 World Youth Championship and also scoring a goal in the opener?
Hugo Perez: “What helped me a lot was that I was already a pro when I went to that World Cup. Most of the guys were in college. I don’t think there was anybody else who was a pro there. Tab was 16. Obviously I went with the mentality of not only as a group doing well, but myself so I could be seen all over the world. That was my main thing also. The U-20 World Cup is a good tournament because most of the players from all over the world are pros. By me going there, I felt that I wanted to measure myself against the other players outside the United States. Mentally, I was ready and had a lot of confidence. We played Uruguay in the first game and they had a good team. They were favorites and we barely lost 3-2 but we competed well. I think I had a very good game and scored on a free kick. They were favorites. A couple of their players went on to play in Italy right after the World Cup and became famous. Ruben Sosa played at Inter Milan. That day, I didn’t feel any pressure playing against them or anything. I just wanted to play well and I didn’t care who they were to be honest. I hope our kids come in like that for our first game. You respect your opponents, obviously, but once you get on the field, you’ve got to prove to yourself and to the team that you belong there and have a lot of confidence.” How tough was it not advancing out of the group stage? Poland would end up taking third place, but you played them even for most of the final group match.
HP: “We played Ivory Coast and beat them 1-0 and got two points – it used to be two points at that time, not three. And then the last game we lost 2-0 to Poland. We were with them. I felt that all three games we had a chance to win them. Poland was very physical, a big team. The Ivory Coast was also – they broke Tab’s nose on a corner kick. In all three games we were very competitive and I felt we had chances that we could have won those games.” What is it like 30 years later helping coach alongside Tab for this current U-20 World Cup team?
HP: “Being there as a player and now being here and getting ready for the World Cup, I think with him and myself – especially him because he’s the head coach – you know exactly what to expect, what to see and what to do. By Tab being there, it gives our players the advantage of knowing that he has been there and he has the experience. You transmit that to them and in the end it’s the players coming in and playing the World Cup matches that need to be ready.” In what ways has the tournament changed over the years?
HP: “At that time, the U.S. wasn’t a big power or anything like that. But we took it as an opportunity to be seen, that we could play football in America. Obviously things have changed in 30 years, but it’s still the same thing – still a tournament, still playing against the best teams in the world and against the best players. Now our players need to come out and be ready for it. They tell you there’s pressure – there is, but it’s good pressure. You have good pressure and bad pressure. The good pressure is that you’re eager for that game to come. We play on Friday, and the players should be eager now to step on the field and show what they can do.”