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Q & A with Head Coach Hugo Perez about the State of the U-15 BNT and What the 2013 Academy Winter Showcase Holds in Store

The U.S. U-15 Boys’ National Team will play three matches against U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams at the Academy Winter Showcase this week at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. Head coach Hugo Perez recently spoke with about how competing in the Showcase factors into the long-term goals of preparing the players for future competition : What is the overall state of the U-15 BNT at the moment and what are the goals for the team this cycle?
Hugo Perez : “We’re going into a second year [together] this cycle. The main goal for us is that this ’99 [age] group gets as much preparation and development as they can in case [U-17 MNT head coach] Richie Williams is looking for certain types of players in certain types of positions. Our main goal is to continue working with them in developing in case Richie wants more. I say ‘more’ because right now he has brought in three of our guys for camps.

“The main thing is, and it’s the same for all the Youth National Teams down to the U-14s because it’s a development program, our goal is to train and develop players within the concept that U.S. Soccer is trying to teach not only for our National Teams but also the Academies.

“That is to play more attractive football and for the kids to have more confidence in a certain style that U.S. Soccer has started to do. That each player, in every position, is comfortable in playing that type of style: more possession, more build-up out of the back, more attacking. Making everybody more aware of the type of football that we want each player to learn and play within the style that U.S. Soccer wants.” : You worked with many of these players in the 2012-13 cycle. What are the benefits of maintaining continuity in the coaching staff for the current 2013-14 cycle ?
HP : “We’ve had players that have moved up from our age group, and I’ve had a couple 2000’s that have come to one or two camps with us and are now with [U-14 NDP head coach] Tony Lepore. The reason we’ve done that is we felt there are some players with the Youth National Teams in their own age that are capable of competing higher. It’s a good way of developing them with older players.

“We’ve done that, but going into the second cycle [the continuity] is a positive thing because we don’t get these kids too often. I would say in one cycle we get five or six camps at the most. The philosophy is the same and coaches have different ways of implementing it, but the philosophy, the style of football we want to play is the same.

“The most important thing isn’t the coaching to be honest, it’s also what U.S. Soccer is doing, which is supporting this new idea of playing a different type of football and give confidence to the players to play it without reprimanding them or putting them down if they make mistakes. My personal view is that a lot of players in the U.S. are capable of becoming elite players for our country and playing this type of football that the Youth National Teams are trying to employ. “ : How often do you collaborate with the other Youth National Team coaches to discuss how the players are progressing in the program?
HP : “Every week and every time the National Teams get together. A lot of the players are in the Academies now, so every week we discuss players moving up, naming players to National Team programs and camps, which ones are doing well, which ones need help and all that. It’s weekly progress throughout the year. : How much has the emergence of the Academy system along with events like the Academy showcase helped the coaches find and develop players for the Youth National Teams ?
HP : “The Academy level as a league in the United States, there’s no question it’s the best league when it comes to the development process and how the kids are playing and competing. The other factor is the training centers all over the country. Those have become the key part in developing our players. The third thing would be working with the clubs to make sure they understand what U.S. Soccer wants as far as style and philosophy of football. : After attending last year’s Academy showcase, is there anything you took away from the event that will inform what you do with the U-15 BNT at this year’s Showcase ?
HP : “All the Youth National Team people will be there. Our team is going there to compete. Even though we are competing two years up, I think it’s important for them to get that exposure because when we go out for example to international matches, all these things that we are doing here in America helps us, especially when we play up. When we play two years up, it helps us when we get out of the country because the level outside the U.S. … most of those players when we go play against other National Teams are already signed with professional clubs.

“It’s a big opportunity for our kids to go to the showcase. This will be the first time they are doing that, which is great. They should do it every year so the kids play there and people can see them all over the country. Everybody benefits from this.” : What is the goal for the players to achieve by the close of the Academy Winter Showcase?
HP : “What we want to do is play good football. That’s what we want to do. We want to play good football.

“Now, good football can be different for different people. But, for us, the base of what we want to see, what our group has been doing for the last year, is trying to make sure that we possess the ball a lot, trying to make sure our players get involved a lot on offense, that in every position, everyone is comfortable. That’s our goal.

“We are going to go there and I would lie to you if I tell you it would be good for the kids to win games. The main thing for us is that we have a base of how we want to play, and we want to make sure that we continue to do that in the development process.” : With that goal in mind, how did you decide on which players to bring to the Academy Winter Showcase?
HP : “We selected these kids because we’ve had them for a year now. In our player pool right now, we’ve seen more than 90 players since the cycle began. Out of those 90 players, there’s a nucleus of a group that we bring every time that’s between 14-16 players. Then we continue to bring newer players that can compete with the first group of players.

“So, we’ve been adding players on and off, but we do have a nucleus of players that have been with us since the start of the cycle, and most of them will be with us unless they get called up to the U-17s. One of our goalkeepers Eric Lopez and [defender] Edwin Lara will be with the U-17s. : As evidenced by Lopez and Lara joining the U-17 MNT for this event, there are opportunities for young players to move up age groups. What similar opportunities does the Academy Winter Showcase provide young players ?
HP : “The Showcase provides a lot of opportunities for them to be seen. Again, we want to make sure we emphasize to the Academies’ National Team guys that have been coming to our camps [that they] should be playing up to help their development. That’s why we play up.

“We have a camp at the Stub Hub Center where we always play two years up. The reason we do it is we feel that it’s an advantage for our kids to play older kids so that when we go out we have better preparation.

“Now at the Showcase, we are going to play three Academies that are very good and have been for some years in the Academy program. We’re going to be tested and that’s good for us.” : With U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann attending the Academy Winter Showcase, is there any added pressure or incentive on the players knowing he’s there ?
HP : “I don’t think so. Jurgen is the National Team coach of the senior team. I don’t think any of our guys yet are ready for the senior team. It’s good for him to be there because it’s good for him to see how the Academy program is doing. But, I don’t think there’s any pressure.

“On the contrary, if I was in the players’ shoes and knew the National Team head coach would be there, I would be excited to play and do well. But, there’s no pressure.