By Jeff Helfrich/NPSL.com
Last year, Manny Perez declined a chance at a top-five Major League Soccer SuperDraft selection and a Generation Adidas contract.
Don’t get him wrong. The now-sophomore North Carolina State defender would love to play the MLS one day. But he’s not ready to cash in his chips yet. He’ll gladly spend more time with NC State after dreaming of playing there as a child. All while moving up the ranks in the United States Men’s National Team system and trying to earn a first team spot and pro contract abroad.
“I think [NC State] made a serious jump last season making it to the tournament for the first time since 2009, and I still have some to do and I didn’t feel like it was the right time for me to go into the MLS,” Perez said. “I think it also opens up opportunities for me like other places in the world where I can potentially play professionally.”
Perez is currently with the U-20 national team at the Concacaf U-20 Championship this month in Bradenton, Fla. He was among the 20 players selected by head coach Tab Ramos. Perez and his team hope to be among the top four teams that qualify for the 2019 U-20 World Cup in Poland.
What the USMNT needs right now is a pipeline of young players to eventually revitalize the first team and bring it back to prominence. Perez could be part of that.
“I take a lot of pride in it and it’s something that you can’t take for granted,” Perez said. “I think in the future, hopefully I can make the first team and it would be a dream come true. As of now, I can just continue to do good with the U-20 and hopefully get to a World Cup and continue from there. It is a bunch of young players, and I think we’re trying to change it around from what the national team has been in past years.”
Something unique about Perez’s international prospects is that he does have Mexican roots. He was born in North Carolina, but grew up watching Mexico play with his family. He would’ve considered playing with El Tri, but the USMNT program was the first to call. He’ll be staying with the stars and stripes, he says. He’s nothing if not loyal.
Perez has lived his whole life in the North Carolina area and never really had plans to leave it. He played academy there and still hits the pitch with NC State when he’s not with the national team. He enjoys seeing his friends, family and soccer acquaintances at his games.
Asheville City SC of the NPSL was home to Perez last summer while he wasn’t away with the U-20’s. The right back went 90 minutes with the Blues against Georgia Revolution FC and Chattanooga FC.
“It was a great opportunity for me,” Perez said. “I knew a lot of the players from playing with them in the area. Playing there helped me stay in shape. It helped me improve my game. It was a great experience. The fans there were incredible.”
And jumping from college soccer to the NPSL game and to U-20 international action hasn’t been easy, either.
“It’s definitely challenging,” Perez said. “It’s definitely a big difference level-wise, but it’s always fun coming to these camps and it’s always fun coming back and trying to provide the most I can for NC State as well as providing the best I can for the national team. I love doing it and hopefully I can continue to.”
After the U-20 qualifiers in Florida, Perez will have a decision to return to. Should he jump the MLS or continue to stay with NC State and in regular cycles with the USMNT?
Perez may be more concerned with how he’ll conquer the soccer world.
“I always dreamed of myself being with the national team one day,” Perez said. “I think it’s totally changed my way of thinking, training and how I try to improve my game every day.”
Photo Credit: Shane Burke, Roy K. Miller/ISI Photos, Casey Brooke Lawson/ISI Photos