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Experience Outside Galaxy Gave Perez a World of Help

Soccer: Los Angeles assistant coach learned from some of the best while with MetroStars.

March 28, 1998|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The best thing that happened to Ralph Perez two years ago was that the Galaxy turned him down as an assistant coach to Lothar Osiander.

If he had been hired by Los Angeles, he would have missed getting the same job with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.

And that really would have hurt his career.

Because for two Major League Soccer seasons with the MetroStars, Perez, 46, had the rare chance to learn the art of coaching from the very best.

First there was Eddie Firmani, the former Italian national team player from South Africa who coached the Cosmos in the old North American Soccer League days.

Then there was Carlos Queiroz, who coached Portugal to a couple of FIFA World Youth Championships before trying his luck in MLS.

Finally, there was Carlos Alberto Parreira, who coached Brazil to its 1994 World Cup victory and who this year is taking Saudi Arabia to the France '98 World Cup.

Firmani, Queiroz and Parreira all passed rather quickly through the MetroStars' revolving door, but Perez avoided the exit sign and learned from all three. Now, he is putting that knowledge to use as assistant coach for the Galaxy.

There are no new impact players on the Los Angeles bench this season, but those who glance that way during tonight's Galaxy-MetroStar game at the Rose Bowl at 7:30 will notice an American coach who is rapidly adding to his reputation.

"It was a hell of an experience from every aspect," Perez said of his two-year stint with the MetroStars. "Getting hired was real exciting because I was born in New York and raised in Long Island, and to go back and coach at Giants Stadium, I mean, what a thrill."

Being hired, even as an assistant coach, by MLS marked a sharp change of direction for Perez. Until then, he had been known primarily as a college coach.

He began his career in Southern California, coaching first at Whittier College, then Cal State Fullerton and then founding the soccer program at Cal State Los Angeles. From there, he went to Santa Clara University, to Cal State San Bernardino and finally to Old Dominion in Virginia. His overall record: 196-140-44.

Along the way, he also made his mark within U.S. Soccer circles.

In 1989, he took the U.S. Under-20 national team to the World Youth Championship in Saudi Arabia. The Americans finished a more-than-respectable fourth, with a young Kasey Keller being named best goalkeeper and second-best player in the tournament.

That accomplishment earned Perez an assistant's position under Bob Gansler at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. He was also scout and technical advisor for the U.S. team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and wrote the technical (scouting) reports for the U.S. coaching staff at the 1994 World Cup.

But until 1996, he had never tried his hand in the professional ranks, so Firmani, Queiroz and Parreira became his guides.

"Even when things were a little rocky [as they often were at the MetroStars], I was always amazed at their ability to stay focused on the job at hand," Perez said. "They were never negative. They were continually positive until the season was over."

Having played alongside or coached some of the world's top players, the three coaches obviously felt frustrated by the less skillful MLS players, but Perez said they never showed it.

"I'm sure internally it was frustrating, but they never displayed that frustration toward the players," he said. "They would convey it to me personally. I mean, you can be told the constraints of the league, but until you get in there and have to really deal with it, it's amazing.

"They had great patience, which is definitely needed to coach in this league. I really felt the team improved under their leadership. Their thoroughness impressed me. I always thought that their pregame and halftime talks were very precise but very simplified. They didn't complicate things.

"I consider myself one of the luckiest coaches in the United States because I've been at an Olympics, I've been at a Youth World Championship and I've been at a World Cup. And I also was with Bora [Milutinovic, the former U.S. coach] when he won the Gold Cup in 1991. So I feel I've served my apprenticeship in a way."

But Perez is not actively chasing a head coaching post just yet. He remembers Parreira's advice not to waste energy on things he can't control.

"I'm very happy with what I'm doing here [with the Galaxy]," he said. "One of the things I learned from Parreira is that you need to have targets and you need to make those targets clear, not only for your staff but for your players, on where you want to be.

"I think with the Galaxy the target is very simple for [Coach] Octavio Zambrano, [General Manager] Danny Villanueva, myself and the team. We're hosting this thing [the MLS championship game on Oct. 25]. We don't want to be a spectator, we want to be a participant."

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