The Southern California Football Fan – Los Angeles Times


Pick any significant football event in Southern California over the past 38 years, and chances are Ralph Perez will be there.

The 1984 Olympics? He worked as a statistician “just so I could watch the games”.

The World Cup a decade later? He was a technical advisor.

Major League Soccer? He was with the league from the start and even helped coach the Galaxy to two MLS Cup wins.

He also founded programs at Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State San Bernardino, coached teams at Cal State Fullerton and Whittier College, and may be the only man in history to coach teams in all three NCAA divisions, the MLS, the Olympics and the World Cup.

It all earned him a lifetime achievement award last month at the National Soccer Coaches Assn. of the American convention, but Perez cautions against closing the book on him for now.

“I still don’t think I’m done,” he says. “I think my best football is ahead of me because at 60, as a coach, it’s not old. I feel young.

It shows no signs of slowing down. Last fall, the University of Redlands team he now coaches went 20-3-2, giving him three 20-win seasons in six years at the school. In the spring, he is the color commentator for the Galaxy’s radio broadcasts, which he has been doing since shortly after the arrival of David Beckham.

“I’m totally living my dream in what I think is the best place to live if you’re a footballer,” Perez says.

It all started with a denial notice.

A two-sport athlete at Oneonta State in New York, Perez came to Southern California in the early 1970s hoping to land a teaching job – which he did – and a spot on a team in the North American Football League – which he didn’t.

“I really wanted to be a professional player. But to be honest, I wasn’t good enough,” he says.

So he applied for a coaching job at Whittier College and was hired on the spot, for $83 a month. Considering the career path the hire established, it turned out to be an incredible boon to American football.

The highlights came fast and furiously, with Perez, Forrest Gump-style, influencing some of the defining people and events in the sport’s recent history. While coaching at Cal State LA, he recruited Carlos Juarez and Martin Vasquez, who both went on to coach in MLS and with the US national program.

In 1989, he helped coach the American men to a fourth-place finish at the U-20 World Cup – the best performance ever by a U-20 team. A year later came the high point of his coaching career: he was on the sidelines at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome when the United States, making their first World Cup appearance in four decades, lost an emotional 1- 0 against Italy.

In MLS, he was an assistant with the New York-New Jersey Metrostars – now the Red Bulls – where he worked under Carlos Queiroz and Carlos Alberto Parreira. The former became manager of Manchester United and Real Madrid; the latter is one of only two men to have led five different national teams in the World Cup. (Bora Milutinovic is the other, and Perez has also worked with him.)

As for players, Perez has coached 11 of 12 men to have at least 100 caps with the US national team.

“My kids always say, ‘Dad, you know everyone,'” Perez says. “I really feel like I’ve seen it all.”

That experience plays out well in the radio booth says Joe Tutino, Perez’s broadcast partner.

“It’s a security blanket that every broadcaster should be able to have. Especially in our league where we don’t have fact checkers and such,” says Tutino, who is entering his 16th season with the Galaxy. “When he starts talking about the 1990 World Cup squad and things like that, sometimes it makes me stop and say, ‘That guy was at the World Cup in Italy. This guy was on the Olympic teams. This guy was at the very start of Major League Soccer.

“Once in a while I look back and say, ‘Yeah, that’s credibility. “”

Perez has some regrets though.

He regrets that his older brother and mentor Ray, a high school football coach in New York, didn’t live long enough to share all of his triumphs. Ray died of a heart attack in 1995.

He regrets being ignored the three times he was interviewed for MLS head coaching positions and the two times he interviewed with UCLA. And he regrets never having had the chance to be a head coach instead of an assistant – at all levels – with the American national team.

Oh, and that morning, as he watches the Galaxy face off in a scrimmage on a backcourt at the Home Depot Center, he regrets taking off his wedding band and MLS championship ring while he washed. hands in team bathroom. desks. Both rings disappeared for several hours before finally being returned.

But that’s about it in the regrets department.

“I had a great race,” he said. “It was a trip beyond my dreams. Sometimes you pinch yourself a little.

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