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Youngster with PDP connections makes Serie A debut

Joshua Perez (third from left) poses with three NorCal Premier Soccer trialists in Florence in 2013.

Joshua Perez (third from left) poses with three NorCal Premier Soccer trialists in Florence in 2013

For many neutral observers it may have been just another league game, but for NorCal Premier Soccer and its Player Development Program, Monday’s Serie A clash between Inter Milan and visiting ACF Fiorentina represented yet another milestone.

75 minutes into the match, 18-year-old United States youth international, Joshua Perez, replaced Cristian Tello at the famed San Siro for Fiorentina and in doing so, became the first player from the PDP – ACF Fiorentina project to make his professional European debut.

The nephew of former U.S. international, Hugo Perez, signed a senior contract with Fiorentina in February after originally being identified as a 12-year-old talent at a NorCal PDP tryout in Santa Clara that was attended by scouts from the two-time Scudetto winners.

“We put him in front of the youth director, Vincenzo Vergine and President of ACF Fiorentina, Sandro Mencucci, both who saw immediately that he was a top talent,” said NorCal President Benjamin Ziemer. “We assisted him by working hard to develop a serious technical relationship with an Italian Soccer club who wanted to provide top young talents like him such a chance, first to be discovered and second to be trained by ACF Fiorentina.”

“We would like to be clear his success has many fathers,” Ziemer added. “We only provided the opportunity to develop with ACF Fiorentina, his sacrifice, his and Fiorentina’s hard work, his talent and desire to be a professional are the most important piece. Another important piece was Paolo Bonomo, who behind the scenes, has worked incredibly hard to maintain this partnership, he must be smiling because without him this NorCal – ACF Fiorentina Project of which Josh is the first and most important player, would not have happened. Our greatest hope is Josh’s success will open the door for the first NorCal player to live the same dream.”

Following the identification through the Norcal Premier PDP tryout, the Serie A club kept in contact with Perez, regularly bringing him over to Italy for training sessions, though they were unable to sign Perez due to FIFA regulations that prevent minors from signing with clubs in their non-native countries.

The 15-minute Fiorentina cameo in Monday’s 4-2 loss to Inter Milan makes Perez just the third United States national team-eligible player to play in Serie A in the modern era, following Alexi Lalas and Michael Bradley.

For more information about NorCal’s Player Development Program, click here.