Now eligible to play, how does Andres Perea fit into the USMNT?
January 25, 2021
On January 12, Andres Perea’s request for a one-time switch from Colombia to represent the United States was granted. Born in Tampa, Fla., the 20-year-old midfielder grew up in Colombia and rose through the ranks of Atletico Nacional while also featuring for Colombia’s youth national teams at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup and 2019 Under-20 World Cup.
Now back home in Florida playing for Orlando City in Major League Soccer, Perea earned a call-up to the Under-23 USMNT January camp with an opportunity to play for the senior team at the end of the month in a friendly against Serbia. Perea’s change in international allegiances is yet another job well done by Gregg Berhalter to sway a dual national in the USMNT’s favor, but it also provides the national team with a key depth piece at the base of the midfield.
As it stands, the depth chart at the position has many question marks over it. Jackson Yueill is probably Adams’ deputy at the position, but his drastically different skill set requires Berhalter to alter the team’s approach to the game. Beyond Yueill, there’s quite a gap in experience between phased out senior figures like Michael Bradley and Wil Trapp and overseas prospects in Owen Otasowie and Johnny Cardoso. Hasani Dotson and Aiden Morris are potentially on the fringe of making the jump to the senior team, but their immediate futures most likely lie with the youth national and Olympic qualifying teams.
With the acquisition of Perea, though, Berhalter may have just uncovered the most like-for-like rotational piece at that position yet. He is not a carbon copy, but he does provide a similarly energetic defensive presence in the center of the field while also providing a confident ability to carry the ball forward on the dribble and facilitate possession and pressure with quick passes.
Understanding the role
As a unit, Berhalter wants a dynamic trio of players to run his midfield. Broadly speaking, these players must be capable of pressing aggressively and covering large portions of the field quickly. In transition to attack, these players must also be capable of moving the ball up the field quickly through passing sequence or individual dribbling feats and provide late options in the opposition’s penalty area to finish off the play.
At an individual level, the player in the six role sets the tempo of the team’s intensity when playing in transition. Adams fills this role best because his mobility and suffocating press prevent the opposition from transitioning into an offensive sequence of their own. His passing range may not be as extensive as that of a Yueill-type player, but he relieves some defensive responsibility from the likes of Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna to allow them to focus on creating and scoring chances.
It’s difficult to draw comparative conclusions between the two players’ statistics, though, as Adams now plays in the Bundesliga and last played in MLS back in 2018. Perea also only played 13.3 full 90 minutes in 2020 whereas Adams played 25.9 in his final year with the Red Bulls. However, given this context, there are inferences to be made given the similarities in their output and the potential of Perea’s output if he were put into a high-octane pressing scheme.
As per FBRef, the per 90 minutes statistics were: Perea attempted 44 passes to Adams’ 52.7, completed 1.05 tackles to 1.43, 0.97 dribbles to 0.88, 5.41 pressures to 7.1, made 2.56 blocks to 2.97, 0.45 interceptions to 2.05 and 1.57 shot-creating action to 1.7. From these numbers, it would be fair to infer that Perea’s tackling and pressing statistics would get closer to those of 2018 Adams. Likewise, his slightly higher dribbling completion and lower interception rate is indicative of where Perea differs when examining his game through the eye test.
Perea’s style of play
Though Orlando rotated between a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 shape, Perea’s role always consisted of facilitating both possession and pressure for the team in possession. Both often occur within the middle third of the field where Perea covers large patches of the field to close opponents down or turns out of tight spaces to push the ball forward for Orlando.
In terms of facilitating pressure, Perea does so in two ways: reactionary movement and innate positional awareness.
Orlando force Samuel Piette into attempting this pass down the middle, and Perea reads the direction his teammates are forcing Piette in perfectly. Before the ball even leaves the Canadian midfielder’s foot, Perea is already on the move to prevent Montreal from breaking Orlando’s pressure through Amar Sejdic.
This play seems complimentary to his ability to make up ground given that he intercepts the pass in motion, but his positioning is what allows him to make this play. Though out of frame, Perea is within a few yards of Sejdic in anticipation of a potential opportunity to intercept a pass towards him.
It also serves as a testament to how Perea facilitates possession for Orlando while participating in pressing sequences like this one. The 20-year-old could take the ball on the dribble on his own or play the ball out wide to the left, but he decides to play the one-touch pass forward to Daryl Dike. In the play below, Perea does similar work to maintain possession for Orlando after his initial tackle and joins in the ensuing counterattack that leads to a chance that hits the post.
This play against Gustavo Bou is more exemplary of his reactionary defensive skill set. Bou takes the 20-year-old’s pressure a bit too casually in his attempt to nut meg him, but Perea is almost noticeably thinking out his approach to the challenge he’s about to put in on Bou. Perhaps the most impressive feat of this action is that he doesn’t change speed; his strides are all the same as he attempts to read Bou’s movement on the ball to put in a calculated tackle.
The methodology behind Perea’s tackling also puts winning possession back ahead of simply dispossessing an opponent. If he can’t hold onto the ball himself, Perea still manages to poke the ball towards a teammate to instantaneously start Orlando’s counterattack. From a U.S. perspective, this quick thinking from a defensive play could better allow the team to play wih and maintain the higher level of pressure Berhalter wants to play with.
In possession is where there starts to be a bit of separation between Perea and Adams’ styles of play. Perea’s shown shades of Darlington Nagbe in his ability to turn out of pressure in midfield while also showing flashes of his ability to connect with teammates through short interplay, hit switch-field passes into the channels and get forward in transition with Orlando.
Perea often looks for one-time passes in possession to keep Orlando moving forward and to catch the opposition’s first line of defense off guard. He often shows great game awareness and a mind consistently thinking of the next play through his willingness to look for the forward pass and do so immediately after receiving the ball. There’s a reluctance form him to hit more direct balls through the lines or to the forwards, but he provides relatively sound ball security in his decision making on the ball.
The 20-year-old is also capable of bringing the ball forward on the dribble. Although he hasn’t developed the cleanest touch on the ball, Perea’s agility and quick thinking has often allowed him to wriggle his way out of tight spaces.
In the play below, Perea’s first touch takes him right into the path of two Orlando players. Wil Trapp and Blaise Matuidi seem to have him cornered, but his touch between the two and over Matuidi’s challenge gets him moving forward. The ensuing pass to Mueller
a quick demonstration of his technical quality and agility with a pull back and touch around Ring gets him out of trouble. While he’s undoubtedly playing with fire in these situations, this is the type of high-risk-high-reward play that can break defensive lines and force the opposition on the back foot.
This second play against NYCFC both emphasizes his deficiencies and strengths on the ball in these tight spaces. Again, Perea looks trapped between two midfielders but manages to wriggle his way out of trouble with a clean pull back and touch around Alex Ring. However, there is good reason to knit pick the sequence of events leading up to the turn and those that follow it.
Upon receiving the ball, Perea opts to take his first touch across his body with his right foot. This ultimately puts him in a position where he looks stuck between Acevedo and Ring and despite his good work to get around Ring, he doesn’t attack NYCFC’s back line with intention to go to goal and gives up a turnover with a pass out wide to the left that goes behind Nani.
When Perea receives the ball, there’s enough time and space to do so on his left foot as to open his body to the entire field. He possesses the ball control and technical quality to beat Ring in a one-on-one situation as he showed before, and that would have allowed him to play a better pass to Nani or perhaps work up a bit more confidence to drive straight at goal.
While his immediate future will likely be with the Olympic Qualifying team, Perea has as much an opportunity to climb the depth chart for the senior national team as the rest of the young sixes coming through. Aside from Tyler Adams, Perea, Johnny Cardoso, Owen Otasowie, Jackson Yueill and a host of other midfielders are going to have to duke it out for that back-up role and the starting position for the under-23 squad.
One of the facets of his game that needs work his confidence to be more direct with his passing and look to skip lines when possible. The picture above demonstrates an instance where he could have gone directly with two different options, one being a difficult pass back out wide and the other being a simple ball forward in Tesho Akindele. Instead, he opts to play it sideways to Mueller as he often did throughout last season to play the safe pass.
For the USMNT and potentially the Olympic team, this passing mindset won’t be detrimental to the style of play they want to pursue. With more creative players like Paxton Pomykal, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah and Richie Ledezma in front of him, it may be beneficial to both Jason Kreis and Berhalter to have a player comfortable with relinquishing possession to them.
However, his defensive output and acceptance of needing to be that near purely defensive midfielder for either the Olympic team or senior national team could make or break his effectiveness in the role going forward. Although his play in the final third may not be as efficient as his more advanced midfielders, Perea hasn’t shied away joining in on the attack.
Tyler Adams is tailormade for this role because he buys into the role of cleaning up behind his offensive teammates. He plays the odd line-breaking pass forward and pushes up occasionally, but his play in possession often revolves around him winning back the ball and giving it straight to the creative hubs of team. For Perea to climb the depth chart, he needs to develop an understanding of this role quickly as to not get caught out of position when getting forward.
As he demonstrates in the play above, he’s got the passing range and capability to be effective in spreading possession. If he can continue to improve upon his ability to play these types of passes, it will give both Orlando and the USMNT a focal point at the base of their midfield capable of working out of pressure, combining with teammates and recycling the ball high up the field. Perea has the foundations to be one of the most well-rounded midfielders within the current player pool, and this month’s friendly against Trinidad and Tobago could be his first opportunity to demonstrate that.