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SSFC Spotlight: Andrés Perea steadies the midfield

The 20-year-old has a big year ahead in Orlando.

Dominican Republic v USMNT U-23

The increased focus on the recruitment of dual-national players allows the United States Men’s National Team to inject the depth chart, sometimes unexpectedly, with talented prospects. One of the recent victories was convincing Andrés Perea to change allegiances from Colombia to the USMNT. The young midfielder has featured twice since FIFA approved his switch, both with the senior team and during Olympic Qualifying. While the latter competition was an unsuccessful enterprise, the 20-year-old midfielder could prove to be a regular inclusion over the next decade.

Perea was born in Tampa, Florida, but moved to Colombia at a young age. He immediately joined the famed Atlético Nacional youth academy at 6 years old and eventually won the prestigious national Torneo de Pony Fútbol in 2013. Although his father, Nixon, was a former player at the club and currently coaches the U-20 side, Perea was focused on “writing his own story.”

At 16 years old, the young midfielder made his senior debut in July of 2017, appearing in a 1-0 loss to Independiente Santa Fe. Perea had two appearances that season in the first-tier Colombian Categoría Primera A. The manager praised his personality, tackling, and ability to link up with teammates.

The next year, he featured in two more matches, one in the league and one in the domestic cup. His initial breakthrough came in 2019, playing 11 matches. Colombian media lauded him for his “personality and aggressiveness,” but his playing time dwindled in advance of a potential transfer.

His performances drew the attention of Orlando City SC, which acquired the midfielder on loan for the 2020 season, beating Brasileirão power Flamengo for his signature. “I came to the decision to join Orlando because I liked the project they shared with me,” Perea told the Orlando Soccer Journal. “Honestly, the project in Flamengo didn’t really convince me. I liked the project in the United States because I can finish my development as a player here. I’m still young despite having three years as a professional player.”

Perea thrived under the development-based leadership of Óscar Pareja and made 28 total appearances, featuring in all but one match. He adjusted to the league almost immediately, establishing himself as “a calming and industrious presence.” The club exercised the purchase on his loan this past December.

A rotational starter last season, Perea began 2021 on the bench, entering the first match of the season at halftime. His performance in the scoreless draw against Atlanta United showed improvement on the attack, displaying “an exceptional ability to spread the field and find space,” according to The Mane Land. If he is going to become a regular with the national team, then he must continue to develop into a more complete player, one that justifies his recent recruitment.

A dual national, Perea initially represented Colombia. He appeared with Los Cafeteros’ U-17 team at the Campeonato Sudamericano Sub-17 and FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017. At the 2019 U-20 World Cup, his midfield play was essential to the team’s success. Despite being a late addition to the squad, the Nacional midfielder played in all five matches en route to the quarterfinals.

With the United States focused on recruitment of youth, a player of his potential presented an intriguing target for the program. He was called into camp for the December 2020 friendly against El Salvador. After FIFA accepted his request for a one-time switch, Perea made his senior international debut in the 7-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago. Despite surrendering a penalty, the ability to play with a talented core validated the “difficult decision” to change national teams.

“Seeing such a young generation motivates me,” Perea said after switching. “It’s a generation that is playing well in Europe, and that motivates you knowing that you can be a part of this process. It influences you a lot because they’re young players who have a lot of aspirations. I’ll continue to work, I’ll continue as long as I’ve been doing and hopefully go to Europe, which is every player’s dream.”

While central midfielder remains the strongest position for the national team, there is potentially an opportunity to stake a claim on the 23-player roster heading to Qatar. American Soccer Now contributor Justin Sousa broke down what Perea can bring to the national team. His role of “facilitating possession and pressure… within the middle third of the field” while covering “large patches of the field to close down opponents or push the ball forward” makes him a fit for manager Gregg Berhalter’s energetic yet methodical tactics. The 20-year-old also demonstrates quick thinking on tackles reminiscent of Tyler Adams, frequently “managing to poke the ball toward teammates to instantaneously start a counterattack.”

“Andres we find to be a really, really interesting holding midfield player for us,” said U-23s manager Jason Kreis prior to the Olympics. “The amount of ground he is capable to cover defensively is a little bit [of a] different level than some of the other guys that we have in our pool. His processing of the ball, he’s still learning a little bit about that and what we’re looking for in a number six.”

The national team may have found an ideal back-up at the defensive midfielder position. As observed by HalfSpaces, Perea “does not lose the ball,” rarely responsible for turnovers and “able to turn out of top spaces.” Areas for improvement include “confidence” and “being more direct with passing.” Additionally, he is not a threat in the final third, rarely pushing the tempo and getting shots on goal. While not possessing a great amount of attacking prowess, his skillset could be useful against stronger opponents or when trying to protect a lead.

For most young players being looked at by the national team, 2021 is a key year at the club and international level. While probably not a first-team option right now at the senior level, if Perea takes the next step forward at Orlando, Berhalter could include him on the roster for the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying. The American midfielder depth chart is packed with talented prospects, but only a few have truly separated from the pack as automatic call-ups. Based on his rapid recruitment and insertion into the rotation, observers should monitor his progress as a future option, both in the immediate and long-term.