National Writer: Charles Boehm

El Salvador coach Hugo Pérez: USMNT have "a generation for another 15 years"

Hugo Perez USMNT overlay

Hugo Pérez’s response to the question was circumspect, phrased in a way that did not detract from his commitment to his current project. Yet the former US men’s national team standout and National Soccer Hall of Famer left little doubt he’s keeping an eye on his former team’s handling of their head coaching vacancy when asked about his interest in the position Monday night at Exploria Stadium.

“If I say yes or no, they’ll kill me in my country,” said the El Salvador manager with a wry smile after his side’s 1-0 Concacaf Nations League loss to the USMNT in Orlando.

Pérez has led La Selecta since April 2021, guiding them into the final stage of 2022 Concacaf World Cup qualifying and the 2021 Gold Cup knockout stages. He spent two years as a US youth national teams coach from 2012-14, playing a role in the early international experiences of a range of talented US prospects who would go on to professional careers, including Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Mark McKenzie, Sam Vines, Jonathan Gonzalez, Ben Lederman, Matthew Real and Nick Taitague.

"Look, I know all those players. I don’t know what percentage of them\] started with us in the national team," he said on Monday. "I know they have an interim coach right now. I hope, for the sake of our football here in America – let’s face it, the US wants to win the [World Cup. It’s a great opportunity that they’re not going to qualify for the [2026] World Cup, they’re already in."

Gregg Berhalter’s contract expired at the end of 2022 and the program has undergone both an internal U.S. Soccer review and an external investigation of the kerfuffle around Gio Reyna’s situation at last autumn’s World Cup, leaving erstwhile Berhalter assistant Anthony Hudson – who’s said he will “keep preparing the team for as long as I'm asked to do it” – in charge on an interim basis.

Pérez thinks it’s all about the quality, youth and depth of the current player pool.

"I’m sure they’re going to make the right decision who they’re going to bring, or leave [Hudson] as the coach," said the Salvadoran-American coach. "Basically, the coaches are important, don’t get me wrong, but the players that they have, OK, those players that they have right now … you’re talking about a generation for another 15 years.

"I think they took one team and played Grenada [on Friday], then they brought some other players to play against us," continued Pérez, who scored 13 goals in 73 USMNT appearances. "So that tells you the depth that they have, and you go back to the Under-23s, the same thing. So it’s a matter of, whoever comes in, can they really take the best out of them and be able to better than what they are already?"

Pérez has been linked to MLS jobs over the years, including talks with LAFC ahead of their 2018 expansion arrival and the Houston Dynamo FC coaching vacancy eventually filled by Ben Olsen last year.

He’s overseen a revitalization of the El Salvador setup, including an organized, versatile tactical structure and recruitment of dual-national players, particularly those in the United States like Seattle Sounders FC fullback Alex Roldan and LA Galaxy center back Eriq Zavaleta.

Pérez also reiterated his intention to lead La Selecta back to the World Cup for the first time since 1982. El Salvador stand to benefit from the combination of the ‘26 edition expanding to 48 teams and the event’s three North American co-hosts, Canada, Mexico and the United States qualifying automatically.

"What matters to me is getting to the Cup; well, back to the qualifying games for the World Cup," he said in Spanish, noting the USMNT had beaten La Selecta 6-0 – according to him, one of the US coaches at that occasion in Fort Lauderdale, Florida was laughing at the Salvadoran side – in a 2020 friendly a few months before his hiring.

"Qualifying for the World Cup, that's our goal and that's my job, to prepare our players."

Hudson hailed his opposite number both before and after Monday’s match, noting the challenge Pérez’s side has posed in this and other recent meetings.

"I have to give credit to El Salvador,” said the Englishman. “Coming off the back of a 7-1 win, and playing at home, the confidence is high. But they're a tough team to play against. The coach always has a very clear plan of how to have his team play and yeah, they made it very difficult for us."