LOS ANGELES – Since catching the eye of Serie A scouts eight years ago, when he was just 12 years old, Josh Perez has been bolting back and forth cross the Atlantic from his Southern California homeland to the Italian peninsula, eventually living in Tuscany for several years and playing for ACF Fiorentina in Italy’s top flight.
“I guess you could say I grew up pretty fast,” the young LAFC attacker told MLSsoccer.com after training on Wednesday, discussing the inherent challenges in spending adolescence playing abroad.
At 18, Perez made his first-team debut with Fiorentina in a match against Inter Milan, but soon found himself being loaned out to nearby Tuscan club AS Livorno Calcio of Serie C.
“After my last season being on loan, we were trying to look for options outside of Italy because I didn’t want to be there anymore,” said Perez of a natural winding-down of his years there where he was unable to lock down a first-team spot on the Florence-based side’s senior squad.
Discussions were held with other European clubs and despite having trials with the likes of AC Milan and PSV Eindhoven, he couldn’t find a deal he felt was right.
“At the time, my period of time of finding a club was coming to an end,” Perez said. “You have some teams in Europe and you have some teams in MLS. My thing was that MLS is growing, it is innovating itself. I think I could be a nice possibility for me.”
His stint in Italy finally ended last month as the 20-year-old, L.A.-born attacker decided to come home: signing with expansion side LAFC.
“Knowing Fiorentina has been in the Europa League and Champions League and finals, and they’ve obviously been in the Serie A for so many years, then coming to this and seeing a little comparison,” Perez said. “The facilities [at LAFC] are top. Check that off the list. With everything about the community, it’s probably more or less the same here [in terms of] the grasp of the passion for the play, the field, the players, everything.”
Perez found a “good answer” for the next phase of his development at LAFC — attracted by not just the way the club have grown so quickly in his childhood backyard, but also the on-the-field playing style.
Though the specifics of his introduction to the first team haven’t yet been discussed, Perez feels he’s been able to get his rhythm back after a few weeks training with the club and a 29-minute cameo with Phoenix Rising FC of the USL last Thursday. He now feels ready to contribute should coach Bob Bradley give him a nod.
“He’s getting more confident, we’re all getting to know him, he’s quick, does some good things on the ball,” the LAFC boss said of Perez. “I would expect that we’re still asking more of him than has been the case in other situations.”
As he works to fine tune those things, Perez is hoping the chance comes sooner than later.
“Being an attacking, wide player, cutting in, making diagonal runs, less touches on the ball, be quick, if you need to go one-on-one, you go,” Perez said, rattling off the things the LAFC staff has asked him to focus on thus far, things that visibly excite the young man who is eager to make an impact in his hometown after so many years away.
“I feel ready.”