A new signing this offseason, former United States youth international Manny Perez quickly became an essential part for Louisville City FC as it pursued its third USL Championship title. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
When Manny Perez’s signing with legendary Scottish club Celtic FC was officially announced three years ago, the excitement for both the player and those who had followed his path in the U.S. youth national team ranks was palpable.
“It's a great opportunity for me,” Perez told Pro Soccer USA’s Mitchell Northam after the move. “[Celtic is] a great club, with one of the biggest groups of supporters in the world, and I'm just excited. It’s been a long ride… It’s a club that likes to develop and play young players. I think it’s perfect for me. I’m blessed to get the opportunity to play with them.”
Then, barriers began to spring up.
Perez initially competed on loan in the USL Championship for North Carolina FC – the club whose youth academy he had come through – hopeful a UK work permit to begin his Celtic career could be secured while he streamed the club’s games from afar. It didn’t materialize, and while Perez joined the club for training stints alongside competing for NCFC, after injury setbacks he departed after two years without an official appearance.
“Obviously, you always want to show your abilities,” said Perez this week. “With injuries and other things in play it was something, unfortunately, that I wasn’t able to show my full abilities.”
After last season signing with the Portland Timbers and going on loan to Austin FC – where he made 10 appearances in the 2021 Major League Soccer season – the now 23-year-old entered the offseason looking for a fresh start.
He found it at Louisville City FC, a place he had admired when he competed for North Carolina and had clear plans for what it could offer Perez as he tried to re-establish himself professionally.
“A winning culture is something that you want to be a part of, I think, for any professional athlete,” said Perez. “There’s always a competitiveness to it, and I think being in an environment like that will help you grow. Having good conversations with [Louisville City FC Head Coach] Danny [Cruz] and knowing the tactics that he likes, I felt I was a perfect player for his team.”
Louisville City FC newcomer Manny Perez led the team in interceptions (41), tackles won (36), and duels won (185) during the 2022 regular season. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
By any measure, the move has paid dividends for both parties. Perez earned a place in the first USL Championship Team of the Week of 2022 after a stellar debut in the opening game of the season. He’s since become one of the key new contributors for the two-time title winners. Sitting fifth on the team in minutes played (2,234) and first in interceptions (41), tackles won (36), and duels won (185), Perez has made his presence felt at both ends of the field.
His quick integration on the field – where a partnership on the right side with Brian Ownby proved a key driver for LouCity early in the season – came together even more quickly than Cruz had initially envisioned when selling the player on joining the club.
“Honestly, it was massive,” said Cruz. “Anytime you’re having turnover, the hope is that the interviews you have with individuals is who they are in those interviews. Then they have to come in and integrate themselves into a locker room and have the right mentality and attitude every day, and then you see the partnerships come to fruition the way you had hoped.
“It’s something we take a lot of pride in, and he certainly indicated tactically he understood from the onset what was being asked of him, but then when you look at the partnership [with Ownby], especially those two early on before the injuries started happening, I think you started to see a really good partnership blossoming on that side of the field.”
Cruz also has praise for Perez’s adaptability to situations. He points to the side’s contest against the New York Red Bulls II early in the season – where his support for Ray Serrano helped the 19-year-old winger have a strong performance and score his first goal for the club – as an example of Perez’s tactical quality and understanding.
“I think the understanding of what’s needed from him, based off who he’s playing behind was really, really impressive,” said Cruz. “It was an attribute that I found really, really impressive.”
Louisville City FC enters the playoffs off its best regular season in club history, a mark that has been fueled by numerous new faces in the squad this campaign. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photograph / Louisville City FC
Having helped LouCity record its best regular season in club history – and the fourth-best in terms of points in the USL Championship’s history – Perez is looking forward to the side’s start of the 2022 USL Championship Playoffs presented by Hisense this Saturday night. Being part of a team that earns a third star for the club’s crest is front and center for Perez as the side prepares to host Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at Lynn Family Stadium.
After his prior foray overseas, though, there’s also the understanding that a strong end to the campaign could lead to another opportunity to test the waters in Europe. As Perez sees former teammates from the United States U-20 National Team that won the Concacaf U-20 Championship in 2018 like Chris Richards (Crystal Palace, England), Mark McKenzie (Genk, Belgium), and Alex Mendez (Vizela, Portugal) competing overseas, he harbors aspirations to join them.
“I’m very happy for my teammates that I played with that are there right now,” said Perez. “There were some incredible players I got to play with, and it gives you a boost and a different mindset that you could potentially reach your full potential in another place. Hopefully I’ll continue to work, and it will open doors for me.”
After the challenges that Perez faced over the first three years of his professional career, the opportunity he has embraced in Louisville has Cruz backing him to shine this postseason, and beyond.
“I'm excited for him,” said Cruz. “I think it's an opportunity for him to show the type of player he is – as he has all season – on a bigger stage, right? Because there’s less games for everybody to watch. He’s obviously a key component of how we want to play. I’m excited to see what he can do.”