By: Andrew Eaddy | 46 minutes ago Follow @andrew_eaddy
When the Serie A season kicks off on Saturday, former Fiorentina youth prospect Joshua Perez will have already been playing since April. After stalling in Italy with little game time, Perez is breaking out in MLS, and he is in the perfect environment to do it.
The 21-year-old American forward joined the Fiorentina system at 15-years-old, impressing with Fiorentina's U-19 side until he signed a four-year contract in 2016.
Only featuring once for Fiorentina in Serie A, however, he was loaned to Livorno in Serie C where he appeared in over 20 matches but failed to notch a goal. Despite showing promise with his deceptive speed and strength, and registering three assists with the Serie C side, he was not able to make it back to La Viola's first team.
It was especially difficult to break into Fiorentina's first team because La Viola had a wealth of attacking talent both young and old at the time including the likes of Ante Rebic, Federico Bernardeschi, Giuseppe Rossi, and Mario Gomez.
At the end of Perez's season on loan with Livorno, the California-native decided to head home, signing with LAFC in their inaugural season. The side welcomed Perez's experience in Europe and for the U.S. U-17 Men's National Team where he played alongside Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic.
Since joining Perez has only improved his game, including getting valuable minutes with USL Championship pacesetters Phoenix Rising in 2018 and 2019. On Wednesday night, when LAFC faced off against the San Jose Earthquakes at Banc of California Stadium, Perez secured his third start with the team.
MLS MVP front-runner Carlos Vela took most of the plaudits in the match, scoring a brace against the San Jose Earthquakes. His second goal, a slaloming run past San Jose's defense and goalkeeper, ranked number one on Wednesday night's Sportscenter Top 10.
In all the excitement about Vela's dazzling display, and more generally his record-breaking season, however, Perez's first MLS goal, which capped off the night, was overlooked.
After recording five shots, tied for most on LAFC on the night, the 21-year-old scored his first professional goal. In the 81st minute Perez opened up his MLS account in style, wrong-footing San Jose defender Carlos Fierro in the box and blasting a well-placed shot into the near post, past an out-stretched Daniel Vega.
If there were any questions about what the goal meant to the young forward, his celebration, and that of his teammates, said it all.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">No. 1<br><br>You always remember your first, <a href="https://twitter.com/Joshua_Perez26?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Joshua_Perez26</a>. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LAFC?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LAFC</a> <a href="https://t.co/Q3rmg9gD1X">pic.twitter.com/Q3rmg9gD1X</a></p>— LAFC (@LAFC) <a href="https://twitter.com/LAFC/status/1164618231904030720?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 22, 2019</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
"[It was] definitely a special moment. I've been waiting for a very long time for this to happen, for this to come. My teammates tell me all the time to score and that I have to score one way or another so, I mean, it's a moment that I won't forget…it's a special feeling for sure."
Perez has shown a lot of improvement since coming to MLS from Italy. On the field the 5-foot-5 forward has fit in well to LAFC's impressive attacking arsenal. While only appearing twice for the black and gold in 2018 he has seen an increase in game time from last season, featuring 11 times for LAFC in 2019 while tallying a goal and an assist.
With a busy final stretch of the MLS season, Perez is likely to see more minutes with this high-flying LAFC side. Playing alongside such impressive talents, and being serviced by players like LAFC midfielders Eduard Atuesta and Lee Nguyen will only help his game. LAFC head coach Bob Bradley will feel comforted by his development as well, allowing players like Rossi or Diomande to get rest as the playoffs loom.
"Great for Josh Perez to get his first goal. He's had some chances, I think he's really improved," Bradley said. "He's become more dynamic – he takes the ball, he's on the move; you know when he first got here last year I used to say: ‘Somebody told you [that] you should be a possession player. No. Yeah you don't want to lose the ball but you need to take the ball, you need to be dynamic, you need to go by people, you need to be a threat, you need to set up goals.' And so little by little we see that part happening."
Perez has full support behind him as he continues to develop as a dangerous attacking threat for lethal LAFC team.
While the upcoming USMNT September friendly matches against Mexico and Uruguay may be too soon for the U.S. youth international to feature for the first team, continued development and learning from the likes of Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela will surely give him a look when January Camp rolls around.
Major League Soccer, MLS- LAFC