Matt Perrella is a bit of an enigma. Matt just kinda popped up for Bethlehem Steel FC at the tail end of the season following the departure of Samir Badr, and after his first match I asked him how he wound up in the Philadelphia Union organization. His initial response is whether I wanted the two minute version or the full version. I said the two minute to save time now, but I was definitely interested in the full version. Right before the season ended Matt and I had a chat after one of Steel FC’s practices at YSC. This is everything you should know about Matt Perrella, who looks like he’s going to be the number one goalkeeper for BSFC this year.
Starting off in New Jersey, Matt was with Saint Benedict’s Prep for high school. Noted for having a brutally good boys soccer team (alumnus being little known soccer players Tab Ramos and Claudio Reyna), St. Benedict’s was bossing state titles and constantly placing kids in the US Youth National Team system. Matt was in the regional pool for the National Team system, but was looked over for the other goalie from St Ben’s who was on the Varsity squad. Matt then went to Ryder, where he not only played four years (grabbing an assist off a goal kick in a game against Niagara) but picked up a degree which led to him going to England to Durham University for his Master’s. While in England, Matt played for non-league Durham City where he had a unique offer. Newcastle United (yep, that one) Reserves played a friendly against Durham’s university side and were impressed enough by Perrella’s performance “I killed them, made probably like six or seven saves in that game, and we beat them two nothing.” That lead to various other trials. Matt was on trial for Udinese in Italy, LB Châteauroux in France, Daugava Riga in Latvia, and APOEL in Cyprus as well as being in Thailand during the last USL offseason - not to mention a four week stint in a log cabin in Poland. After a prolonged European tour, Perrella, after being denied dual citizenship (US/France) returned to the States with a then fledgling Jacksonville Armada in the NASL.
Perrella was in Jacksonville for four months at the very beginning of the franchise, but before he could show his talents in a game he was usurped by a different goalie from the Jacksonville area. Not being fazed by that, Matt moved on to Sporting Kansas City - partly due to the New Jersey connection with SKC manager Peter Vermes and goalie coach turned assistant manager John Pascarella. Matt didn’t last any longer at SKC, but having put off his dissertation from Durham, he was able to go back and finish up his education.
That brings us to the last two years. Matt spent a year with the then Carolina RailHawks (now North Carolina FC), but was stuck behind Akira Fitzgerald and Hunter Gilstrap, so he once again didn’t get a shot on the field. Perrella finally got his chance in the NPSL with New Jersey Copa SC. His stats were good enough to warrant a tryout for Bethlehem and Brendan Burke and Jay Cooney liked what they saw to make Matt the presumed number one guy for 2017. While his stats might not scream starting keeper, Matt definitely seems to be mentally prepared for the gig.
After he rattled off the above like it was nothing, I got to ask some questions just about how his season was going and how he feels the game has suited him.
On his start with Bethlehem:
“If you aren’t watching the games or seeing them, all you see is 0-3 and five goals against, which unfortunately that’s what teams are going to see. For me it’s just staying consistent, making a save or two I’m not supposed to make and making all the ones I am supposed to. That and making all the right decisions. I’m happy with the way I’m playing and hopefully that’s enough to get me a full season.”
Talking about where he’s landed now with Bethlehem and the USL:
“I’m happy where I’m at now obviously USL isn’t the dream level but do I think I can play for the US? No, but I think I can push for an MLS spot. I know where I stand I think, and I think I can get better.”
If he’s just nomadic in nature:
“I don’t have a problem settling down, you know it’s funny though? If a club said ‘we want you here for two years’ I’d be fine with that. It just hasn’t worked out that way. Oh there’s an opportunity in Latvia, yeah I’ll go. Opportunity in Thailand, yeah I’ll go. I just want the chance to play.”
On his work ethic and the opportunity for Bethlehem:
“People around me know, ‘this kid put his head down and went to work.’ Now I’m getting a shot. I don’t take anything for granted now, I’ve worked really hard to be here and some people take the USL for granted but I’m really psyched to be here.. If they decide to keep me around I’ll be here than most players because I want to do this.”
How the style of USL compares to other leagues:
“It’s definitely different. Teams press higher. In England they let you play out of the back. It’s almost like a chess match, you play to your left back the other team slides over. You play to the center, the other team slides over. They wait for your mistakes and they’re patient. I think here we maybe rush too much to go forward. If you score in minute one or minute ninety the result is the same. So I think here, in the league in general, some teams rush too early.”
Perrella is slated to be the number one goalie this coming season for Bethlehem, which would get him what he feels he needs, a chance to show what he has. Only time will tell but after talking to him at length, it’s hard to argue against him.