Star of American beach soccer


  • Nick Perera is the star of American beach soccer

  • The 35-year-old captains the USA team

  • He speaks with about relating to the younger generation

  • Star of American beach soccer

In between the Covid testing, team meetings, group meals and training sessions in Moscow ahead of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup™, perhaps the most important activity the USA team has been taking part in is ‘mafia’. This, to explain, is a game in which each participant is assigned a role affiliated with either an informed minority (the mafiosi) or an uninformed majority (the villagers).

It provides a natural space for all the players to laugh, for the quieter ones to come out of their shells and loosen up. The social aspect of sport has become increasingly vital in a world that encourages social distance around every corner.

“I'm not telling you something you don't know, but there’s something going on in the world that makes preparation more difficult,” USA’s captain, Nick Perera, told “Things are very different than they used to be. The camaraderie aspect is difficult to cultivate. The team dynamic was always about locker room behaviour and room-mate moments. Now there’s a lot of regulations in place to mask, we don’t have room-mates to make sure there’s no contamination. It’s a challenge we’ve all had to wrap our heads around.”

The US are preparing for the Beach Soccer World Cup in Moscow, where they will come up against the hosts, Japan and Paraguay in Group A.

“We have a really great group of guys,” said Perera. “The truth is we make very little money playing this sport. We don’t do this to be millionaires. We’re doing it because we love the sport, the team and the culture.

"We know what we’re signed up for and this is a group that cares about each other. But there are moments here that are very tedious. So many things pull you in different directions. Keeping your head focused is really difficult.”

To stay mentally fit and focused, Perera finds solace in making regular FaceTime calls back home to his wife and two children. It also helps that his best friend, goalkeeper Chris Toth, is on the team.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - AUGUST 15: Alessandro Canale, Chris Toth and Nick Perera poses during the United States of America team presentation prior to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup on August 15, 2021 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Octavio Passos - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

“It’s very nice to have someone you can trust and that trusts you, and that when things aren’t going so well, you can pull them aside and will give you an honest, unbiased answer. Sometimes everyone needs to be told how it is.

"You can walk out thinking the world is one way and somebody has to look at you and say, ‘Hey man, you think it’s ‘A’ but it’s really kind of ‘B’. You’ve been making it ‘A’ because you want it to be, but it’s ‘B’.’ So having someone you trust on the inside helps tremendously.”

Perera has been a key part of a profound transformation in beach soccer. In his early playing days, the discipline was primarily a showcase sport. “You went out there, threw a couple bikes (bicycle kicks) and everyone got excited and went home,” he says.

But in 2021, the sport is extremely professional, tactically mature, full of complicated moments and tricky strategies. “It has got more convoluted and it requires a lot of mental attention.”

The USA squad consists of 14 players, one head coach and two assistant coaches. Perera says this team has a blend it has never had before with an almost even split between experienced and inexperienced players, and a tremendous hunger at both ends of that spectrum. 

“People in my generation are having struggles with how to deal with this next generation and wave of young people because I think there is a generational gap. There’s a difference in the way they interact with each other. It’s the digital age.

"The person-to-person connection is different than it used to be. We can sit back and complain about it, but the truth is that we have to adapt to the world we live in.”

Perera is finding those ways of connecting with the younger players and motivating them by having a more collaborative tone. He has played professional indoor soccer for over 12 years and in the early days it was all about doing whatever the older players and the coach instructed, no matter what.

“The coach would scream and rant and I would just say, ‘Sounds good, you’re right’ and walked away, and that’s just not the world anymore. It’s about opening the lines of communication and letting the younger players know that I’m vulnerable and human too, and that I’m not perfect in any way. When I give them advice it’s not me saying I’m perfect and they’re terrible; it’s me trying to lend advice because I’ve been there before."

Perera has observed that the generation born in the late 1990s value having opinions and questioning authority. “They want to be brought to the water. They don’t want anyone telling them to drink the water. They want to evaluate the water and then maybe take a sip of it.”

The Spanish-born American graduated from university with a degree in English, so in between the games in Russia and the phone calls back home, he will be reading in his down time. On his nightstand right now is Cormoran Strike, a murder-mystery series by J.K. Rowling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Perera is also a big appreciator of the ancient Greek mythology classics.

He goes on to offer detailed analyses of each opponent the US will face. Russia will be a “robust opponent”, Japan “a team that would quite literally walk through fire for their country and team” and Paraguay presents an opportunity for the team to “play them in a different mental head space” (than in 2019 when the US faced them having already been eliminated from knockout-phase contention). “We have a group of players that want to prove something.”

And despite the generational gap and the various Covid-enforced challenges, one thing is for sure: Perera will be getting his team-mates together for another round of mafia.

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