“Am I crazy, what do you think?”
When Nick Perera was approached with the possibility of becoming OL Reign’s general manager, the first person he sought council from was Yael Averbuch.
Yep, the very same Yael Averbuch who was with then-called Reign FC for the 2018 season and who is now General Manager at Gotham FC. Both serve on US Soccer’s Athlete’s Council, and while Perera did not go into the details of his conversation with Averbuch while speaking with Ride of the Valkyries, he knows the weight of responsibility and expectation in being a steward of OL Reign.
Perera said, “Meeting people in the sport of women’s soccer that need to push it forward, that have energy and passion to try and develop and elevate it, that’s what attracted me,” in terms of the overall allure of becoming the club’s General Manager. Perera saw an attraction to be able to do his part in the women’s game, drawing on his experience with the more niche variations of the beautiful game, beach and futsal/indoor soccer. While other general manager/technical director roles across the NWSL are occupied by individuals who’ve only recently hung up their cleats and who could surely run circles around most of us in a pickup game, Perera is still an active player for the Tacoma Stars.
“So what is it that I do?”
Until this season, Bill Predmore had burned the candles at both ends in terms of handling the day-to-day business operations and first-team roster decisions. When OL Groupe purchased the majority ownership stake of the club in December 2019, there was a two-year plan to expand the front office and split those roles. Earlier this year, Predmore stepped aside and Vincent Berthillot was promoted from Chief Operating Officer to Chief Executive Officer; he now handles business operations for the club. Perera was hired in February to be the General Manager, solely dedicated to the wants, needs, and affairs of the first team. It’s the standard setup you see across other sports teams, not just within soccer.
“Anything to do with first-team operations: recruiting to scouting, staffing, player acquisitions, contract negotiations, academy oversight — I’m working with our OL Reign Academy, which we’re trying to continue to grow and promote, training facilities. Anything that has to do directly the performance of the first-team, it falls under my category,” said Perera in his overview of how the team has established his role.
With him only joining the club in February, Perera said these first three months have been about getting caught up and getting to know a roster and coaching staff that was already set, as well as learning the nuances of league roster rules. Any key decisions he makes will come over the course of this season, the summer transfer window, the offseason, and beyond. However, Perera knows that in order to make those decisions, the most important thing he must have first is the players’ trust.
“Trust is earned, not given. It’s a matter of [the players] knowing I’m in it for the right reasons and that I’m here to help them. Truthfully, I think the role hasn’t existed in this club of somebody who is a GM on the sporting side, so the question of ‘what is it I do’ I think a lot of the athletes are thinking... what is it that Nick does that Vincent doesn’t do, and where does it play in. So we’re all feeling each other out, but in terms of the rapport, it’s been excellent,” said Perera about his first few months of getting acquainted with the players.
Perera joked that once he starts talking it’s hard for him to stop, but he is also proud of it as he holds communication as a priority in talking about forming a connection with OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey and the players.
“The culture and chemistry in our locker room is pretty exceptional. I don’t think they would let somebody come in that wasn’t the kind of caliber of human that they would expect to be allowed into the locker room. So I feel like it’s been a warm reception.”
Two topics we’ve covered over the years with Predmore have been the club’s need to have an established training facility and the prospect of the NWSL implementing a Homegrown Player designation. Perera said the training facility is an objective that he and Berthillot continue to work on, though he had no news to break during our chat.
The recently-signed, first ever collective bargaining agreement between the NWSL and NWSL Players Association has a section dedicated to Homegrown Players as an “in the event of” scenario for the addition of a future rule, but at the moment any player who comes through a team’s academy needs to be signed either through the NWSL draft or through the discovery mechanism. Perera thinks that however an eventual homegrown system is designed, it should be treated an additional path for a player to become a professional, complementing the current primary developmental route of playing in college.
“[A homegrown rule] should not preclude college. You can’t turn the faucet on and expect that process to be perfect, like tomorrow we’ll sign five homegrown players, done, don’t go to college, see you later. I think to take a 17 or 18 year-old young woman and tell her she is now not going to college anymore and she’s going to play pro soccer for a financial amount that may not change their lives, I don’t think that’s necessarily the right avenue. So I think we’ll have to turn the dial slowly, and my suggestion would be if you could have a limited amount of homegrowns that you could retain on a certain license as they go to college and then be part of something later, that’d be interesting. We still need to understand that athletes are humans and they need to have a life before, after, and during soccer as well, so [we have to] make sure they’re prepared and have the tools necessary to be successful for the rest of their lives.”
Player scouting and recruitment in the women’s game is not nearly as robust as in the men’s game. Perera provided an example where an MLS club may have the resources to physically send scouts to second- and third-division leagues around the world to build a report on a player, while most women’s teams currently rely on a combination of highlight reels, match video, statistical analysis, and a network of contacts with other clubs, coaches, and agents.
“I get e-mails, probably 10 a day, from agents and clubs around the world that are looking to move players, and we’ve gotten them from every corner of the world,” he noted.
OL Reign has the added benefit of being a founding club in the NWSL with a history of success as a desirable destination for players to develop their skills alongside some prolific international players and a coach like Laura Harvey, as well as being able to work with their sister club Olympique Lyonnais on scouting and talent identification.
“I’m lucky in that Laura [Harvey] knows more women’s soccer players than just about anybody else I’ve ever met. So being able to say ‘I found this player, what do you think?’ or ‘What do you think of this scenario?’ is really helpful for me, because I’ve got a constant sounding board [about] the kind of soccer we want to play and what are the profiles that we think are going to help us continue to play that brand of soccer, and continue to be successful.”
Perera is honest that as informative as the network of contacts and access to highlight reels can be, he also wants to see the player for himself. The proverbial eye test of what is a player doing and how are they behaving when they don’t have the ball at their feet. How much being out on the field to see a player for himself has he done or plans to do remains to be seen.
As we’ve done with past OL Reign interviews, we couldn’t talk to Perera without getting him on the record on the topic that has divided the locker room. We had to end our conversation by asking him where he stands on pineapple on pizza.
“I was born in Europe and I would love to say I’m really fancy and cultured, but I do like pineapple on pizza. If there happens to be a Hawaiian pizza somewhere, I would eat it.”