Gabe’s Chicago Road

New striker excited for MLS chapter

Thursday’s news that former U.S. youth international Gabriel
Ferrari finally put pen to paper on a Fire contract brought a smile to my face.

Long a sort of enigma in American soccer circles, Ferrari
grabbed headlines and became a minor celebrity on BigSoccer’s Yanks Abroad
forum when he signed for Italian Serie A side Sampdoria’s youth team in 2007.

The decision to go abroad at a young age wasn’t easy for the
Manhattan-born striker with Italian (on his father’s side) and Brazilian (mother’s)
roots .

“I was 17 and debating whether I wanted to go to college or
go pro,” he said after training Thursday. “I just decided I wanted to tryout in
Europe.

Spending time trialing with two clubs in Holland, Ferrari
showed well but picked up an injury, forcing an end to his tryout and a return
to New York for surgery on his wrist.

“I went back to Europe in January 2007 and the first team I
tried out with was Sampdoria. After about a week, I signed with them. I
initially trained with their U18 team but after about two weeks, I was with the
first team for the rest of the season. It was a wonderful experience.”

Though he never appeared in a league game for Sampdoria, he
did find himself on the pitch for the club’s Coppa Italia match against Inter
Milan, played at the famous San Siro on February 1, 2007.

“I played for about the last 20 minutes in the second leg,
which we drew 0-0. To play against Inter in that stadium was probably the best
feeling I had as a player.”

US/Italy and
Giusseppi Rossi

In a similar story to Italian-American striker Giuseppi
Rossi, Ferrari parlayed his time with Sampdoria into interest from both the
U.S. and Italian U20 national teams. Unlike the Villareal forward, the new Fire
striker chose the country of his birth over the one in which is father hailed
from.

“It wasn’t very hard for me to decide but obviously it was
very nice to be called up for the Italian national team, given their prestige.
My thoughts though were, I grew up in New York, spent most of my life there. At
the end of the day, it was a no-brainer for me picking the United States.”

Ferrari went on to be included on the U.S. roster for the
2007 FIFA World Youth Championships in Canada, teaming with what was arguably
the strongest roster the U.S. had ever put together at the Under 20 level.

Playing on a squad that featured the likes of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu,
Ferrari made two appearances in the tournament, playing 29 minutes in the
team’s 2-1, come-from-behind victory over Uruguay in the Round of 16. He also played
the final 15 minutes in the team’s 2-1 quarterfinal loss to Austria.

I had never been
called up to the national team before that year. Everything was happening very
fast. I went from Sampdoria to the national team and to the World
Championships. It was a shame we lost to Austria, we probably could have done a
lot better with the talent we had on that team.”

Following the tournament, Ferrari returned to Sampdoria and spent
another year training but couldn’t crack the first team lineup. He then was
sent on loan over the course of three years to Serie C clubs Perugia, Foggia
and Ternana from late 2008-10.

“It was an interesting experience. The third division in
Italy is a pretty tough league – you become a man there that’s for sure. “

Having never truly found traction in Italy, Ferrari looked
elsewhere when his contract with Sampdoria ended in 2010.

“I wanted a change of atmosphere basically. I thought Italy
wasn’t the place for me at that time. I spoke to my agent and asked if I should
go to another country, maybe in Scandinavia and he brought up Switzerland.”

Ferrari signed with Swiss Super League club AC Bellizona but
was then loaned out to second division side FC Wohlen where he appeared in six
matches, scoring one goal in his final appearance for the club, a 4-1 loss at
Chiasso on December 5.

Returning to the U.S.

With his
contract in Switzerland ending, Ferrari again had a desire for a new atmosphere
and more consistent playing time. 
He was invited to Fire preseason training camp in February, meeting the
team in Ave Maria, FL.

One of the many trialists in camp, he came in with most
knowing who he was given his size, impressed head coach Carlos de los Cobos
with his speed and ability on the ball.

The 22-year old stayed on trial with the team as they
transitioned to Charleston, SC for the Carolina Challenge Cup and showed well
playing as the loan forward up top in a 1-0 loss to DC United, after Uruguayan
striker Diego Chaves was sent off with a red card in the 35th
minute.

His 6-2 frame makes most think he’s more of a straight up
target man, but Ferrari credits his time in Europe with his ability to play in
more than one position up top.

“My natural position is kind of on the left side of a 4-3-3,
that’s what I played when I was at Sampdoria. Because of my size, I’m also
utilized as a center forward a lot. That’s one thing I’ve learned from my time
in Europe is to play many positions. I can play that post-up position, the guy
that plays with his back to the goal who lays off the balls but I can also
dribble at defenders and use my speed.

The U.S. Setup and an
MLS debut

Though Ferrari had a desire for more consistent playing
time, another reason for his return stateside was to get back on the national
team radar. Following the 2007 World Youth Championships, Ferrari hasn’t been
called up for any U.S. team since he was part of the roster for the Toulon U23
tournament, a precursor for that year’s Beijing Olympics.

“Part of me coming back to MLS is my desire to make a return
to the U.S. national team setup.  Coming
here is me showing U.S. Soccer that I want to be involved with the national
team.”

Before a national team call-up occurs, Ferrari, who will
sport number 88 (his birth year) will have to prove his worth with his new
club. He hopes to be involved in Saturday’s Opening Day match at Toyota Park
vs. Sporting KC.

“I’m really happy first of all that I finally signed and
that I’m officially a Fire player. It’s my first time here in MLS and I’m
curious to see what this league is all about.  Just as much, I’m very curious to see how these fans are
because I’ve heard a lot about how great the Fire supporters are. Over time, I
think the fans will see over time what kind of player I am.”

Jeff Crandall is the
Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter
@JefeCrandall

Come see Gabriel
Ferrari make his possible Chicago Fire debut, Saturday when the Fire open up
the 2011 home season at TOYOTA PARK vs. Sporting KC at 3pm. Tickets start at
$15 and are available by calling 888.MLS.FIRE or by clicking
here.