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.