This past week it was officially announced that Vincenzo Bernardo had opted out of his contract with Italian Serie A club Napoli and is now a free agent. For some weeks there has been speculation that the New Jersey native, who joined Napoli’s primavera squad in 2006, would be coming to Major League Soccer; however, no MLS side has publically expressed a strong interest in signing the small but talented Italian-American midfielder/striker.
Despite having success in practice matches against Napoli’s first squad, Bernardo was not getting call-ups from Napoli Coach Roberto Donadoni, who spent time playing for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in the early days of MLS. Late last month, Napoli attempted to loan Bernardo to a Serie C/2 side, but Bernardo rejected the loan. It was on the last day of the 2009 UEFA summer transfer window that Bernardo opted out of his contract with Napoli in order to become a free agent and take control of his playing future.
Bernardo was born in Morristown, New Jersey in 1990, and began playing soccer in Madison, New Jersey when he was 6 years old, playing in a league where all other players were about 2 years older then him. Over the next 6 years, Bernardo played for a YMCA travel team and then joined Morris United when he was 12 years old. Over time, Bernardo made his way up the New Jersey soccer food chain to St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, home to one of the best high school soccer programs in the United States. Among those who have played at St. Benedict’s are Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos, Petter Villegas, Greg Berhalter, and Gabriel Enzo Ferrari.
Unlike fellow New Jersey native Giuseppe Rossi, Bernardo has played for the US National Team’s U-17 and U-20 squads, though he has not been called up for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Additionally, prior to moving to Italy, Bernardo played for the New York MetroStars’ Academy’s U17 and U19 squads. While Rossi has spent the bulk of his youth playing in Italy, Bernardo has grown up in the American soccer youth development system and has since moved on to benefit from training time at Napoli, one of Italy’s most storied sides, which was playing in Serie B when a 16 year-old Bernardo moved from New Jersey to Italy
According to an interview with Greg Seltzer for Soccer365.com, Bernardo is currently being scouted by teams from lower divisions in England and Spain, as well as clubs in Germany and the Netherlands; however, Bernardo indicated to Seltzer that he has not ruled out returning to the United States and playing in MLS. Unfortunately, none of the articles linking Bernardo to MLS have identified an MLS side with a strong interest in obtaining the young midfielder/striker. The obvious choice considering Bernardo’s New Jersey roots and youth career is RedBull New York, but Brian Lewis from the New York Post has written articles indicating that the struggling east coast side has not expressed strong interest in signing Bernardo.
As much derision as Giuseppe Rossi received from US soccer fans after Italy destroyed the US National Team in the confederations cup this summer, it is surprising and worrisome that neither USSF or US soccer fans have pushed harder for returning Bernardo to the American soccer fold. Having only played for US youth squads, Bernardo is still eligible to play for both the Italian National Team and the US National Team, but Thomas Rongen’s failure to call Bernardo up for the U20 World Cup causes concern as to whether USSF views Bernardo as an outsider, meaning Bernardo will only get capped after much foot dragging by the USSF.
After years of growing up and working his way through the various youth football systems in New Jersey and the United States, and then getting the benefit of training with an Italian club like Napoli, it would be a shame if the US and MLS let Bernardo get away. If MLS wants to take that next step in increasing the league’s profile among soccer fans in the US, signing a young prospect like Bernardo, who has development time in Serie A, would be a positive move. Unfortunately, MLS and US Soccer have been lacking when it comes to that “vision thing” and, like many other American players before him, Bernardo will likely end up in either a smaller league or second division league in Europe without being seriously pursued by MLS. If, in a few years time, Americans see Vincenzo Bernardo suiting up for the Italian National Team instead of for the US, instead of blaming Bernardo they will need to blame the US Soccer system for letting him get away.