The name “Giuseppe Rossi” makes American soccer fans shake their head in disgust and Italian fans smile in anticipation. The 23 year old striker has made the Italian national team provisional roster and, even if he is only a reserve in this World Cup, he will likely star on future Azzurri clubs that will need an infusion of youth. But in an alternate world, he could have led an upstart American club deep into the World Cup this year.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Rossi was born in New Jersey to Italian immigrant parents. He grew up in a bilingual household and as a teenager moved with his father to train in Italy. He trained with Parma in their youth academy, being nicknamed “America”. He participated in the various Italian youth national teams, and in 2005, as ESPN relates in their story about Rossi, U.S. national coach Bruce Arena offered him a spot on the team for a friendly in Scotland. Rossi turned him down in 2005 and his successor Bob Bradley down again in 2007, instead concentrating on making the Italian national squad. In 2009, he fulfilled his lifelong dream and made the Azzurri roster.
His first international goal was in a victory over Northern Ireland in June 2009. His next two cemented the hatred of many American fans:
Since the earliest the U.S. and Italy can meet in the World Cup is in the semi-finals, it is unlikely that Rossi will have the opportunity to recreate his magic against the country of his birth. Still, there is a visceral hatred of the young player in the U.S. A search of “Giuseppe Rossi traitor” (the fourth choice that comes up when you type his name in Google) yields over 3,000 results including a “Giuseppe Rossi is a Traitor” Facebook page. If he continues to improve and become the player many think he will become, U.S. fans will be haunted with “what ifs” for many years.
But I would argue that U.S. fans should root for Rossi, not despise him. His family truly represents the American dream – immigrants who make a life for themselves in the U.S. and whose success allows their child to chase his own dream. Rossi first learned soccer in the American soccer system – his father coached the sport at Clifton High School, a prep powerhouse. But he became a complete player in Italy’s youth system, and I think that because Italy formed him as a player, it makes sense for him to want to play for Italy.
Even though he is Italian on the pitch, off the pitch he professes an admiration for the country of his birth. As he told ESPN, “the TV I watch, the websites I visit, the music I like – it’s all from America.” He embraces the American lifestyle and is unashamed of his American background.
Americans fans should direct their anger over Rossi elsewhere – at the U.S. Soccer Federation. Rossi notes that he grew up watching Italian soccer and seeing the Italian national team play Ireland in the World Cup at Giants Stadium was a defining moment for him. He fell in love with the Azzurri that day, a dream that has led him to making the squad in 2009. Even the prospect of playing extensively for the U.S. team could not derail him from his dream of wearing the Italian blue. The U.S. Soccer Federation must make it a goal (no pun intended) that such talent begin to fall in love with the red, white, and blue.