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Vincenzo Bernardo Is A Free Agent But Will Major League Soccer Let Another Italian Get Away?

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, 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.

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  1. Celestine

    February 28, 2010 at 12:59 pm

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  4. fischy

    September 9, 2009 at 1:04 am

    May I point out that it is ridiculous to think that Bernardo is in line to play for the Azzurri? He is not Rossi. Not even close. Remember that Arena tried to recruit a 16 year-old Rossi into the USA senior side….Bernardo isn’t even being called up to the U20s. Yes, he trained with Napoli. So did a lot of other youngsters, including native Italians. How many players in the Italian youth systems ever get capped? As you note, even the MLS isn’t beating down his door. Seltzer’s piece suggests that Napoli had interest from a Serie C side. That’s not where the Azzurri coaches recruit. It would be wonderful if he can improve enough to earn a spot on the USMNT. Still, even that’s a long way from being considered to play for Italy. He’s not getting away….

  5. soccer goals

    September 8, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    IT would be a good idea to bring him to the MLS.

  6. Derek

    September 8, 2009 at 5:03 am

    Let’s bring him in, could he be the next “Landon”?

  7. Ryan

    September 7, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    I really don’t think he’s thinking about going to Italy, especially on account of not being offered an MLS contract

    This past year, some thought that Bernardo would consider playing for Italy, following in the footsteps of Giuseppe Rossi, but he quickly put that idea to rest.

    “I’ve always said I want to represent the USA,” the 19-year-old clarified. “I’m always honored to represent the country I was born in and grew up in. I’m determined to become an important player for [the U.S.] in the future.”

  8. Kartik

    September 7, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Let’s revisit the Rossi issue for a minute.

    Does anyone who is truly objective think he should have played for the US over Italy?

    I think anybody who naturally as I once did says “he is from the USA so he should play for the USA,” is simply being biased. I will admit my views on the subject have evolved or I would like to think matured. I used to have the same knee jerk reaction to the name Giuseppe Rossi as many other US supporters did, particularly after the 2006 World Cup where I think a young Rossi could have really helped us.

    But honestly, why would any player whose professional career is based in Europe give up the opportunity for big promotional money, shoe contracts and general celebrity by playing for the USA instead of Italy? Furthermore, why would a player put himself in a position to play for coaches lesser than the ones he could play for at a young age? Why would he allow his development as a player to be retarded by second rate coaches and a system that rewards loyalty over quality in so many cases?

    Freddie Kanoute is the great exception of a player good enough to play for a world power who decided to play for his parents native country. Kanoute was actually born in France, but he’s very African culturally and religious and thus opted to play for Mali.

    But the idea of Rossi, voluntarily opting to play for the USA over Italy was always a pipe dream. I wish the kid nothing but luck. He’s American in his heart but wanted to play with the best and reach for the stars as a footballer. That’s what we encourage athletes in other sports here in the US to do, so why should football be any different?

    On to Bernardo. I am told he isn’t a good fit right now for the US U-20 team and I spoke to a coach who saw him in the USL Super Y league when he played for a New Jersey team and he thought while good, he’s not national team material. Consider that is only one opinion, but it did come from an opposing coach.

  9. first_place

    September 6, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    That guy looks gay. I hope he signs with Chivas.

  10. RioSoccer

    September 6, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    You’ve got to wonder about the US scouting system. While I’m not an expert on their system, it seems with this summers’ EPL/other European teams signing 2-3 DPL league players that they & MLS isn’t doing enough to scout their own country, let alone looking at players of dual nationality. While I thought it was a rather dull movie, it makes you wonder how many “Goal” players are out there in the states.

  11. Mark

    September 6, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Is he actually good enough to deserve a spot on the US u20 squad? It seems like the arguments I’ve read (and not just in this piece) are based on his dual nationality and history with Napoli, rather than ability.

    Should US YNT squads spots be reserved for just Americans with other nationalities? Limiting your “pool” puts a nation at a disadvantage.

    If another American shows more ability and potential than Vincenzo, I say drop Vincenzo, even if he doesn’t possess another passport.

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