Friday, June 12, 2009

ATH: Rossi's Choice

From the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Assocaition:

Rossi: "It will be an emotional game for me."

Italy By Clemente Lisi - NEW YORK, NY (Jun 11, 2009)

“Born to play.”

That’s the catchphrase emblazoned across Giuseppe Rossi’s official website and the first thing you see when you try to click on any of the links. Exactly where Rossi was born – and whom he now plays for – hamks been a matter of much debate over the past three years.

“I’m Italian-American!” exclaimed Rossi in a recent interview from Coverciano, Italy’s national training center in suburban Florence ahead of the team’s preparations for the Confederations Cup.

Rossi was born in Teaneck, NJ, just a few miles outside New York City, and raised by Italian immigrants. A dual citizen of the US and Italy, Rossi moved to the country of his parents’ birth at age 12 to play for Parma’s youth team.

By age 17, Rossi had signed with Manchester United, where his skills continued to develop and his budding career appeared to be a boon for the US National Team. Although he got very little playing time in the English Premier League with Man United (and later during a brief loan spell at Newcastle), Rossi was still virtually unknown to most American soccer fans.

Rossi, now 22, is a star striker for Spanish club Villareal (where Jozy Altidore is also trying to break into the starting eleven), where he has scored 23 goals and played in 57 league games over the past two seasons. One of the highlights of his young career, he said, was reaching the pinnacle of the European club game by playing in the Champions League.

So what is Rossi, who was born in this country and speaks fluent English, doing wearing a deep blue Italy jersey?

This is where Rossi, who also speaks Italian and Spanish, has become a polarizing figure, especially among US fans who wished he had chosen the country of his birth rather than the one of his heritage when it came to choosing national teams.

In 2006, then-US coach Bruce Arena invited Rossi to a pre-World Cup training camp. Instead of accepting the offer, Rossi said he declined, telling US Soccer his dream was to play for Italy. He spent that summer glued to the TV, where he watched his beloved Italy win the World Cup.

“I made a choice at the time and I am very happy with it now,” said Rossi, who traveled to South Africa with the Italians and could start against the US in the Confederations Cup.

“I thank the US for wanting to give me a chance,” he added in his perfect Italian. “My dream has always been to play for Italy.”

Before making his debut for the World Cup champions last year, Rossi had represented the Azzurri at every youth level. He was a staple of Italy’s U-21 and Olympic squads. He scored four goals for Italy at the 2008 Beijing Games – and even though Italy was bounced out in the quarterfinals – to finish as the tournament’s top scorer.

Italy coach Marcello Lippi named Rossi to the senior side for the first time last October, making his debut as a second-half substitute against Bulgaria. There was no turning back at that point: Rossi would never play for the US.

Earlier this month, he scored his first goal for Italy in a 3-0 win over Northern Ireland during a friendly in Pisa.

“I want to keep playing for Italy,” he said. “I want to score goals and accomplish great things.”

Rossi, who became known to Serie A fans during his short stint with Parma two years ago (his nine goals in 19 league games helped the club avoid relegation) said nothing beats playing alongside the likes of midfielder Andrea Pirlo and striker Luca Toni.

“Playing for the national team is a great feeling, especially on this team because there’s always an opportunity to learn,” he said.

As for the US, Rossi said he’s no Benedict Arnold -- and added that not playing for them is nothing personal.

“I root for the United States all the time,” he said. “It will be an emotional game for me.”

Asked about the US team’s abilities, Rossi said, “It will be a tough game. They will all be tough games. In the end, the goal is to win them all.”

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