Romain Gall is playing the best soccer of his career, scoring goals and enjoying himself as one of the standouts on Swedish first-division side GIF Sundsvall. It is the sort of success expected of Gall back when he was a promising and highly skilled midfielder on the U.S. Under-20 national team.
That sort of success looked like it might not come after his career hit a crossroads just two years ago.
Gall found himself without a club and with very few options in March 2016, after having been let go by the Columbus Crew after two largely uneventful seasons. A loan move to USL side Austin Aztex helped him find some playing time, but it wasn't enough to convince the Crew to find him a regular place on its squad.
Gall was presented with an option that he has no trouble admitting he wasn't crazy about at the time. His agent, Remy Cherin, suggested a move to the Swedish third division, with a club in the tiny coastal city of Nykoping. The plan was a straightforward one: find regular playing time for a season, and earn a move to the first division. Nykopings BIS was a small club playing in a thousand-seater stadium, but it had an American assistant coach, Brian Clarhaut, and the promise of playing time.
"It definitely took some convincing," Gall told Goal. "Coming from the Columbus Crew, an MLS club, and also the national team, and then going down to the third division was a tough decision. After thinking about it and speaking with my agent and family it was the option to take.
"At the time this was kind of the only option that I had to take, that I could take," Gall said. "I kind of put my head down and I was like, 'I need to get playing time, consistent playing time', and this was the best move at the time."
Eventually overcoming his reservations about the move, Gall went to Nykopings BIS, and played well enough in his first season in Sweden to draw the attention of GIF Sundsvall, the same club that produced RB Leipzig and Sweden national team star Emil Forsberg. Gall joined Sundsvall on a free transfer in the spring of 2017, and enjoyed modest success and some regular stints as a starter. He eventually hit his stride last fall, becoming a regular a starter and eventually showing off his goal-scoring ability. He scored two goals in his final six matches of the 2017 season to offer a glimpse of his potential.
Gall has carried over that success into 2018, scoring an impressive five goals in eight matches in all competitions, including a double in Sundsvall's recent 2-1 win against Elfsborg. The 23-year-old has settled in as a skilled left winger capable of taking people on as well as providing service, along with being able to create his own chances.
Gall is enjoying the moment, even more so after a period of time he admits was a low point for him before moving to Sweden.
"Things definitely got tough. Not a lot of people see how much you can struggle, and how much you have to deal with certain things," Gall said. "Regardless of what’s going on and things seem to be going bad, your destiny is your destiny and things will happen the way they’re supposed to happen. Obviously that’s something that helped me go through my tough times and there were a lot of moments when it was tough."
As much as his time immediately after leaving Columbus was the toughest moment in his young career, Gall has no regrets about the time he spent with the Crew.
"I wouldn’t say it was a bad experience at all. I actually enjoyed my time in Columbus," Gall said. "I was honored to be coached by Gregg Berhalter, who I think is a wonderful coach. I think he’s very smart, and he’s helped me a lot. He helped me develop my game when I was there.
"Some things just don’t work out, but I had a good time. My first year that I came to Columbus, which I came toward the end of the season, was good for me. I made my professional debut there, so i have a bunch of wonderful memories. Unfortunately it just didn’t work out, but I enjoyed my time there still."
Gall has revived his career post-Columbus and is now the latest American to play in the Swedish Alsvenskan, joining the likes of Alejandro Bedoya and Charlie Davies, who both eventually secured moves to bigger leagues after starring in Sweden.
"It’s a very tactical league. We focus a lot on the tactical aspects of the game," Gall said. "You can compare it to MLS. Obviously there’s some stronger teams and some weaker teams than others, but all around a good league with great competition and good young talent. It’s a league that has also grown."
Gall's run of success with Sundsvall hasn't gone unnoticed, with some clubs from bigger leagues already beginning to show interest in the French-born midfielder. Right now Gall is focused on Sundsvall, which is currently unbeaten in all competition in 2018, but he is hoping to catch the eye of one team in particular: the U.S. national team.
The United States is set to play a pair of friendlies in Europe in June, during a time when the Swedish league will be on a break. U.S. coach Dave Sarachan hasn't reached out to Gall, but if Gall can continue his recent run of success, it may be tough for Sarachan to ignore him.
"Of course It’s always in the back of my mind to represent my country and get back with the national team, so it’s something that I work for of course," he admitted. "Right now I’m just focused on my club and doing the best I can over here and I know the rest will follow."
As a 23-year-old left-footed attacking midfielder, Gall is definitely the kind of talent the U.S. could use as it looks to rebuild and turn to younger options.
"I’m excited to get my chance. I just want to keep doing what I’ve been doing and hopefully my chance will come," Gall told Goal. "I’m very excited for all the new young players that are coming up. I feel like we can form a strong young team and strong team going forward. Of course I’m going to keep working to be a part of that and hopefully it’ll happen in the future."