By John Mantia
A few weeks ago, the US under-20s held a training camp in Madrid. The roster called in by coach Thomas Rongen for the eight-day session, which included friendly matches against Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, and Rayo Vallecano, boasted a slew of Europe-based young Americans, as well as several from MLS and Mexico.
There were plenty of recognizable names, such as Hertha Berlin’s Bryan Arguez and Club Brugge’s Jared Jeffrey.
However, even the grunts in Sam’s Army had trouble placing one name: Giuseppe Nazzani.
Nazzani? Never heard of him. From Reggio Emilia, Italy? No idea where that is. On the books at Serie A side Bologna? Wow.
“He's a left-sided player,” Rongen told Goal.com recently. “He's a player who can play out of a back four as a left fullback or as a holding midfielder. Positionally, we're not that deep there, so any time you can find a player that piques your interest who plays on a decent level on a decent club you do a little more research and find a way to see if those guys deserve to be there.”
A little more research of our own, and it quickly became obvious that Rongen, often praised for his preference to cast a wide net in finding potential US youth internationals, has found another player of definite pedigree.
Born and raised in Carpi, a town about 45 miles (70 km) from Bologna, Nazzani joined Bologna FC as an 11-year-old. Now 18, he is a mainstay in the club’s “Primavera” side, and is tipped to break into the first-team in the next season or two.
Nazzani holds Italian citizenship but qualifies for an American passport through his mother. He also spent some time living in the US as a small boy.
Upon receiving official word of Rongen’s call-up, relayed through the club, Nazzani told Goal.com via email that he was elated.
“Being called into the US under-20 National Team is a great opportunity for me,” he said. “It was impossible to turn down an invitation to the under-20s because wearing the American colors is a great honor and also a good chance to show off my qualities and skills.”
Nazzani, who does not speak English, was glad to have a fellow Italian with him in Spain, Napoli’s Vincenzo Bernardo, who was also called by Rongen. The two were roommates throughout the camp.
In their three friendly games, the US failed to get a win, falling to Real Madrid’s reserves, 5-3, drawing with Atletico Madrid’s reserves, 0-0, and losing to Rayo Vallecano’s reserves, 2-0. Nazzani did not appear in the first two matches, then started the third, going 67 minutes before being subbed off.
It wasn’t most auspicious performance, but Nazzani is not committed to the US yet, anyway. Like Borussia Dortmund teenager Neven Subotic, he technically does not have to decide his international future until he turns 21. For now, Nazzani, who has not been contacted at all by the Italian federation, did not give any indication as to which way he is leaning.
But Rongen and the US federation aren’t waiting with their fingers crossed. By calling Nazzani and Bernardo and others into camps like the one in Spain, the federation is are doing its part both to court and to vet these players, who could some day become major contributors to the full national team.
“I think we've become part of a fast-moving, global game,” Rongen said. “We're just trying to get the best players that we can regardless of where they're at, as long as they're American citizens and truly want to represent the country and feel loyal towards the country. That's very important. Yes, quality is important, but we need to know, ‘Does this guy, really, really want to play for us?’”
John Mantia is a frequent contributor to Goal.com.