NAPLES, Italy (Tuesday, May 22, 2007) -- For years, young American players have worked their way into the soccer leagues of northern Europe with increasing levels of success, but few have ventured to Italy. Since a few players in the early half of the last century making their way into Serie A and Alexi Lalas' mid-1990s stint at Padova, no Americans have played professional Italian soccer -- until now.
This year, Italian-American Giuseppe Rossi, 20, has scored nine goals in 17 matches for Parma, while Sampdoria's 18-year-old Gabe Ferrari, named to the first team each week, made one Coppa Italia appearance and hopes to his Serie A debut next week.
Then there is Vincenzo Bernardo, a Madison, N.J., native who plays for the Napoli youth team. He already has made his mark at the club, recording 11 goals and six assists in 15 appearances for his team. Meanwhile, Jose Angulo, Bernardo's former teammate from both St. Benedict's Preparatory School in Newark, N.J., and the New York Red Bulls youth system, has been linked with both AS Roma and Lazio in Serie A..
SoccerTimes caught up this week with Bernardo, who celebrated his 17th birthday today . He reflected on his first season in Italian soccer.
SoccerTimes: How was the transition this year from the New York Red Bulls youth team to the SSC. Napoli youth team?
Bernardo: "It was a real learning experience. At first, it was a bit intimidating since Napoli is a big club and they weren't sure what to expect from an American player. Once we got on the field, I had a chance to prove myself to the coaches and my teammates."
SoccerTimes: When did Napoli first take notice of you?
| Seventeen-year-old Vincenzo Bernardo left New Jersey to seek his fortune with the SSC Napoli of Italy's Serie B.
Bernardo: "After we played in the Region I ODP (Olympic Development Program) team at a tournament in Grosetto, Italy, I got calls from both Empoli and Napoli. Since my family comes from Napoli and I've always been a fan of the team, they seemed like the right choice. Last August, I had a two-month trial where they pushed me to the limits to see what I can do and in September, they offered me a contract."
SoccerTimes: What has your first year experience been like?
Bernardo: "Its makes a big difference to train every day with great players and coaches. Napoli's expectations are high and the competition is fierce, so you are under a lot of pressure to do well. A bad pass or the wrong movement in practice can be the difference between playing in a match or watching from the stands. Personally, I like the pressure since I like competition. It can only make me a better player."
SoccerTimes: Where do you prefer to play up front and who do you see as your role models?
Bernardo: "I'm more of a supporting striker, working with a taller forward and using my technique and speed to help create dangerous chances. My role models in this position are Lionel Messi and Javier Saviola (both play for Argentina and Barcelona). My ultimate role model is Giuseppe Rossi, who came to Italy from America and is doing well in Serie A."
SoccerTimes: What are your career goals for the next few years?
Bernardo: "Now that the season is over, I'm hoping for a chance to get invited into camp for the U.S U-17 team. It would be a real honor. It's a dream of mine to play for the team in a major competition. In the long run, I want to keep developing at Napoli and someday play for the first team in Serie A, but I have a lot to learn before that happens. Next year, I want to play every week and work my way up to the primavera (reserve) team and keep improving."
SoccerTimes: If you were some day called up by both Italy and the US teams, which would you choose?
Bernardo: "(Laughing) I somehow knew that question would come up! My heart is in America and my family is Italian. It would be a tough choice, but I think I would choose the U.S. I really want to see the game develop more in America and I want to help make that happen."