Breaking News

USMNT striker Nicholas Gioacchini talks national team optimism and his unique path to Caen ahead of PSG match

Nicholas Gioacchini returns to the SM Caen squad for Wednesday’s Coupe de France round of 32 clash with giants Paris Saint-Germain after his recent suspension for a clash with FC Chambly goalkeeper Xavier Pinoteau that saw him stretchered off and the USMNT star dismissed.

The 20-year-old joined coach Pascal Dupraz on pre-match duty this Tuesday and was quick to acknowledge his concern for his injured opponent and admitted it has been a “hard” experience so early in his career.

On the PSG clash, Gioacchini stressed the need to “keep our heads on our shoulders” and the futility of “thinking about defending all game” with an “upset possible” if his teammates can “believe” in the same way that he does.

“This is a different game,” he said. “We can learn a lot from PSG. It is a Coupe de France match, and we will have to chase every ball. A lot of football is played mentally. You need goals and ambitions. We will have to be very concentrated. We cannot hesitate and we must have a winning mindset.”

CBS Sports chatted exclusively with Gioacchini recently after the young American received his first U.S. men’s national team caps. After scoring two goals from his two opening appearances, he talked about his journey to France with Caen and his hopes for the future.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

American-born with Italian and Jamaican parents, how did your journey bring you to France?

I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and lived in Overland Park for the first eight years of my life. I was playing locally, for my school and small clubs before we moved to Italy for my dad’s work. We wanted a new experience, a new place, a new culture, to learn something. I played for nearly four years with non-professional local clubs. I had a trial with Parma at 11 but unfortunately was not taken, maybe fortunately now. Next, we headed back home as a family to Maryland, just outside of Washington DC, and I joined a few clubs. I was with DC United’s academy for a few months but not long as I did not like it, I did not feel like I was progressing or that it was right for me. We changed places for my dad again and came to Paris when I was 15. In France, I joined Red Star in Ligue 2 and was there for three of four months before they kicked me out and I still do not know why! 

Anyway, I had a trial with Paris FC a few weeks later and that is when things got started. I was 16 but it had taken me a year to get my license, so I had missed a complete season of soccer. I really started at late 16, early 17, with the under-17s and then the under-19s before joining Caen in 2018. I was between the reserves and training with the seniors and it was a great experience. Obviously, there were rough times and better times, but I am now here.

Have you melted different bits of each culture together?

Being in several different countries in a short space of time, I have had to. It’s important to learn each culture, each language and how people work from country to country. Adaptation is important, not as a footballer but as a person. You can understand and comprehend how others think and work.

How is this season going for you, with Caen 10 points off the playoffs and four goals so far?

Honestly, not exactly how I planned it would last summer. I was expecting to be more efficient in front of goal. I like to create chances and I have not been doing that as well as I would have liked. We still miss final third efficiency and creativity. Every team goes through tough periods and this is ours. We will come out of it better.

Does [USMNT manager] Gregg Berhalter watch you in France?

He does. He calls from time to time and we’re in contact to discuss things. Usually, we speak on a good basis and I like and respect his feedback. If Gregg can’t talk, his assistants will touch base to discuss things.

How close is the current USMNT?

Yeah, I can feel it and it is not just me. Gregg is extremely close with his players and I think that we all felt that in camp. He really believes in this squad and what we can accomplish in the future. He is optimistic and that is important in soccer. He brings out the best in the player but is real at the same time. He tells you if you’re doing something poorly and that is important if you’re to work on it. We all respect that about him.

Do you agree with Richie Ledesma, who said recently that 2026 success is realistic for the USMNT?

Definitely. I would even say earlier. We have the Gold Cup, Olympics and World Cup coming up. Honestly, I even think that we can surprise the world at the next World Cup. I think even before 2026 but I do agree with Richie that 2026 in the US is a year to win the Word Cup. It will be a great one.

Are you in contact with guys like Timothy Weah at Lille?

Yeah, Tim and I are pretty connected, probably the most out of all of them. Fulham’s Antonee Robinson and Konrad La Fuente in Barcelona too. I was at their table during camp last year, so we got to know each other more than the rest. We speak from time to time and we are there whenever someone needs help.

Is there a possibility of more Americans joining you in Caen in the future?

I hope so! It is a good place to develop mentally, technically, physically and tactically. I still recommend working on your technique on the side. Tactically and physically, you will definitely progress here. Being a foreigner also helps on the mental side as you become stronger for it as you encounter problems different to in our home country.

Do other national teams like Italy or Jamaica court you?

I am eligible, but they have not called me up. If they do, they do, and if they don’t, they don’t. I’m still American in my heart more than the other countries and I want to represent my home country at the World Cup. I feel the most loved and connected to there.

What do you cook at home? Jamaican, or Italian?

A mix! When I need to pull out the Jamaican or the Italian, I can. I speak three languages now and it helps in any situation. Recently, there was a supporter from Italy looking around the stadium we were able to converse in Italian. I probably mostly use my American and Jamaican sides the most, especially during soccer games. I push. I don’t give up, I have my goal and I do not stop until I get it.

What are your hobbies? FIFA, or Football Manager? Are you a gamer?

I try to be, but my mom helps me keep it on the downlow. I don’t play much PlayStation or video games, even if I love them. I don’t feel that they help me progress with my soccer. I’m encouraged to read and do activities outside of the console, phone, iPad and computer. I try my best, but these things are attractive and fun. Reading is important and I try as much as possible, but it’s not always easy. You want to turn on the PlayStation and play with your friends and it works for some players. It is a question of self-discipline.

I’m also a student of the game. I mainly watch highlights but can’t miss Champions League. There are moments when I am not longer in the mood or not into it, but I do watch daily. What players do or don’t do. I am always learning — it is never enough.”

Who is your footballing idol?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Hopefully I can meet him one day. This guy… I read his autobiography and I have a different type of respect for him. I enjoyed watching him with AC Milan and Juventus and he was amazing in Italy. I still follow him, even if it is not the same, and I love his confidence. He goes out there like: ‘I am going to make the difference and do what I do.’ He just does it. Yeah, Zlatan is my one idol.

Source link