Gioacchini beaming with confidence upon November USMNT breakout
November 30, 2020
WHILE NICHOLAS GIOACCHINI has been playing well for SM Caen and has been full of confidence throughout 2020, he found himself nervous ahead of his call-up earlier this month. The roster for the United States national team during the November window consisted of a young group of players with an average age of under 22 but Gioacchini was the only player who had never received a call-up before - even at the youth levels.
On the trip to Wales and then on the trip to Austria for the second U.S. game against Panama, Gioacchini, 20, took a completely different approach towards dealing with his preparation for representing his country for the first time.
“I had to think back into my past,” Gioacchini explained. “I had to look at videos of me when I was a kid, when I was 12, 13, even younger growing up. I had to look at videos of my past games with Caen. You realize that you're here for a reason. It's concrete. Reminding myself: you can do it.... I don't look at myself when I was very young. But it was more of a spiritual connection to myself - more than I usually do. This was special.”
“I was just really extremely excited and extremely nervous to already be with all these players on the ‘A’ team,” he added. “I was just thinking: I need perform so hopefully they will call me back.”
Gioacchini ended up being one of the U.S. team’s breakout performers in camp. After an uneventful 10-minute appearance against Wales, he earned the start against Pamana where he scored two first half goals en route to a 6-2 win and was named the Man of the Match.
Prior to camp, Gioacchini had only met one of the players on the roster before – Tim Weah during a U-19 game years ago. With the U.S. team he found the environment welcoming and never felt out of place. Since camp has ended, he has remained in contact with several of the players – which he has found important as an area of support and avenue to learn.
But the camp also challenged Gioacchini in other areas. Offensively, the U.S. team played different than Caen.
“In Ligue 2, it's a little hard to play ground ball because of the physicality of it,” Gioacchini said. “Here at Caen, we play a little bit more in the air when compared to the U.S. The U.S. is a little more on the ball movement, which was nice to see.”
But looking at the big picture of the U.S. team, Gioacchini left the camp optimistic heading into 2021. While he had no prior experiences with the team to compare, he was impressed with the attitude among both the players and the staff.
“I just think the attitude is great,” Gioacchini said. “The mentality - there wasn't one player or staff member in that locker room that doesn’t want success, which was great. Honestly, the first time playing all together was great. I've seen teams play for the first time in a while and they've known each other and they've had worse games than we did. I think we did very well also considering that it was a very young team.. Frankly, I was very happy with that - very, very happy.”
Gioacchini’s call-up also highlighted how there are many different development paths to the U.S. team. Most of the players on the U.S. team came up through traditional paths such as MLS academies, high-profile European academies, or the now defunct Development Academy – but Gioacchini’s path was far different.
Gioacchini was born in Kansas City to an Italian father and Jamaican mother, but had a transient childhood as he moved with his family frequently due to his father’s work in the pasta machinery business. His childhood saw him move from Missouri at the age of eight in 2008 to Italy. He returned stateside to Maryland from ages of 12-15 before moving to France.
Soccer was always a passion for Gioacchini but since it was not the reason he and his family moved, he sometimes lacked the proper guidance along the way – and that created some major obstacles. When he arrived in Paris in 2015, he lost an entire season due to player-registration issue. As a result, it took him longer to be properly identified in France.
Eventually, Gioacchini success in a huge regional youth tournament saw him latch on at Paris FC and then make a move to Caen. When looking back at his obscure route of development, he is surprised that it eventually provided a path to the national team.
“I didn't think it was very possible for this to happen,” Gioacchini said. “You see all the boys coming up from the MLS academies or academies in Europe and were already in the youth national teams. For me not having done that, I had my doubts. I encountered a lot of obstacles that I did not know about - which I could have avoided if I had been given more information. I didn't come here for football, so I learned with time. But I believe in destiny. I believe that just work on yourself and then and don't worry about the rest, you'll be fine. Obstacles are part of life and part of growing up and learning. I'm not one to complain.”
Following the camp, Gioacchini received positive feedback from the U.S. staff and he even jokes that they were trying to be positive given that they saw it was bothering him how he missed the penalty against Panama going for his hat trick (which U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter asked him to take). On that, Gioacchini says that while he hasn’t taken penalties at the professional level, he now takes them at the end of every training.
"He's a fantastic kid," U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter said. "I've had a lot of conversations with him leading up to this. I had a lot of conversations with him before the game - and you can tell he was a little bit apprehensive. My job was just to give him confidence and tell him that he's good enough. He showed it [against Panama] - good penalty box movement. He can build up. He can be more direct with dropping down and giving somebody help when he stretched the line a couple of times. He gave us what we were missing a little bit against Wales. It's a shame he didn't get the hat trick on his debut starting but it was a good performance from him, for sure."
For the U.S. team, one of the biggest takeaways is that in recent months there is now legitimate depth in the striker position behind the established options like Josh Sargent, Jozy Altidore, and Gyasi Zardes. In addition to Gioacchini, Sebastian Soto also scored two goals in the win over Panama. Combined with promising young players in MLS and others, Gioacchini is part of emerging contingent that should provide needed forward depth for the U.S. team.
Amidst all of that competition, for Gioacchini to remain in the mix for the U.S. team and the U-23 Olympic team, he must continue to perform well at Caen.
The weeks before joining the U.S. team were a rocky ride for Gioacchini. He missed time due to COVID-19 but tested negative shortly before Caen’s final game before the window against Nancy - where he came off the bench in the 80th minute and scored a stoppage-time winner. Upon his return to Caen after the window, Gioacchini picked up where he left off - drawing the winning 85th minute penalty of a 2-1 win over Le Havre. On Saturday, he came off the bench in a 1-1 draw with LB Chateauroux.
“I wouldn't say struggling, but a year ago, I would have never imagined - no one would have imagined - I would be where I am now,” Gioacchini said. “My teammates were all proud [of my U.S. call-up]. They were happy for me. I came back even better than that when I left.”
“Honestly, I'm a bit surprised myself,” he added. “I was not expecting such a bright start to my season. My life is full of ups and downs like everyone. I'm ready if there's going to be a down. I just appreciate and thank everyone - my family and everyone at the team. I’m going to keep going.”