Sciaretta's Scouting Report
Nicholas Gaitan: A U-20 Star Emerging in Greece
Brian Sciaretta talks to the Long Island-born, South American-bred potential star who hopes to break into the OFI Crete first team soon and has his sights set on joining the United States at the World Cup.
AS THE NEXT U.S.
September 25, 2013
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under-20 cycle is set to begin later this year, head coach Tab Ramos will be looking to determine the core players who will be a part of the team that builds toward the 2015 World Cup in New Zealand.
Initial signs are positive as many players are already in professional environments both in MLS and abroad. In Major League Soccer, Chivas’ Marco Delgado, Dallas’ Kellyn Acosta, and New York’s Amando Moreno have all earned first team minutes this season.
The number of young American playing abroad right now is even more impressive. Here's a brief rundown:
In Germany, Russell Canouse is the captain at Hoffenheim’s U-19 team and his teammate Zack Pfeffer has also looked good. Junior Flores is at Borussia Dortmund, Kainoa Bailey just signed a four-year deal with Bayer Leverkusen, and Shaq Moore is reportedly mulling offers.
In England, Emerson Hyndman has signed two contract extensions this year at Fulham, and Omar Thompson is under contract at Wigan.
In Holland, Gronigen right back Desevio Payne would like to play for the U.S over Holland and Rubio Rubin will join Utrecht next month.
Elsewhere in Europe, Romain Gall is progressing at FC Lorient, Ben Spencer has made his debut at Molde, and goalkeeper Ethan Horovath is also under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer guidance.
In South America, Joel Sonora impressed with the U-17s this year and is with Boca Juniors.
Paul Arriola is breaking out at Tijuana and he is the most exciting prospect.
Got that? That list is impressive even leaving out Julian Green, the crown jewel of the group, who is at Bayern Munich but has caught the eye of Germany’s U-19 national team and is undecided which country he will represent.
The list of prospects is interesting but aside from Arriola, none of the Americans are earning consistent first team minutes with their clubs. That’s certainly understandable at this point as all are barely 18 years old—if that. They’re still early in their development and as with any prospect, they could rise to the first team quickly or gradually fade out of the game.
One American who is flying under the radar is Nicholas Gaitan. He recently signed with Greek Super League club OFI Crete and is already closing in on the first team. He has featured prominently in friendlies and once his residency permit is filed by OFI, he will be cleared to play in official OFI games with both the first team and the U-20 squad.
Gaitan, 18, is a native of Long Island but has developed his game across the globe. His father is from Argentina but his Portuguese heritage earned him a coveted EU passport to avoid restrictions on playing abroad.
In his early teenage years, Gaitan played in Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors. Last year he trained with Nocerina in Italy’s Lega Pro Prima and was offered a contract following the season but declined the deal feeling he could do better.
Better teams were interested. He considered MLS trials but his agent, Ted Philipakos, told him about Greek Super League club OFI Crete. "When I heard about Greece from my agent and he was telling me how things are there, I wanted to go,” Gaitan told ASN. “So far it’s been well. I’m really enjoying myself here. To be honest, when I heard of OFI, I didn’t know much about the club. I came here and as of right now, I’m really happy. Everything my agent said was true. They love young players here and want to get them involved."
Founded in 1925, OFI has had an inconsistent history. It qualified for the UEFA Cup four times in the 1990’s and early 2000’s but was relegated in 2009. The team bounced back up to the Super League, and narrowly avoided relegation yet again last season. Expectations are that the club is building a strong core of young players for the future.
Gaitan is part of that movement.
When he first arrived, Gaitan was shuffling between the training with the club’s U-20 team and the first team but recently he has gravitated to the first team. As a natural box-to-box midfielder, Gaitain has also been used by the OFI staff as a “number 10” playmaking role as well.
During the September international window, Gaitan started for OFI’s first team in a friendly and earned rave reviews from the press. A reporter from Crete Sports attended the game. "Good impressions were left in the first half when [manager] Pavlos Dermitzakis used 18-year-old American midfielder of the U20 team Nicholas Gaitan," the site reported. "He played as a defensive midfielder, he was disciplined, simple, marked his position, and responded successfully to the job”
Someone from Crete Plus came away impressed as well: “The two defensive midfielders were Zeljko Kalajdzic and newly acquired American Gaitan who plays with the U20 team but made his debut with the first team and left very good impressions despite his young age.”
After his strong recent outings with OFI’s first team, Gaitan is optimistic that his first team debut could simply be just a matter of time. He’s been communicating well with members of coaching staff who have told him he is on the right path. Most importantly for Gaitan is the style of play in Greece which, in his opinion, closely resembles the South American style that fits his style.
“It’s looking good,” Gaitan said of potentially making his first team debut soon. “There are a lot of games with the Super League and the Greek Cup. You know how things go. There are injuries. There are only two guys in my position on the first team. Towards the end of the season, I really do think so. The first team coach likes me and I fit in really well. The soccer here is really good. They have a lot of South Americans on the first team. The first team likes to play soccer. The U20s are really good. I came in as a starter for them and I’ve gone a full 90 each time [in friendlies]. The coaches like what I’m doing.”
On the topic of international soccer, Gaitan is eager to get back into the fold for the United States. During his youth career, he has played for the U.S. U-14s, U-15s, U-17s, and U-18s but his most recent camp hasn’t been since January 2012 with the U-18s.
Now a full professional player, Gaitan is hoping to earn a shot with the U-20s under Ramos and break into the team early in the cycle. He admits he tries not to think about international soccer as much right now but the U-20 World Cup will be a dream for him in the years ahead.
“There hasn’t been much talk about it but I do want to represent the United States and go to the U-20 World Cup,” Gaitan said. “That’s one of my main goals.”
Still a teenager, Gaitan has developed his game in the United States, South America, and Europe. The potential to hit another continent for the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand is within his sights and he will be one to follow this season with OFI.