- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

IRENE, South Africa | Giuseppe Rossi’s gamble is starting to pay off.

Four years ago, then-U.S. coach Bruce Arena offered the New Jersey-born striker a chance to play at the 2006 World Cup. Most teenagers would have jumped at the opportunity.

Not Rossi.

Born to Italian immigrants, Rossi always had his eyes on playing for the national team of his parents and ancestors.

“It was tough to say no to an offer like that, especially when you’re only 18 and they’re offering you a chance to play in the World Cup,” Rossi said Tuesday, a day after coming off the bench and scoring two goals for Italy in a 3-1 win over the 10-man United States at the Confederations Cup. “But ever since I was little I watched this team, and it was my dream to play for Italy. Thank God it’s all working out.”

Rossi was born in Teaneck and grew up in Clifton. He left the United States 10 years ago to join Parma’s youth system.

“The move was very, very tough for my family, my mom, my sister. I was only 12,” Rossi said. “It was a big step for me to go to Italy, but I needed to in order to develop as a player. The soccer in Italy is the best in the world. I grew tremendously in those five years.”

When he was 18, Rossi received an offer from Manchester United.

“The three years I spent with United was the first time I played with the first team and great players,” Rossi said, alternating with ease between Italian and English. “It was a great learning experience for me.”

After a stint at Newcastle and then back with Parma, Rossi has become a standout with Villarreal in Spain. He led all scorers at the Beijing Olympics with four goals with Italy’s under-23 team.

Despite all his travels, Rossi still has deep ties to the United States, and he speaks English more naturally than Italian.

“For me, the U.S. is home,” he said. “I was born there and I have my family there, but when I lived in Italy for five or six years I grew as a man and a player, so Italy is a big part of me, too.”

After his opening goal Monday, Rossi’s celebration was a linguistic mixture that mirrored his career.

“I was thinking in Italian but then a ‘Vamos’ came out and then a ‘Let’s Go,”’ Rossi said, laughing. “I don’t know what happened.”

Yet Rossi knows exactly how he scored, blasting in 30-yard a shot on his first touch of the game and living up to his “Joe Cool” nickname bestowed by the Italian media.

“That’s part of my nature,” he said. “When I go out onto the field I do what’s needed for the team. The ball was there, and I took it and got a shot off.”

Rossi’s second goal came late in injury time, set up by Andrea Pirlo. It gave him three goals in just six appearances for the Azzurri. He made his national team debut in October and scored his first goal this month in an exhibition game against Northern Ireland.

“He already had unbelievable talent when we played together on the under-21 team,” midfielder Riccardo Montolivo said. “You could tell he had something extra. He really plays at a high level.”

Rossi could have been the scorer the United States has sought for years. Instead, he chose to work his way up through Italy’s system.

“That is part of my mentality,” he said. “When I want something I try to achieve it. For now, things are going well, but I don’t want it to end here. I always want more.”

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