Coming to America for the Love of Soccer

What started as just a trip to play an American soccer team turned into a future and a college career for two Italian soccer players.

Matia Damiani and Simone Salinno first came to the United States in April of 2000 with their club team from Italy as part of an American soccer camp with their coach, Ferdinando DeMatteis.

It was during this trip that St. John’s Head Coach Dave Masur saw the pair and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“We came here and we had this opportunity to show ourselves to this kind of soccer and Coach Masur saw us and invited [us], if we were interested, to come to St. John’s,” said Salinno, a junior midfielder.

Once they became a part of the Red Storm, the two had to adjust to the differences between playing in the United States and in Italy.

“I think the difference probably is here it is more based on fitness and be physical in the field,” said Damiani, a senior midfielder. “In Italy, it’s more probably tactics, more techniques.”

Not only did the two have to get used to the differences in soccer styles, but they also had to get used to a different kind of life.

“At the beginning, you miss a lot, especially your family, your friends, your life in Italy,” said Damiani. “It’s like everything is new for you.”

After joining the team, Damiani and Salinno were ready to take part in their first St. John’s game as a member of the team.

“I was really excited because I didn’t know anybody and it was a new experience in all fields, not just soccer,” said Damiani, who came from Foggia, Italy in 2000, a year before teammate Salinno arrived. “I was excited to play for St. John’s.”

With the opening of Belson Stadium last September, the experience of a St. John’s soccer game has changed for the players.

“We like to see a lot of people over there on the stairs,” said Salinno, who scored two goals and assisted on six others during the season.

“Everybody’s excited to play in this stadium,” said Damiani, who also added two goals and two assists this season. “It’s a really good thing for us. For sure [support] has increased a lot and we hope next year will be better.”

Although the soccer team received the fourth seed in the NCAA Tournament and was ranked No. 1 in the nation for five weeks, St. John’s is still known more as a basketball school than a soccer school.

This is something that Salinno and Damiani find understandable and even use it as a driving force to work harder, since soccer is not as big in the United States as it is elsewhere.

“We can understand, here everybody’s crazy for basketball, football, baseball,” Damiani said.

Throughout the course of this past season, the St. John’s men’s soccer team proved that they were worth watching with their 13-3-5 season ending record.

The Red Storm finished their season Dec. 1 when they lost 1-0 to Creighton in overtime, leaving them with high hopes for next year.

And with the determination of the players like Damiani and Salinno, anything is possible.

“It’s nice to play for St. John’s,” Salinno said. “I started well and hope I will finish well too.”

“We care about soccer. We care about the St. John’s team,” Damiani said. “We came here because we wanted to win.”