Even at 22 years old, Martino Rapella is as cool on the field as the gelato he serves at a local establishment.
The central midfielder, who comes to FC Tucson by way of Italy and the Tucson Metro Soccer League, showed off his calm demeanor and topped it off with a goal as the local player development team battled MLS club Chivas USA to a 1-1 draw Wednesday in the first match of the opening FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup tripleheader.
In Wednesday’s other matches, the Chicago Fire defeated the Colorado Rapids 2-1, and Real Salt Lake and the New England Revolution played to a 0-0 draw at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium. The next tripleheader is Saturday.
Rapella came to Tucson about a year ago to work at the business his dad owns — Allegro il Gelato Naturale, which sits not far from Arizona Stadium.
“It was a big change,” said Rapella, who has garnered a strong command of English in his one year here. “It’s a different culture from Italy. It’s nice to be here. The weather is perfect.”
He learned the culture of soccer at one of the sport’s greatest bastions of knowledge and climbed up the game’s ladder, playing in a lower professional division for Calcio Lecco 1912.
“Right now, there is an economical crisis. They didn’t pay me so I decided to come here,” Rapella said.
Rapella said longtime local soccer fixture Ron Fox suggested he get in touch with FC Tucson.
FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz was impressed from the first day.
“What we love about Martino is that he’s got this innate knack to be around the ball,” Schantz said. “He’s a threat all the time. He plays with this careless creativity that he’s not worried about making mistakes. Coming from another country there might be some naivety that who he’s playing and the event he’s playing in are just another game for him.
“I’m extremely impressed with him, and he’s a good kid too. I think he’s going to, hopefully, get something sorted out and get his visa extended.”
Rapella’s performance Wednesday didn’t change that impression.
It was his ability to quickly react that put FC Tucson ahead in the 54th minute against Chivas USA, which used only reserves and trialists. When a player from each team clattered hard into one another in the box, the ball squirted away. Rapella pounced on it and right-footed home a shot that couldn’t be stopped.
“I was lucky. I was in the right moment,” Rapella said.
Schantz would love to see a player with that kind of nose for the goal don the FC Tucson black during this summer’s USL Premier Development League season. Or Rapella’s future in this country may lie somewhere beyond that if he impresses in the Desert Diamond Cup over the next two weeks.
“Right now, “I’m working part time” at the gelato shop, Rapella said. “I’m looking for a contract here to stay as a professional. I’m trying to change my visa because it is expiring soon. I want to stay here and play soccer.”
- The north side of the grandstand had some international flavor. Sitting among the fans for the second match was Chivas USA coach
- Wilmer Cabrera
- , who had 48 appearances for the Colombian national team in the 1990s. A few feet away was FC Tucson defender
- Kareem Smith
- , who made five appearances for Trinidad and Tobago in the late 2000s.