By Paul Kennedy
Anthony Chimienti plays, coaches and is a fan of the Beautiful game. He lives in Northern California and coaches for San Juan Soccer Club. He is a member of the US Beach Soccer National Team and has played soccer at a youth, collegiate and professional level.
Position played: Centre Forward
Favorite Team: AC Milan
Boyhood Hero: Roberto Baggio
Favorite goal ever scored: Fabio Grosso- Italy Vs Germany (Semi-final), World Cup 2006.
PK-What is your own soccer background and how did you get in to the game?
AC- My family was very into soccer and all played ever since I can remember. For me it was only natural I would get involved in playing at a young age because I was always around it and loved everything about the game. I remember going out to the fields 4-5 days a week and just kicking the ball around with my Dad and brothers- taking shots and trying to recreate great goals that were scored that week in Serie A by the likes of Baggio, Van Basten and many others. Serie A was really the only soccer I was able to watch at that time. We ordered RAI at our house, which is ESPN in Italian television. Noventa Minuto was the show we watched as it covered all the highlights, in depth coverage of all the games, and in a way game me a cultural background for Italian soccer that I still carry with me today.
PK- What were your experiences of playing as a youth?
AC- When I was a young player I was not very fast at all. In fact, I relied more so on my ability on the ball than I did my pace. I was very competitive at a young age. My sister and I (5 years older than me) would always be competing against one another in the backyard. We set up these small goals in the back and played all the time. I was about 8 or 9 at the time, and she had a physical advantage on me and would use it. I would get so upset each time she beat me but kept going back for more. I think I got so upset because my brothers and uncles would give me a hard time every time I lost. I was about 15 when I really grew as a player. Up until that point, I never really played competitive soccer. I played for my local team with friends and got what I needed out of that. A lot of my soccer playing experiences were developed by watching my older brothers play, playing with them and their friends, and watching the game in person or on television. I’ll never forget I was 14 years old playing in a Sunday men’s league game with my brothers, and scored the game winning goal in a cup game to advance our team. I personally feel one thing that helped me grow as a player was playing in those men’s leagues when I was young because it is a much different game playing against a man as opposed to a youth player. I think for any young player those are the best resources in terms of trying to understand the game and grow.
PK- What changes have you seen in youth soccer from when you played to where it is now?
AC-When I played youth soccer things were certainly different than they are now. There are many more opportunities for young players (ODP, PDP, CDA, Showcase Tournaments, European clubs to train with, MLS Academies, etc) to play at all different levels and to get recognition to go on to higher levels. I also think now young players have better quality coaches at their disposal who are willing to help them. Coaches that have played at high levels and know what it takes to succeed. When I was in high school I was playing for a club team called the Blackhawks. It was primarily a youth team for the professional club Bay Area Blackhawks, which was the highest level of soccer in this country at the time. My team was primarily made up of the top players from all over Northern California (Watsonville, San Jose, Sacramento and San Francisco) this was the equivalent of the Academy programs today. We attended all the top tournaments, and competed nationally. We didn’t have much competition locally so we travelled a lot. During my high school years MLS had just started out in 1996. My club coach Dave Gold was the assistant coach the MLS team San Jose Clash. I trained with the Clash in the summer time when I was out of school. MLS had created a program called Project 40, which was basically for high school Seniors to join this elite group to play professionally right out of HS. I was selected to join this group, but opted to attend college instead. Looking back, I think it was the right decision to play soccer in college and get my education rather than jumping to the pros right away. At that time there was so much uncertainty with this program, and it paid next to nothing.
PK-When did you start attracting the attention of college coaches?
AC- It was my Junior year in high school when I started to draw attention from college coaches. Between playing for the Blackhawks and doing really well in high school soccer I was getting their attention at that time (high school was very competitive and popular and a lot of college scouts would come to our games). In my Junior and Senior years at high school I scored a lot of goals and played well for both high school and club and since we were attending top tournaments I got noticed. Before that time I had not spent much time doing any of the ODP stuff. I tried out for the State ODP team when I was 14 and was cut from the team. Then, the next year, I grew quite a bit, gained some confidence, and tried out and made the State ODP team. However, it was more about proving a point to make the team, and I ended up dropping out of ODP. I just was not interested in what it had to offer. Santa Clara was one of the first schools to contact me and after they did they showed up to a lot of my games, both HS and club. Other schools such as Univ. of San Francisco, San Diego State, San Jose State, Cal, UC Irvine, Cal Poly, and Fresno State had all contacted me and showed interest, but Santa Clara is where I always wanted to go.
PK- What were your experiences at Santa Clara?
AC- Santa Clara was the school I always wanted to go to. Close to home, and a very good, small private school. And, they were very well known for both the Men”s and Women’s soccer programs. My experiences there were great right from the start. In my freshmen year I did fairly well. It took me a while to adjust to the college game. Our team was very successful. We made it all the way to the NCAA Division 1 Final Four that year. In our Quarterfinal match @ St. John’s, I scored the game-winning goal with 15 minutes to play off a free kick to send us to the Final Four. It was one of the most memorable soccer experiences I have to this point. Both my brothers and my cousin were at that game. I remember scoring the goal, then immediately running over to the stands where they were at and celebrated with them! The rest of my team joined in and it was a pretty amazing moment. We ended up losing in the Semi-final game to Indiana 4-0. My Sophomore year we spent our preseason training camp in Spain for 2 weeks- one week in Madrid, one week in Barcelona. We were able to watch several Professional games during that time. My Sophomore year we were ranked number 1 in the nation through the first 12-13 games or so. We had a very good team, a lot of returning players from the year before. We made it all the way to the NCAA National Final game against Indiana. I was the leading goal scorer that season with 9 goals, and I didn’t start. We lost 1-0, but it was a close game. I hit a volley from 8 yards out that beat the keeper but their defender came out of nowhere to head it off the crossbar and out. My Junior and Senior years were a bit different. We had lost several players from the Sophomore team and struggled a bit the Junior year. My Senior year I missed 7 games because of knee surgery. When I returned I went on a run and scored in 6 straight game, 5 of which were game winning goals. We went to the round of 16 that year in the NCAA tourney.
PK- Did the Santa Clara style of play suit your own game?
AC- The college soccer style in general did not suit me initially. I was the type of player (and still am today) that liked having the ball at my feet to create things. The college game in general is very direct, physical, and aggressive; all which tend to eliminate the creativity of certain players. I think the game has changed quite a bit now, however. I think more and more teams are trying to play good soccer, as opposed to just trying to get results. One of the problems I see with college soccer is it is results oriented, and being such a short season, you really cannot afford to drop many games. So, some programs opt to play a certain style that may not necessarily benefit all the players, but will give the team the best chance to be successful.
PK- What views do you have of college soccer these days and has it changed much from your time?
AC- College soccer has changed quite a bit from when I played. More and more teams nowadays are playing a better style of soccer. It is not just physical and direct aggressive play. Now you are seeing a lot more combination play, building out of the back, and better soccer overall. I think this will only benefit those players playing that way as they will have a better chance at preparing for the next level. College coaches often look for very big, physical, athletic players. I think you’ll start to see more and more colleges recruiting crafty, creative players that can be comfortable will the ball at their feet. These players, in my opinion, are the ones that have a legitimate shot at making the higher levels and I think could ultimately improve soccer in this country.
PK- Where did you play after you graduated from Santa Clara?
AC- After I graduated SCU I went on to train and play with the San Jose Earthquakes for some time. I had a pretty bad injury (ruptured bursa sac) that kept me from playing for 5 months. I went to Italy in 2001 with the hope of playing for a lower division team there and at training I tore my meniscus in my right knee and had to come home to get surgery. I also had an indoor soccer playing experience with the San Diego Sockers but quickly realized the indoor game was not for me. I eventually moved out to Sacramento and landed with the Sacramento Knights in 2004. It was a good team with a lot of quality players. I played for the Knights from 2004-2008. In that time, we won a National Championship in 2006, and I was the NPSL League MVP and Leading goal scorer in 2006 & 2007. In 2006 I was invited to Rio de Janeiro to train/tryout with Vasco da Gama, one of the Brazilian powerhouse clubs in their first division. There, I got to train with and meet Romario! I started playing beach soccer for the United States Beach Soccer National team in 2005/2006. My very first trip with the US team was to Costa Rica in 2006, where we played the World Cup qualification games in Puntarenas, which we eventually took 1st place. From there, I played in the 2006 and 2007 Beach Soccer World Cup held in Rio de Janeiro both years.
PK- Is the beach game very different to regular soccer?
AC- The beach soccer game is much different than a regular soccer game. For one, the field is much shorter- it is 40 yards long by 30 yards wide. With that, the games are 5-a-side (4 on the field, plus the keeper). I think the beach game suits me well because it involves a good amount of fitness as well as technical ability, areas which I believe to be my strengths. The beach game is very demanding physically and technically, and you often see certain players that are very good on grass struggle to make the transition to the sand. Beach soccer involves a lot of shots from different angles, volleys, and ball control that you do not experience playing on grass. I personally think that beach soccer is a great training method to improve those aspects of a players game for outdoor, indoor or even futsal.
PK-What’s on the agenda for the team?
AC- Our most recent training camp took place Nov 10-13 in Huntington Beach, CA. It was a very productive and competitive training camp, as 20 guys were fighting to be named in the 12-man roster to play in the world cup qualification game in Puerto Vallarta Mexico, December 1-6. We had a total of 6 training sessions over the course of 4 days, with 2 double days that mostly consisted of inter-squad games. Like I mentioned, it was very competitive and by the end of the camp guys felt very good about the outlook of the team. Ultimately, our goal is to qualify for the beach soccer world cup, which will be held in Rome May 2011. The past 2 years we did not qualify for the World Cup, and it’s been a huge disappointment. Hopefully we can change that this year. We have a limited amount of time to train and prepare as a team so it’s crucial that players train on their own to be prepared for events. In order for beach soccer to continue to grow and develop in this country it is important for the team to be successful and gain recognition and support in the states. By qualifying, I think it will give a huge boost to the beach soccer future in this country.
PK- You have experienced a lot of high-level soccer over the years. What are some of your most memorable moments?
AC- I’ve been blessed to play this game at a high level against some incredible players. I’ve also been on some very good teams and have some amazing memories of it all. Some things I consider highlights of my playing career are- Scoring the game-winning goal in the 1998 NCAA Quarterfinals vs. St Johns to send SCU to the NCAA Final Four. Playing in both the 1998 and 1999 NCAA Final Four and National Final. I met Michel Platini in 1999 in Zurich, Switzerland. Winning 2 National Championships here in Sacramento. (Knights & Gold). Meeting and training with Romario and Vasco da Gama. I was able to meet Eric Cantona in 2007 at the Beach soccer world cup in Brazil. He is the head coach for the French beach soccer team. Playing in the 2006 and 2007 beach soccer world cups, scoring 7 goals total in 6 games there. Playing vs. Brazil in the 2006 beach soccer world cup (15,000 fans at that game, amazing atmosphere!)
PK- What advice do you have to any young players out there?
AC- Follow their passion in this game. There is a bright future with this sport in this country, and if you work hard good things will come to you. I advise all young players to take advantage of the different resources that are out there (coaching, trainers, indoor, futsal, beach soccer, videos, etc). These are all resources that will help you improve your game. Be passionate about this game and try to surround yourself with others that feel the same way. Try to play and train as much as possible and get in as many touches as you can. Also, to stay focused on what they want to achieve. Whether it is to play in college, professional, or whatever, to have goals and work hard to achieve them.
PK- Where do you see US Soccer right now and what do you think it must do in the years to come to improve it’s standing at the International level?
AC- In this country I think the pay-to-play system hurts us and our development of top-notch players. There are so many talented players out there that do not get opportunities to play until they are a little older because it can be hard for some to afford to play soccer. With that, however, I feel some of the best and most creative players are the ones that have that ‘street’ soccer mentality, where they are very comfortable on the ball, and use great imagination when they play. I think this is key for young players to just ‘play’ and not always have their soccer be organized. I know in other countries around the world this aspect is a big part of the soccer culture where kids play in the streets for endless hours, where they learn so many different aspects of the game. It would be great for us as a country to be able to incorporate this more into our young players, and in turn I think we would see a lot more creativity out of our players when they mature.
Despite Anthony scoring 7 goals in 4 games the US Beach Soccer team did not qualify for the World Cup to be held in Italy, September 2011.