Siena's La Gamba mature beyond his years
by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor
Photos: Siena College Athletics
The college life of a student-athlete is not all roses and sunshine. As a high school athlete they are asked to make a decision on their future on where they want to spend the next four years of their life.
While the decision may be clear cut in the beginning, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Siena College soccer player Antonio La Gamba knows all too well what it’s like to play for a couple of different school.
La Gamba started his college career at Coastal Carolina before finding the right fit for him when he transferred to Siena College for his last couple of seasons. The Rochester native was able to move a little closer to home, while still getting that “college” experience.
“I got pretty lucky, because when I transferred (from Coastal) the coach switched. Basically, the coach who recruited me when I was in the portal stepped away from soccer,” stated La Gamba. “The new coach that came in has done a great job - and I’m very fortunate.”
But, his adventure goes well beyond college.
La Gamba has had quite the adventure early on his soccer career. You could say he has been week traveled for someone in his young 20’s. He started his soccer career in Rochester, playing for Greece Athena, before heading out on a great experience.”
La Gamba took a chance on himself and went to Italy for two years, playing, and training, with teams in the Italian lower divisions.
“I went to Italy to play for an academy where my family is from,” stated La Gamba. “I was just on an amateur contract, and wasn’t really sure if I was going to get a contract with the first team. So, I decided to come back to the United States, and started looking at schools.”
La Gamba is extremely mature beyond his years, and that’s because he had to grow up right away. Heading to a different country, and learning a different culture, can’t be easy for anyone - especially a 16-year-old high school kid.
But, LA Gamba knew what he wanted to do with his career, and he knew the steps he needed to take to make it happen. So, he dove into his Italian adventure head first.
“I had to mature really fast,” stated La Gamba. “I was only a 16, 17-year old, and went with my grandfather during Easter break. I went on trial with Benevento. who was with Serie B with the time. I went on trial with their U17’s and they asked me to come back with their U19’s. Went I went back for their preseason in the summer they were promoted to Serie A, which was pretty cool.”
Benevento’s promotion to Serie A actually played against La Gamba. The coaching staff and scouts changed when the team was promoted to one of the top five leagues in the world. Because of that, La Gamba’s stay was a short one - just lasting a couple weeks.
His Italian adventure didn’t stop with them, however. La Gamba was able to latch on with the Reggina 1914 U19 academy team.
“The coaches, and staff, had enough say to bring me back (to Benevento), but not enough say to keep me there,” stated La Gamba. “So, I went to down to Reggina, which is another massive club in Italy, which played in the top division for year. Big names played for them like (Andrea) Pirlo. I think there was three that played on the 2006 World Cup team that played for Reggina at some point. I played for the U19 team for a year. Then I played in the first team, which was in the fifth division, which is considered amateur.”
The biggest thing La Gamba took away from his time in Italy is how completive everything is. It doesn’t matter if it’s the U19 team, or a team playing in the fifth division, everyone wants to play their best.
Everyone wants to get noticed by the big clubs. All these young kids have the same goals in life that’s to play of the Milan’s or Napoli’s of the world. So, that means trainings are extremely competitive because they want to be noticed. They want their shot.
“The big takeaway I have from my time there is the competitive aspect,” stated La Gamba. “Players there are super, super good. Coming from here, I was always one of the better players in the area. It was just a challenge. Every single day you were fighting for a spot to play - whether is was coming off the bench or to start a game. The mentality was different.”
Another big difference in Europe is the style of play. The United States is built on being big and strong - and out muscling people for the ball. In Europe, it’s more about the technical skill of the game.
Players still need to be strong and fast, and everything else that goes into being a good soccer player. But, in Italy, they are working on the technical side of the game much more. To be a mainstay in a big club, you need to be technically sound at all aspects of the game.
“Technically it’s way better in Italy then in the United States,” stated La Gamba. “I learned a lot, especially on the defensive side. With that aspect, I don’t think I was the best defensively when I went there. Now, that’s kind of where my strong points are. Ironically, when I went there, I though I was really good. Then I saw all the players there (In Italy) and I was like technically I’m not that great. I learned that par tot the game a lot, and I had to learn it quickly, or I wouldn’t have played.”
One of the biggest challenges for La Gamba when he came back to the states to play college soccer was taking what he learned over in Italy and applying here. College soccer is more about being physical and getting players off the ball.
As La Gamba stated earlier, he may have not been the most gifted athlete out there all the time, but he was able to bring that physical presence to games. Now, playing for Siena, La Gamba and the physical game, and the technical game to make a difference on the pitch.
“I think athletically here we are a lot better,” stated La Gamba. “Here, I think I am average athletically. There, I felt stronger that a lot of those guys. Athletically, I just thought I could some things better. Because, here, we are taught different sports. The biggest different there is their mentally. It’s just innate in them with play, and compete. The intensity of training in always on. It’s doesn’t matter about who the coach. Everyone is always on 100 percent of the time. You have to win at everything. You don’t really have to hold anyone else accountable because everyone holds themselves accountable. Over there it’s a standard, and expectation, that you are going to run, or do these certain type of things. I think coming back was easier, in a certain type of way. Defensively my game has changed a lot. If I want to have a professional career, after college, then I know I need to outwork everyone else. I need to defend better, so I really need to focus on that part of my game,”