With pen set to paper earlier today, Italian striker James Pucci became the first SoccerViza player in this winter transfer window to sign a professional contract.
For the 24-year old striker, it’s been a long time coming, having been through the combine game from the MLS level all the way down to individual teams, before making his way to SoccerViza this past November.
“I’ve been to a lot of combines, but SoccerViza was very different,” Pucci said after signing.
“The feedback, knowing that coaches were watching you and giving you ideas, it made everything different. Just knowing that people cared and wanted you to do well meant a lot. I want to thank SoccerViza for that opportunity. They watched me for two years before I was able to get to a combine, and it paid off right away for me.”
Coming out of college at Davis and Elkins in West Virginia, Pucci was a highly touted pro prospect, with some MLS draft analysts pegging him as a top 5 pick after his record breaking collegiate career. A sprained MCL on the final day of the MLS combine in 2015 saw his stock plummet though, as Pucci went from the potential answer for Real Salt Lake’s offensive needs, to being unwanted.
“My senior year wasn’t my best, and that didn’t help. In my junior year I scored 27 goals, but in my senior year only 11, so I was sliding a little bit from that. But I was still in talks with Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake, and it was looking good. But on the last day of the combine, I sprained my MCL, and Salt Lake called me later that night to see how I was. I told them the truth, I was going to need a month or so to get back on my feet, but they didn’t have the time to give me. They ended up drafting Lucas Baldin.”
It was unfortunate for Pucci who had broken NCAA D-II scoring records, only to see one knock to his knee take him off the professional radar. But it’s the unfortunate nature of the business, and the former Livorno reserve player understands that, having seen it happen both domestically and internationally.
“That’s the problem with soccer, both in America and elsewhere. If you don’t have a name, if you’re not anyone special, then the first little thing will drop you off. The same thing happened in Italy, when I played with Livorno’s reserve team. I tore my hamstring while I was there, and they dropped me. They loaned me out to a semi-pro team and never brought me back. That’s when I decided I should come to America and complete my education, and see if I can start my career fresh.”
With the contract signed, pre-season is the next step for Pucci, who can’t wait to get started with the club.
“I have already booked a flight back to Italy to train with my local club to stay fit, to be as sharp as I can when pre-season starts. I’m buzzing, I can’t wait to move.”
Signing a first team contract is something Pucci has been dreaming about since he was a child, and the fulfillment of the dream has left his family and friends in a frenzy, reaching out to him repeatedly with congratulations and disbelief.
“I’ve been playing for 20 years, and all I’ve wanted is an opportunity. There is nothing that I can imagine that could make me happier than I am now. My mother has already called me 27 times today,” Pucci laughed.
“I think she was even more excited than I am. My uncle has been calling me, my grandmother, it’s been an incredible reaction of everyone reaching out to me. They wanted to know why I didn’t tell them first, and I said that I still need to prove myself. And it’s true, I may be a professional soccer player now, but I haven’t accomplished anything yet. I have so much to prove to my new teammates before I feel like I can celebrate.”
With a goal scorer’s mentality, Pucci only has one thing on his mind as he looks forward to the season: Winning a trophy.
“I need to score goals. The more goals I score, the more likely it is we win the league. That’s what I’m focusing on now, that’s what I’m looking forward to and building myself toward. I’ve been brought in for that reason, and that’s what I need to do.”
More information about Pucci’s signing will be released when the club allows it, nearer to the start of pre-season.