Browse all

The first Italian player for MLS

Story of The Simulation and The Curse of Caricola

The first Italian player for MLS Story of The Simulation and The Curse of Caricola

One of the sources for inquiring about Italians in New York Football is a fanzine dedicated entirely to the New York Metrostars, one of the most iconic club in the MLS'history. It’s called, and it’s mostly vintage memories of old Metro and how some New York soccer fans don’t have a good relationship with the company that turned them into New York Red Bulls. He says that the first Italians to play in MLS were Nicola Caricola and Roberto Donadoni, who came to play in America for two reasons. First of all, they were considered good players and that they would raise the league’s technical rate; moreover, more specifically, the popularity of having two Italians doing sports in New York would attract the attention of the Italian Americans of the East Coast.

But their presence in MLS is also a way to attract the interest of Italians towards the fledgling American football league. 

For both Donadoni and Caricola there are two important episodes that defined their career in MLS. Both not really positive, both very funny, but these are two events that are still remembered by fans of the American football league. Caricola's one more than the other. 

The curse of Caricola 

Caricola's career began with an own goal, in the second game in new York Metrostars history, and was also the beginning of the relationship between Italian players and MLS, in 1996. The Italian defender, after a long and not easy game for the Metrostars at Giants Stadium, home ground, before the shout out challenge that would have determined the result - they could not end in a draw -, Caricola scored a clumsy own goal. But already in the first game of the season - and always - against the Los Angeles Galaxy - Carigola had scored a half-goal, but not considered because the ball would have entered the goal anyway, and another against the Colorado Rapids. For that, Metrostars fans dictated the Curse of Caricola, tied mainly to the first resounding own goal against New England - on Lalas' play.   

It remained a particular event and that was a kind of shock to the almost 50 thousand spectators of the match, they were not used to seeing a foul of this kind. Instead, Caligula's intervention allowed the New England Revolution to win the derby (they were from New Jersey) and wrote the history of MLS

So much so that the official YouTube channel dedicated an episode to him. Also because Caricola was considered a very good defender and that, indeed, in New York he should have been one of the best - then it was understood that he was not: the first seasons of the Metrostars with both Italians were a disaster. 

Before becoming the first Italian to play in MLS in 1996 with the New York Metrostars, Caricola was a top defender in Serie A between the 1980s and 1990s. Barese, started in Bari until arriving at Juventus, with which he won two Scudetti and also a Champions League (in 1984) in four years in Turin. Caricola then became a column of Genoa CFC, playing more than 200 games with The Griffin - but unfortunately he missed the historic semi-final with Liverpool of the UEFA Cup - and tying his name to that of the Ligurian club, with whom he also played the last Italian games after a tiny spell at Torino. In 1995 the farewell to Italy and the arrival in the United States. 

The simulation

Donadoni, on the other hand, had a different background, but shared with Caricola the idea of a career ending more crackling than a provincial team. After 18 trophies with AC Milan, he joined the American roster thanks to a pre-agreement with the New York Metrostars, but arrived after Caricola, who had instead been included through the Superdraft, a mode in which MLS clubs chose players at the beginning of the season. 

Donadoni has only been two seasons with the New York Metrostars, among other things with different intervals due to the games of the Italian national team that took away from MLS what, technically, was perhaps the most valuable player. In the two years of MLS Donadoni collected better numbers than his fellow Italian defender: 49 games and 6 goals. The level of the championship wasn't high and one of the best wings seen so far in European football had an easy life. It was played on football fields adapted to football, with the lines of yards painted on the grass and low stands. Donadoni, who had played in front of ninety thousand people for a European Cup final, found himself in an amateur context at a structural level, and on the pitch, things were no better.   

Yet, among the many big games he played on the east coast courts (the Metrostars never qualified for the tournament finals with him) one of his memorable plays was the simulation during shoot-outs in March 1997 between the San Jose Earthquakes and New York Metrostars. 

Shoot-outs were an alternative way to penalty shootouts, necessary in the event of a draw at the end of the ninety minutes - a result not allowed by the American championship show system - in force from the seventies (when the first non-professional league of the American championship was born, with Pelè and Giorgio Chinaglia among others, active until 1984) until 1999, when they were abolished. 

Starting from 32 yards and in 5 seconds, the player had to score against the goalkeeper, and if the goalkeeper would have fouled the player, would have provoked a penalty. Donadoni, then, since the opposing goalkeeper had just provoked a penalty on one of his teammates, decided well to simulate in the shoot-out, falling awkwardly at the slightest contact with the opposite goalkeeper Salzwedel. But the referee was very close and saw Donadoni's movement clearly, so he didn't whistle the penalty causing the Metrostars to lose that turn of shoot-out.

Probably, New York Metrostars fans - at the time there weren't two NY teams in MLS - will have forgiven the only great player they saw at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.