How a growing pipeline brought Rising FC's Claudio Repetto from Italy to the U.S.
Claudio Repetto wasn’t sure of the idea at first.
Since he was 10, he had played for the academy of Italian Serie A club Genoa, operating with the wide-eyed dreams that accompany academy players.
“Your goal is to make it to the first team,” said Repetto, who now plays striker for Phoenix Rising.
But here he was, 19 years old, being told by his agent that a first-team opportunity was a pipe dream. Even a loan out to Serie B or Serie C, as many of his teammates pursued, wasn’t materializing.
So instead, his agent offered up another plan: play college soccer in the United States.
“At the beginning, I wasn't sure of it because I didn't know about the level of football in the U.S.,” Repetto said.
The drawbacks were obvious. Repetto grew up in Genoa and had lived there his whole life. Moving to another Italian city would have been intimidating. Moving thousands of miles from his family to a country where he had limited grasp of the language felt impossible.
As the months passed, though, the idea grew on Repetto. The American college system would enable him to pursue a professional soccer career while still getting a degree, an opportunity not available in Europe, where the development pathway is independent from school.
So, in early 2017, Repetto agreed to his agent’s plan. He signed with USA College Sport, an agency founded in 2015 to connect Italian players with American colleges.
Over the past two decades, these agencies have sprouted up throughout Europe, aiding the infusion of international talent into the American college game. On Rising’s roster, Repetto isn’t alone in having taken this path. Both Spanish winger Santi Moar and Norweigan defender Sivert Haugli initially came to the U.S. to play collegiately.
“As the agencies grow a little bit, kids in their respective countries hear about it but I also know these agencies go to academies,” said Blair Reid, Repetto’s coach at Grand View University in Iowa. “They know there's gonna be kids not getting professional contracts, they're gonna be left out and those kids will either go to lesser leagues and maybe think about school, where now here's this opportunity to come to the states and get a good education.”
In fall 2017, that’s the opportunity Repetto took.
His journey to Phoenix Rising, though, wasn’t as easy as simply signing a college scholarship. For one, his rudimentary English skills and subsequent low SAT scores prevented him from making the jump straight to Division I.
That’s how his first stop in the U.S. ended up being at Grand View, a tiny Lutheran school in Des Moines. Even in the relative obscurity of NAIA, that was the only launching pad Repetto needed.
Across two seasons at Grand View, he scored 18 goals and assisted nine more, earning him a summer contract with Med City FC, which plays in the NPSL, a semi-professional league in the fourth tier of the American soccer pyramid. There, he scored 11 goals in 14 games, impressing manager Luke Corey, who sent his film to Shaun Docking, the head coach at Coastal Carolina.
At the same time, Deljan Bragase, the founder of USA College Sport, reached out to Docking, letting him know that Repetto was looking to make the step up to Division I.
“We knew he could get goals and was a good player,” Docking said. “And obviously physically, he's big and strong and quick and technically, he's good. He can score goals. So yeah, we liked him.”
Instantly, Coastal Carolina offered a more comfortable setting for Repetto.
For one, the weather — which Repetto described as the biggest shock in Iowa — was closer to the humid, subtropical climate of the Italian Riviera. Culturally, it was a better fit too.
Most importantly, it was a higher quality of play, although Repetto had to adjust to the increased physicality of the American game, which relies more on strength and less on technique than Italian soccer — especially at the college level. With the benefit of a Division I strength program, Repetto adapted to the new style of play, eventually catching the eye of longtime Charleston Battery manager Mike Anhaeuser, who signed him to a professional contract in 2021.
That’s how, this offseason, he ended up in Phoenix, as one of four new signings in Rising’s re-made front line. Five years after initially leaving Italy, Repetto will openly admit that his career path has led him down an unforeseen road. Eventually, of course, the goal is to reach MLS or return to Europe, even though he says, “I'm very good with where I am. I love being in Phoenix.”
Big dreams, for any player, are only natural. But thinking back to the 19-year old version of himself who decided to leave Genoa for Des Moines, Repetto has no regrets.
“If I had to go back,” Repetto said, “I would do the same thing.”
Phoenix Rising FC (5-3-0) vs. San Antonio FC (7-1-0): Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex at Wild Horse Pass. Phoenix is coming off a 3-0 loss to LA Galaxy II on May 1, which ended a six-game win streak for the Rising (including non-USL matches). San Antonio's only loss came against Phoenix on April 2. They have since won five straight, including four clean sheets. Saturday's game promotion is Teacher Appreciation Night.
Rising officials are advising fans of these traffic restictions ahead of Saturday's game:
Arriving: For fans arriving before 8pm on Saturday May 7, the suggested routes will be the same. For guests traveling after 8pm, please note Eastbound I-10 will be closed between US 60 and Loop 202 from 8 p.m. Saturday, May 7, to 4 a.m. Monday, May 9. See link for suggested detours.
Departing: Westbound I-10 on-ramp at Wild Horse Pass Boulevard will be closed due to full Westbound I-10 closure between Loop 202 and US 60 from 10 p.m. Friday, May 6, to noon Sunday, May 8. Fans will be able to exit south to 347 with controlled left turn option or exit north to 48th Street to loop 202.
Theo Mackie covers Arizona high school sports and Phoenix Rising FC. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @theo_mackie.