Sunday’s friendly against Juventus will be a unique occasion for Red Bulls’ midfielder Luke Sassano.
The only Italian-American on the team, Sassano grew up a Manchester United fan – “a youth coach of mine was a big fan of Man U and was always talking about them, so I began to follow them,” Sassano said – but he also grew up watching and liking the team he’ll face on Sunday.
Playing against Juventus, a team he grew up watching on television, has Sassano seriously excited. In fact, Sassano remembers idolizing former Juventus attacker Roberto Baggio, a legend of the Italian National Team.
“It’s a huge honor for me, for this team, to be playing Juventus on Sunday,” Sassano told MLSsoccer.com. “Juventus is one of the best teams in the world and, although they were disappointed by their season, we know they will be a very, very good team.”
The versatile Sassano, who can play both along the back line and in the center of the midfield, is eager for the game and the stage it will bring. Sassano, who has made one appearance in league play this year and twice played in the U.S. Open Cup, also sees other benefits to the game. The chance to stay sharp and make the statement for more minutes to the coaching staff is an important part of Sunday’s showcase event.
“These games are really good for the entire team, for keeping fit and being able to go out there and play games," he said. "You can never have enough games. And the fact that we get to do it against Juventus, one of the best teams in the world, only makes it better.”
Sassano had a good laugh when asked if The Sopranos or MTV’s popular reality show The Jersey Shore is even close to an accurate depiction of Italian-American culture, but he fully recognizes that Sunday’s match against the Serie A side is a chance for Italian fans in the area to come out and see their heroes up close.
Personally, Sassano is proud of his heritage. Now in his third year with the team and living a country away from his California home, he said he especially misses Mama Sassano’s ziti.
But perhaps the highlight of the match comes after the final whistle when the players do the traditional jersey exchange. Sassano has collected two jerseys from other international matches that the Red Bulls have played, but somehow missed out on grabbing a jersey when the team played Barcelona in a friendly in 2008.
“I don’t know what I was doing or how I didn’t get a jersey after that game,” Sassano said. “I’m not sure what I was thinking but that won’t be the case on Sunday.”
But what everyone wants to know is, with Alessandro Del Piero playing on Sunday, will Sassano be courting the Juventus player to come to New York?
“On the field I will probably be talking some trash,” Sassano said with a laugh. “But afterwards, maybe I can convince him to come here.”
Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.