Bernardo focused on his future with the U.S.
The term "dual citizenship,'' or similar, must bring chills to folks at the U.S. Soccer Federation. In recent times, lethal Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi turned his back on the country in which he was born to represent Italy, while Borussia Dortmund defender Neven Subotic, whose stock continues to rise, bypassed his U-20 U.S. caps in favor of Serbia.
Vincenzo Bernardo, an 18-year-old starlet at Napoli and like Rossi a Jersey-born native (Bernardo was born in Morristown, Rossi in Teaneck), is another with a choice. The diminutive forward can either suit up for the U.S. or Azzurri at senior level in the years that follow, and so far, anyway, he knows which one he's picking.
In November, Bernardo started two games for the U.S. U-20s in a pair of friendlies in Spain, against city rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. He's no stranger to the U-15 set-up, either.
"I want to win something big for the U.S. because we haven't won anything,'' said Bernardo. "Even at the U-20 level we have a lot of talent, and I think we have the possibility of winning something very important, a World Cup or whatever. At the moment I feel the U.S. has shown me more trust as a player, and I just feel real comfortable wearing the red, white and blue.''
His future with the U-20s is certainly worth keeping an eye on. According to a few reports floating around, Bernardo was one of four players dismissed from a camp in Sunrise, Fla., in December due to disciplinary reasons -- what the players were being disciplined for wasn't specified. The other three players dismissed, according to the reports, were Bologna's Giuseppe Nazzani, Hertha Berlin's Bryan Arguez, involved in controversy in the past, and Freiburg's Gabriel Hoyos.
None were chosen to participate in training Jan. 18-24 in Trinidad and Tobago in preparation for the CONCACAF under-20 championships in March. Two European based players, Southampton's Kyle Davies and Brugge's Jared Jeffrey, cracked the list of 19.
U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe confirmed the four were sent home, without revealing more details, but said it had nothing to do with the quartet's omission from the January rendezvous. They remain in contention for future camps, he added.
Bernardo was tight lipped about the saga but did say "there is no situation.''
"I'm an U-20 national team player, and that's it,'' Bernardo said. "It's normal that people talk and they blow up things. I just want to say I'll continue to accept any USA call ups with honor.''
There are whispers, too, about his stint with Napoli. This time, it's all good.
Bernardo was spotted by the likes of Livorno, Empoli, Foggia, Bari, Chievo and Napoli as he strutted his stuff with an Olympic Development Program team three years ago. Such details, and many more, by the way, can be found on his official Web site. (Bernardo says he and his entourage formulated the Web site to keep folks back home updated. It's also in Italian.)
Given his family has ties to the city, Napoli was the obvious option. He signed a youth contract after a two-month trial in the summer of 2006 and inked a three-year professional deal in September. Napoli currently sits 10th in Serie A, having made the difficult climb back to the top flight following bankruptcy and demotion to the third tier in 2004.
Bernardo was introduced to soccer by his dad, Phil, an avid Napoli supporter who remembers the glory days. Diego Maradona, often referred to as the best player of all time, or at least one of the top two along with fellow South American Pele, led the unheralded Blues to league titles in 1987 and 1990 -- their only two. To say he's a god in Napoli is only a slight overstatement. Even now, Maradona, head coach of Argentina's national team, makes headlines there virtually every time he speaks (and that's a lot).
Bernardo was only born in 1990, but he quickly became a Maradona fan.
"As I grew older and got a chance to understand the game better, my father bought a video of Maradona's career at Napoli,'' he said. "So I remember watching it every day in my room for a month non-stop, and I quickly fell in love with the city and team. I realized quickly how unique he was. He was totally on a different level compared to the other players.''
Bernardo spends much of his time nowadays with the youth team. He does get the opportunity to train with the big boys occasionally, thus mixing it with the highly-touted Argentinean duo of Ezequiel Lavezzi and German Denis. His tactical awareness and technical skills boosted by his sojourn in Italy, Bernardo, 5-foot-6, knows he needs to work on his physical game. He's far from daunted.
"For me soccer is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical,'' he said.
Bernardo's agent, Pasquale De Rosa, also a talent spotter for Napoli, claimed his client has met the coaching staff's expectations and "exceeded them.''
Ravi Ubha is a London-based freelance journalist covering Americans abroad for ESPNsoccernet. He also covers tennis for ESPN.com.