VANCOUVER, BC – The wait is almost over for Paolo Tornaghi.
After joining Vancouver Whitecaps FC at the beginning of last season, the popular Italian goalkeeper is slated to make his first competitive start for the club on Wednesday night when the 'Caps host FC Edmonton at BC Place.
Someone knock on wood.
We were singing a similar tune at this time last week before Vancouver’s scheduled Amway Canadian Championship fixture in Edmonton was snowed out.
It seemed like the soccer gods were conspiring against Tornaghi, but he wasn’t fazed. If you haven’t noticed, patience and positivity are two of his finest virtues.
He’s learned from some of the best in that regard.
Before making the move to North America in 2012, Tornaghi was a member of storied Italian club Inter Milan. He remembers a time when Francesco Toldo, who some consider to be one of the greatest Italian goalkeepers of his generation, was benched in favour of Julio Cesar.
Instead of sulking, Toldo stayed positive and rolled up his sleeves.
“I really admired how he handled the situation,” Tornaghi said. “I thought to myself, ‘Well if Toldo did it, and he won the European Cup and he won everything, why can’t I?’”
“If Toldo did it, and he won the European Cup and he won everything, why can't I?” - Tornaghi
Toldo is just one of the players Tornaghi learned from at Inter. He speaks highly of several former goalkeepers, including Cesar, Paolo Orlandoni, and Luca Castellazzi. But, in his words, the player he admired most was Portuguese midfielder Luis Figo.
“He won awards like the Ballon d’Or but still in training he was helping the young kids,” Tornaghi said. “Guys like him and Javier Zanetti … they’re such good players but also such good human beings. You can see when they talk with the young guys. It’s not so common that you find big players with such nice personalities.”
For Tornaghi, being a part of Inter Milan was a dream. He grew up in a suburb just outside the city and always supported the team – primarily because it was his older brother’s team of choice. As young kids, the two of them once tried to sneak into the first-team facility.
“It wasn’t possible,” Tornaghi said with a laugh.
Tornaghi started playing soccer when he was six years old. The first few months, he actually played as a striker. He scored one goal – and it was a game-winner.
“It was a big goal but I was a little scared because in the celebration everybody jumped on me … maybe that’s why I wanted to be a goalkeeper,” he laughed.
Initially, Tornaghi said he was too shy to ask the coach to play goalkeeper. But he kept hanging around the goal and they eventually asked him to give it a shot. And he never looked back.
Before long, an Inter Milan scout spotted Tornaghi at a local tournament – he jokingly suggests it was because he was wearing an Inter hat. And after a few tryouts, Tornaghi joined the club’s youth program at the age of eight years old.
Tornaghi went on to spend over 10 years at Inter, starting with the youth program and making his way up to the second team. He grew up training with the likes of Mario Balotelli and Wesley Sneijder and played against Toronto FC star Sebastian Giovinco on several occasions.
“If you’re really focused and involved in what you do, you can get very close to that level,” Tornaghi said when asked what he learned from such players. “But the big thing is to stay at that level. The consistency these players have is unbelievable.”
Tornaghi speaks fondly of his time at Inter, but his debut with the first team never came. So after bouncing around on loan and sustaining a few injuries, he decided to give Major League Soccer a try. Leaving his boyhood club wasn’t easy, but Tornaghi knew it was the best move for his career – especially considering the financial crisis that was brewing in Italy.
Through a connection with Michael Bradley’s agent, Tornaghi joined Chicago Fire on trial in January 2012. And after impressing in preseason action, he officially signed with them in March. The 6-foot-2 shot-stopper spent two seasons with the Fire, appearing in just nine regular season matches.
Then, after getting waived, Vancouver came calling.
“Robbo gave me his name so I checked him out,” said Whitecaps FC goalkeeper coach Marius Rovde. “I watched his MLS games and he wasn’t tested so much. He wasn’t making any mistakes but he wasn’t doing anything fantastic either. So I called and checked him out with the goalkeeper coach in Chicago and he said Paolo was a good guy and didn’t know why he had to leave. I think Frank Yallop wanted to freshen things up – when there’s a new manager that happens. Everybody said he was a great guy, this and that, and they were right. He’s the nicest man in the dressing room.”
There’s been a lot of talk about the spirit and camaraderie within the ‘Caps locker room over the last few seasons and Tornaghi has been a big part of that – despite not actually playing a single minute of MLS action. For instance, when 18-year-old Marco Carducci was given the nod over Tornaghi in last year’s Amway Canadian Championship semifinal, Tornaghi was his biggest supporter.
He was also the first guy off the bench when Sebastian Fernandez scored a stoppage-time equalizer last year against Real Salt Lake (he was fined/suspended by the league for entering the field of play).
“His personality is first class,” Carducci told whitecapsfc.com. “You’ve seen how patient he’s been and that’s something that obviously as a young goalkeeper, like me, I’ll need to have as well. He’s helped me with that side of the game.”
“It’s tough when you’re not playing,” Carducci added. “Sometimes you come in and think, what’s the point and you want to be a bit lazy. Never with him. You see the work ethic and professionalism.”
Make no bones about it: Tornaghi wants to play. But he said the last few years “haven’t been stressful” because he enjoys the team environment and still feels like an important part of the team.
That’s why he had no qualms with returning after not playing at all last year.
“It’s something you can feel in this group,” Tornaghi said. “Everyone is important and everyone has each other’s respect. That’s helped me to stay fit and ready."
Ready, and according to Rovde, very much able.
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