Fernando Rossi loved the game of soccer.
From his playing days to his decades of service as a high school soccer coach, to his years as the father who molded his son into an international caliber talent, Rossi embraced the beautiful game throughout his life and countless people are better off because of it.
Rossi passed away on Tuesday and he should be remembered for the life he led and the legacy he leaves behind. He was more than just the father of Italian national team star Giuseppe Rossi. He was a man who truly made a difference for soccer in this country, a difference that is too easily ignored. A difference that should not be overlooked.
For more than two decades he ran the Clifton High School boy's soccer program in a way American fans could only dream that all high school programs could be run in this country. His teams played beautiful attacking soccer, showed incredible discipline and blended the styles of Americans and immigrants alike. While many other high school teams stuck with simple Route 1 soccer, Clifton always tried to play the type of creative attacking soccer we all love watching.
Over two decades, hundreds of players passed through that system. Hundreds of players who learned what the game should really be about, several of whom took that knowledge into their own coaching careers. When you consider that, it isn't a stretch to say that Rossi's influence has touched thousands of American soccer players (not to mention the students he taught in his two decades as a high school teacher).
I got to know Fernando over the course of three years as a high school soccer reporter in New Jersey, my first years as a soccer writer. He was the first coach I really grew to know, the first coach who gave me a front row seat to some consistent quality soccer. Watching high school soccer games could be painfully boring at times, particularly after covering professional and international matches, but that wasn't the case with Clifton games.
Considering the awful 1999 MetroStars were the first team I covered as a pro soccer beat writer perhaps I should thank Fernando for helping keep me from changing professions. Maybe that's why I felt compelled to write about his passing.
Actually, a reason I felt compelled to write about his passing today was because I think it was unfair for some American fans to hate him or criticize him because his son chose not to play for the United States, as if the decades of service he gave to soccer in this country suddenly meant nothing. Coaches like Fernando Rossi don't often get the credit and recognition they deserve, but without coaches like him, the sport in this country would not be where it is today.
Fernando Rossi loved soccer and soccer in this country is better for it.