Of the seven players with the U.S. Men’s National Team for this week’s transition camp but not included on the Copa America Centenario preliminary roster, six are 22 years old or younger. The lone exception is 25-year-old forward Patrice “Fafa” Picault.
While the younger players hope to prove themselves coming off Olympic Qualifying and recent Youth National Teams events, Picault is part of a U.S. Soccer activity for only the second time in his career. His first? A U-20 MNT camp in 2009.
Since then, Picault has been on a cross-Atlantic voyage, trying to earn a consistent role with five different clubs during the past five seasons.
At the age of 21, he joined his first professional club Cagliari in Italy’s Serie A, his first professional club, then returned to the states with Florida-based NASL clubs Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers before heading back to Europe with Sparta Praha in Czech Republic and then to 2. Bundesliga’s FC St. Pauli last fall.
“It was always my dream to play in Europe,” Picault said. “I want to take part in Champions League and go far in it one day. Going back [to Europe] was the only way that could happen. I enjoy being an American abroad and away from home. It allows me to focus on the sport itself and enjoy the true culture of the game over there.”
Along the way, Picault immersed himself in each local culture, now speaking a total of five languages (English, Creole, French, Italian, and Spanish), and working on a sixth. Before long, a lack of playing time and overt racism led him back to the United States in 2012.
“Everybody who knows me knows I’m a fighter,” Picault said. “Nothing in my life has come easily. I learned how to fight to where it maybe was impossible for some people to think I’d be back in a European league or in a Europa League team like Sparta Praha and then make my way up to Germany. Now I’m fighting my way to go to a top-flight league either in Germany or somewhere else.”
Following a successful return to Europe, Picault returned to the periphery of the U.S. radar but remained a longshot to make the team. An early injury at Sparta Praha kept him from playing with the first team all season and forced him to seek a new club.
“I knew I was on the radar maybe a little over a year back,” Picault said. “Then I had a small injury in Sparta, so I knew that was going to delay things. My focus this year was going to St. Pauli and having an impact and getting my chance to come back to the National Team.”
Last season, Picault made an immediate impression at St. Pauli, scoring in the 35th minute of his first match, a pre-season friendly against Borussia Dortmund. It was not until later in the season when he shifted into a true attacking role, and the goals started flowing.
“He took the route to Europe and fought his way through and came out now in St. Pauli with a coach I know really well,” U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “His coach told me already, ‘that kid is a fighter. He wants to prove it. He wants to show it.’ I said I’d send my people out there and they had a look at him.”
The pacey winger went on to score four times in 16 league matches, including three goals in two mid-April matches, drawing the attention of Klinsmann.
Even with his impressive play in Germany, Picault was surprised to receive an invitation to join the U.S. once again.
“I was at a restaurant I always go to in Hamburg with a friend,” Picault recalled. “I got a call from California and I thought it was a telemarketer, so I wasn’t the most polite at the start. Turns out it was coach Jurgen, so it was pretty crazy.”
Due to the circumstances of the Copa America Centenario, Picault has just four days of training and Sunday’s friendly against Puerto Rico to prove himself worthy of future call-ups.
“I hope to show myself,” Picault stated. “Hopefully I’ll be able to get my legs stretched out a little bit, and when the field gets bigger show what I can do on a big pitch. I want to show the coaches what I can do in the future and how I can be useful to the U.S. Men’s National Team.”
Klinsmann has not indicated which players will see time against Puerto Rico, but he is well aware of what Picault has to offer if given the chance.
“Fafa is a hungry goalscorer,” Klinsmann said. “He’s hungry for goals. He’s hungry taking on people. He has speed obviously. These are things that are difficult to teach. That’s what he built himself, so now we can see that a little bit first hand over the next couple of days.”