American goalkeepers have plied their trade in Europe’s top leagues for decades. Fans are familiar with the likes of Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard and Zack Steffen. But until recently, few knew that another American had been playing professionally in Italy for the past 17 years- Diego Moretti, captain of the U.S. Futsal National Team.
The task handed to Dusan Jakica when he was named head coach of the relaunched Futsal National Team in September 2019 was large. Without a pro futsal league in the U.S., he and assistant coaches Otto Orf and Pablo da Silva had only a few months to build a team that could compete at the regional World Cup qualifying tournament. They held dozens of identification camps across the country, looking at players from high school and college to recreational and semi-pro leagues.
By January, Italian-American futsal player Nicholas Silvestri had gotten word while playing in Italy and asked his fellow Italian-American friend, Petrarca Padova goalkeeper Diego Moretti, if he had been approached by the National Team.
He had not. And honestly, the idea had never occurred to Moretti to reach out.
The two friends put together highlight videos of each other and sent the links to Jim Moorhouse, Director of the Extended National Teams. The next day, Jakica called Moretti.
“In futsal, a goalkeeper’s role is very important - he can be half of the team,” Jakica said. “Lucky for us we found Diego, a player who has been playing professionally for 16 years in Italy and at 38 years old is playing in Serie A, which is unbelievable.”
Jakica invited Moretti and Silvestri to join the U.S. Futsal NT in Poreč, Croatia for a February camp and matches against Slovenia, Montenegro, Moldova and African powerhouse Morocco.
“I didn’t believe it,” Moretti said of the invite. “I had my passport, but I never tried to have contact with the National Team. This was maybe one of the biggest mistakes of my career. I’m 38 and wondered if I possibly threw away 10 years with the National Team.”
Moretti’s experience immediately stood out. The foundation for the team was secured.
Born and raised in New York City, Cynthia Gilmore Alston was in her 20s when she went on vacation to Perugia, Italy. That’s where she caught the eye of native Carlo Moretti. A romance was sparked, the two married and started a new life together in Ancona, Italy. Their son, Diego, was born in 1982.
Diego played all kinds of sports as a kid. In his early teens, he developed an interest in handball, which he tried for three years. He then gave tennis a shot. He also just liked hanging with his friends and they would meet daily to play futsal on the courts behind his house. They soon formed a team and entered into league play.
“I started feeling comfortable and liking the sport. Some people started talking positively about my goalkeeping,” he explained. “In Italy we have a very good organizational structure with our sport, because we have a lot of futsal teams. Things went from there.”
Futsal is a professional sport in Italy, with multiple divisions and promotion and relegation. Moretti was 21 in 2004 when he made his professional debut with his hometown team, Giampaoli Anconca, which at the time was playing in the second division, Serie A/2. In his second full season, Moretti helped Ancona win the title and earn promotion to the top league in Italian futsal, Serie A, but his stay at the top lasted one season.
“That happens,” Moretti said. “In Italy there are a lot of players from South America - where futsal was born - so it’s sometimes difficult for Italians to stay at the top. I just went to work every day, kept pushing and got another chance.”
From the end of that 2006-07 season until 2019, Moretti played for five Seria A/2 and B teams: one season with Porto San Giorgio, four with Civitanova, three at Forli, two with Pesaro Fano and two with Futsal Coba. He led four of those teams to titles and promotions.
His hunger never faded and in 2019 he was rewarded when he returned to the Serie A by signing with Petrarca Padova. Again, despite playing 24 matches and the team staying in the top flight, he was deemed expendable. He joined second-division side Montesicuro Tre Colli in fall 2020, but by January Petrarca called back, and Tre Colli granted Moretti’s release so he could return to the Serie A.
“The latter stage of my career has been very good,” he said. “Sport gives to you what you work for. It doesn’t give you anything more or less, it gives you the right thing. If you make it to the first league, it’s because you worked hard.”
Moretti now finds himself leading a bigger team as captain of the U.S. squad competing at the Concacaf Futsal Championship for a berth at the 2021 FIFA Futsal World Cup.
“Besides his futsal knowledge, he is a great person,” praised Jakica. “When I told the team that Diego would be captain, they were so excited and ready to support him. They want someone who can who can lead them to qualify for the World Cup.”
Assisting Jakica and Moretti is former indoor goalkeeper Otto Orf, who led the USA to the inaugural 1996 Concacaf Futsal Championship title and was named best goalkeeper at that tournament.
"Diego not only brings a wealth of experience, but he is a beast in goal,” Orf said. “He has formidable size, he’s like Spider-man, his legs are long. He takes up a lot of the goal so he makes it very difficult for players to pick a spot to shoot on and he gives our team a lot of security.”
Moretti visited his brother, Andrea, while he worked in New York as often as time allowed, as well as aunts and cousins in California. His smile is huge when he describes the feeling when he put on the USA jersey in Croatia for first time last year.
After a 17-year pro career, there’s little he hasn’t seen or experienced. Now, he’s embracing the opportunity to lead his ‘new’ team to the top.
“Playing here with the National Team, you can’t compare it with a title in Italy. This is an emotional competition - it’s totally different when you play for your country. I’ve played more than 600 games in my career, but the one we’re going to play on May 3 will be very different. We’ll need to have a clear head and good mentality because we have to be focused and play with our hearts.”