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SSFC Spotlight: Nicholas Gioacchini progressing in France

The American attacker is a regular at SM Caen.

Valenciennes FC v Stade Malherbe Caen Calvados Basse-Normandie - Ligue 2 BKT Photo by Baptiste Fernandez/Icon Sport via Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team could always use another striker. One more consistent scoring option can help fill out the depth chart or ideally top it. Currently playing in France, Nicholas Gioacchini remains a prospect for the future, although any player is a few good weeks from vaulting into the immediate picture. Already with two international goals, the 20-year-old attacker is a key fixture in the Caen squad and one of the notable young talents in Ligue 2.

Gioacchini was born in Kansas City, Missouri and moved to Parma, Italy at 8 years old for his father’s job, a pasta machine salesman. A few years later, his family returned to the United States and settled in Maryland. He played with a variety of youth outfits, including Bethesda Soccer Club, the D.C. United Academy, and Olney Soccer Club, before heading to France at the age of 15. In 2017, after a brief unsuccessful spell with Red Star, he joined the Paris FC Academy, also competing with the club’s reserve team. He scored two goals in six Championnat National appearances and was recognized as one of the region’s top players in his age group. His performances attracted attention from scouts, providing an opportunity to take the next step.

In May of 2018, Gioacchini signed his first contract with Stade Malherbe Caen. He opted for a two-year amateur deal with Les Vikings despite being “courted by numerous Ligue 1 and Serie A teams.” The club scouted the “goal hunter” at the U-19 championships, hoping to sign a young “pivotal scorer capable of teaming up with [their] promising attackers.”

His Caen tenure began with double duty on the U-19 team and the reserves that competed in the Championnat National 3. Gioacchini thrived, embarking on a torrid scoring pace that included a brace against his former club, Paris FC, and reaching the semifinal round of the national youth championship. Following the hiring of a new manager, he began training with the first team, waiting for the breakthrough into professional matches.

His growth from decent attacker to productive contributor represented an important shift in development. “Before I had a hard time, even at Paris FC, scoring goals,” he observed. “It wasn’t my strong point. It was more of the deflections and assists. But over time I saw that I need statistics in football. I never forget that we are here to make the team win, not just score goals, but I learned with good coaches that you have to be a fox in the box.”

His first call-up to the senior squad was in October of 2019, but he did not leave the bench. The debut Ligue 2 appearance came a few weeks later against his old club, Paris FC. Gioacchini started at striker and rewarded the coach’s faith with the opening goal in the 29th minute, putting a definitive end to reserve football.

More first-team matches followed, providing a challenge for the young player. “Physically, it’s high level,” he shared with Actu. “I have to adapt to that and better manage situations depending on the size and physique of the defender. When you are smaller, you are less strong. At first, I did not judge that well. Then, I played more in depth.”

The club rewarded its new, still unsigned attacking talent with a three-year professional contract. Over the course of the COVID-shortened season, he scored a respectable four goals in 18 appearances, including twice in the Coupe de France, while adapting to the “physicality and technicality” of the professional game. This year, Gioacchini has converted five goals in 27 matches.

Manager Pascal Dupraz deploys the 20-year-old at a variety of spots in the formation, including winger and attacking midfielder, and describes him as “one of the first names that I include when I compose my team.” With a contract that lasts until the summer of 2023, the club expects his departure once he “scores at least ten goals,” a sale that will “contribute to the good financial health of the club” and “pay off big.”

At the international level, Gioacchini should “eventually” be eligible for Italy, France and Jamaica, but has so far opted to represent the United States and “feels American.” He made his debut last November, playing ten minutes in a scoreless draw against Wales. A few days later, his brace helped steer the national team to a 6-2 victory over Panama.

His first goal was a fortuitous finish, alertly slotting home a rebound from a Ulysses Llanez shot. The second displayed more skill and poise. Weston McKennie chased a pass down to the end line and played a cross to Matt Miazga, who directed the ball back across goal to a waiting Gioacchini. The striker threw his body into the box and headed into the back of the net. His performance earned Man of the Match honors and praise from the manager.

“He’s a fantastic kid,” said USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter. “I had a lot of conversations with him before the game. You can tell he was a little bit apprehensive. My job was to give him confidence and tell him that he’s good enough and he showed it. Good penalty box movement… he stretched the line a couple times, and it gave us what we were missing a little bit in Wales. It’s a shame he didn’t get that hat-trick on his [first start], but a good performance from him for sure.”

With his stock on the rise, Giaocchini was named to the recent friendly roster. A possible option for this upcoming summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, his inclusion would provide a new dimension to the squad. The “technically adept” Gioacchini primarily plays as a striker and has also been lining up on the wing for Caen. He prefers formations with two forwards but is also comfortable in the 4-3-3, although the winger role initially presented a challenge due to unfamiliarity with the necessary movements. His developing position versatility is an asset, particularly during tournaments requiring limited rosters.

Foot Normand provided a comprehensive tactical breakdown of strengths and weaknesses. The attacker wins aerial duels, “protects the ball” with back to goal, and draws fouls at a prolific rate. A significant portion of the team’s offense runs through his side of the field, frequently aided by his long passes. The main area for improvement is finishing. Despite “often managing to obtain a positional and qualitative superiority due to a good reading of the available spaces,” there is a “great difficulty in converting chances to goals.” Initially described as “emotional” and prone to losing concentration, Caen has been working to improve the mental side of his game. Pascal Dupraz describes him as a work in progress “with a few recurring faults,” but expects that he will blossom into a “very good player.”

To ask the player, mentality and determination are his greatest strengths. “I always say that my strong point is to help the team,” Gioacchini told France Bleu in 2019. “I always adapt. The head game and the deviations, the calls are part of my strength. I don’t run fast, but my timing is pretty good and clean enough.”

Looking ahead, Gioacchini shared his ambition to progress past Caen, and the 20-year-old has plenty of time to realize his dreams beyond Ligue 2. Those confidently stated goals of playing in the Champions League likely include starring with the national team at a World Cup. The United States is currently his best option for international soccer, with the striker position remaining open for the taking. Until a final roster decision is made, his development appears to be on a stable path at a secure club providing regular opportunities, another young American talent in line for a breakout summer.