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SSFC Spotlight: Tanner Tessmann adjusts to Italy

The American is already playing in his first Serie A season.

MLS: FC Dallas at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Recently promoted Serie A side Venezia FC has been connected to at least a half-dozen American players during this transfer window, so far signing two. Gianluca Busio garnered the lion’s share of the headlines, but it is Tanner Tessmann who already debuted for the Italian club. The 19-year-old center midfielder appeared in the first round of the Coppa Italia for I Leoni ałati (The Winged Lions), helping to earn a victory over Frosinone. Long on potential but relatively short on experience, he made an early jump to Europe and took advantage of the seeming gold rush, a decision that could prove shrewd over time.

Francis Tessmann was born in Birmingham, Alabama, joining the Birmingham United Soccer Association and Olympic Development Program at a young age. In 2016, Tessmann turned down Atlanta United and joined the FC Dallas youth setup, embarking on a highly decorated youth career that included the 2019 USSDA Championship, Academy Best XI, and Golden Ball. After scoring 25 goals in 67 matches, he began appearing for the reserve team, North Texas SC, making 14 appearances and winning the USL League One title.

Despite not playing high school football, he signed with Clemson University as a two-sport athlete. His godfather, Clemson Tigers head football coach Dabo Swinney, described him as “one of the best athletes” that “could probably start at receiver” and “has the range (to make field goals) from 60-something yards,” while also hitting them from 50-yards with the weaker foot. A few months after NCAA Signing Day, FC Dallas added him to the roster with a Homegrown contract, pulling him away from the gridiron.

“It would have been a great experience at Clemson to do that but I’ve been a soccer player since I was little, and that’s been my dream to play overseas in Europe and for the national team,” said Tessmann, who at the time turned down overseas interest. “I’ve never had dreams to be a football star in the NFL as a kicker. I’ve been focusing on soccer. I continue to focus on soccer… And I dedicate all my time to soccer — just becoming a student of the game and working hard every day to make my dreams come true.”

His first professional season began with a strong opening day performance in which he started, played all 90 minutes, and notched an assist in a 2-0 victory. The teenager made 21 total appearances during the COVID-19 shortened scheduled, a challenging year that involved Dallas withdrawing from the MLS is Back Tournament. He converted a penalty in the first round of the playoffs, confidently claiming to have known which direction his kick was going “before the flight” left for Portland.

Prior to the start of his second year, Tessmann trained with Bayern Munich. He played in 12 matches before becoming the subject of transfer overtures. Venezia quickly signed him for a reported fee of “$4.1 million that includes add-ons” through June of 2025, a move that was relatively free of the drama that seems to have plagued several USMNT players.

“A lot of Americans want to get to Europe and play in the top five leagues in the world, so when the opportunity came, I had to take it,” he told the club’s official website. “This is the moment Venezia got promoted to Serie A and it’s a moment in my career when I’m ready to take the next step and try to reach my full potential. Venice is a beautiful city, the people are amazing [and] the food is amazing. When it all worked out, it was perfect for both parties.”

In Italy, Tessmann is expected to serve as the “director” in manager Paolo Zanetti’s 4-3-3, helping on both sides of the ball. His first Serie A appearance came in a 2-0 loss to Napoli. He entered the match as a substitute and quickly earned a yellow card but was praised in local media for his “dynamism.” The Italian adventure has begun, and the teenager will likely play an important role as the club attempts to remain in the top flight.

At the international level, Tessmann made his senior debut at the conclusion of January camp, appearing as a substitute in the 7-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago. He was added to the roster for the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship as a replacement for Ulysses Llanez and played in two matches at the competition. As the World Cup draws near with the midfield depth chart largely unsettled, perhaps there is room for a Serie A regular.

Tessmann prefers to play as a box-to-box but has “the qualities” to line up as a defensive pivot. He is “too in love with scoring goals” and “wants to get forward.” The “big and physical” athlete has been highly versatile since his academy days, playing as an attacking midfielder due to his “excellent” passing abilities.

“He can pick up balls, tackle, and check back,” effused Dallas-based writer Buzz Carrick of 3rd Degree. “I’ve seen him play every position on the field except keeper. He’s got great passing vision. He’s notable for his trademark 50-yard cross-field bomb passes that are on a rope right to somebody’s feet on the break. He’s got good vision. He’s good on the ball. He’s a big game player in big moments, and he can score goals from like 30 yards out.”

According to The Scouting App, Tessmann has “an eye for a pass,” often sparking the attack. He uses “his strength to protect the ball” and “can provide cover on defense” through tracking back and hard tackling. His situational awareness is similarly praised, as the midfielder knows when to push forward or stay home, dependent on which role is temporarily being inhabited. A lack of involvement deeper in the final third is described as a weakness, which is more than made up for by his incisive through balls. He identified long-range passing as an area for improvement to be worked on at Venezia, particularly “the height and flight” of the ball.

Tessmann could perhaps be an answer to the hackneyed question of “What if America’s best athletes played soccer?” although that is dismissive of impressive technical ability. His meteoric rise has already featured several forks in the road, with each decision seemingly taking him to greater heights. With less fanfare than his colleagues, he has successfully become a professional, moved to Europe, and seamlessly entered the rotation for a team in a top-four league. With a little more experience, the next step could be regular playing time with the national team.