American-born Rossi shines for Italy

Aug. 09, 2008, 12:30 a.m. (ET)

QINHUANGDAO, China (AP) American-born striker Giuseppe Rossi had the option of playing for the U.S. national football team. He passed.

They're saying "grazie" in Rome.

The 21-year-old Rossi, who was born and grew up in New Jersey to Italian parents who immigrated to the U.S., scored Italy's second goal in its opening 3-0 win over Honduras at the Beijing Olympics.

Rossi has a powerful left-footed shot, and he teamed up with striker Sebastian Giovinco to give the Honduran defense fits, putting on a display of crafty dribbling skills, darting runs and clever passing.

Fully aware of Rossi's talents, U.S. football officials approached him about putting them to use for the U.S. national team. But Rossi, who had played for Italy's under-21 side, declined, opting to pursue his dream of playing for Italy instead.

"I had my choice and I took it," Rossi told The Associated Press. "I can't thank the U.S. enough for the opportunity to even let me have the choice, but, you know, my heart was always set on playing for Italy - but when the U.S. plays I'm always cheering for them."

On Wednesday, Italy played Honduras at the same time as the U.S. opened its Olympic campaign against Japan, so Rossi didn't get a chance to watch the Americans. But that doesn't mean he wasn't keeping tabs on them.

"They (the U.S.) had the early match, won 1-0 and are first in the group now, which is always nice because first of all I have a few friends on that team, Danny Szetela, for one, and now I have my new teammate Jozy Altidore," Rossi said.

Altidore recently signed a six-year deal with Rossi's club, Villarreal, which finished runner-up to champion Real Madrid last season and will play in the Champions League this year.

Rossi said he was happy to have a kid from the neighborhood join him in Spain.

"I think it's something nice to have a 'paisano' - how would you say that in English? - a buddy from the same state, from the same country playing on my team, so it's going to be nice to have Jozy around."

Rossi speaks like a guy from New Jersey, but noted that after "being in Europe for the past 8-9 years, people say that I start having this accent in English."

"Maybe I am forgetting a bit of English," he joked.

At the age of 12, he moved from the U.S. to Italy, where he developed his skills in the youth ranks at Parma before signing with Manchester United when he was 17. He played five games there during the 2005-06 season and scored one goal. The following season, he was loaned to Newcastle and then back to Parma, where he scored nine goals in 19 games.

In the summer of 2007, he signed a six-year contract with Villarreal, and scored 11 goals in 27 matches in his first season with the club.

As excited as he is about his Villarreal's prospects this year, he's focused for now on taking care of business in Beijing.

And who knows, maybe he'll get the chance to vie for a gold with his buddies from the U.S.

"I wish them the best of luck," he said. "And hopefully we can meet in the finals."