For Giorgio Chiellini, all it took was one eye-opening moment for him to realize just how big soccer has gotten in the United States.
Shortly after arriving at LAFC in June, following 17 trophy-filled years with Juventus, the legendary Italian defender noticed several people staring at him on the streets of Los Angeles. It was a far cry from his previous experiences in the country.
"Before coming here [to MLS]," Chiellini explained to Susannah Collins and Jillian Sakovits on the latest episode of The Call Up, "less people recognized me.
"Soccer is growing a lot. Not just Latins or Italians stopped [to look], but many Americans. This has changed over the last five years.
"I went many times [to the United States], the last time was in 2018," the 2020 Euro champion said. "I think in the last five years it's changed a lot, how soccer is felt in the U.S. And this is very important."
Chiellini was even more amazed by the reception he got from the LAFC faithful – particularly the 3252 supporters' group – during his first game at Banc of California Stadium.
"I didn't expect 90 minutes of ... loudness and dancing," Chiellini said. "The atmosphere was fantastic, unbelievable."
Giorgio Chiellini on LAFC's Atmosphere
So much so that even his ex-Juventus teammates – who were in town in late July for the Black & Gold's 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders – were equally as impressed.
"When they went to the stadium, they were really shocked by the 3252!" the 38-year-old exclaimed.
For Chiellini, this amazing support can make all the difference once the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs get underway next month.
LAFC are already qualified and can claim the No. 1 seed in the West if Austin FC lose or tie against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night. They're currently two points behind the Philadelphia Union (63) in the Supporters' Shield race with three games remaining in the regular season.
"This is why it's important for us to finish in first place, as high as possible," Chiellini said. "Playing the playoffs at home is different than playing away. For us, especially with our fans, it's important to finish the best way possible.
"We know it's not easy against Philadelphia, but we have to try to win the West as soon as possible."
Chiellini and LAFC are back in action Sunday night (10:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) when they host the Houston Dynamo.