Since earning a starting role eight games into his first MLS season, Picault has showcased dazzling speed on the wing while scoring four goals, a number that could be even higher with some better finishing.
Where did he come from? And what’s his ceiling? Here are 10 things to know about a 26-year-old winger who’s had quite an interesting journey to arrive at MLS:
His real name is Fabrice … but everyone calls him Fafa
He’s not entirely sure why, but his mom started calling him “Fafa” when he was a baby – and it stuck for the rest of his life. Occasionally, she’ll call him “Fabrice” or go by his middle name “Jean.” But she, like everyone else, prefers the nickname. So does he.
“I love it,” Picault said. “I grew up with it. Even in school, I would write ‘Fafa’ on my homework.”
The name, which is certainly fun to say, has even inspired his own hashtag in Philly: #Fafadelphia.
He’s not the only one in his family to play for a Philly pro soccer team
Before Picault was born, his father Leslie suited up for the Philadelphia Fever, a Major Indoor Soccer League team that operated from 1978 to 1982.
“He told me he likes Philly as a city, enjoyed his time here,” Picault said. “It’s nice to have that in common, having played in Philadelphia. It’s pretty cool.”
Leslie Picault, a former Marine now living in Florida, remains one of Fafa’s biggest fans and critics and has come to several Union games.
He grew up playing soccer at Manhattan’s Riverbank State Park
Aside from those few years in Philly, Picault’s parents lived much of their life in Manhattan, where Fafa was born. He grew up on the Upper West Side, only a few blocks from the fields at Riverbank State Park along the Hudson River, where he got his soccer start.
“Any time I go back to New York, I have to stop at Riverbank,” he said. “Even if it’s just for five minutes, I go and walk around and reminisce and think about the times we used to train. It brings back good memories with my dad.”
He’s stayed connected to his Haitian roots
As a kid, his father emigrated to New York from Haiti, and his family remains closely connected to their Haitian roots.
Fafa loves the music (his cousin and friends are part of a popular Haitian band) and the cuisine, especially cooked plantain.
“That’s big for me,” said Picault, who has dual citizenship for both Haiti and the US. “I have to eat that at least four, five times a week. If not, I go crazy.”
His grandfather recently saw him play for the first time
Of Picault’s four goals this season, none was more special than the one he scored in Yankee Stadium in Philly’s 2-1 loss to New York City FC on June 3. That’s because his grandfather watched him live for the first time – and was actually watching his first live professional game ever.
Afterwards, he and his grandfather, who’s pushing 90 and still a taxi driver in New York City, went to their favorite Dominican restaurant, El Malecon, to mark the occasion.
“It was great,” Picault said. “Coming back to play in the US, the big thing for me was family members being able to come to my games. I gave him a few days’ notice and he came and he had a great time. He was really happy.”
From New York to Miami
When Fafa was 9, he, his parents and older brother moved from New York City to Miami “just for a change” and a “new life.”
And while he enjoyed the relaxed Florida vibes and the friends he made down south – including Ochocinco! – he still considers himself a New Yorker at heart. And he remains a big Yankees, Giants and Knicks fan, too.
“I love New York,” he said. “I love Miami as well. But I always say my mentality is more of a New Yorker. It’s a big part of me. I love the city.”
A world traveler
Going from New York to Miami wasn’t even the biggest move of his youth. When Picault was 16, he moved to Italy to join the youth ranks at Serie A club Cagliari, where he remained for five years.
“It was hard and great,” he said. “I learned a lot. At a certain point, I learned Italian. I grew with the culture. Now my agent is Italian. I really connected to Italian culture and a lot of my closest friends are still in Italy, playing in Serie A or somewhere else.”
From there, Picault had something of a nomadic career, playing for the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers in the NASL, before returning to Europe to join Czech club AC Sparta Prague and then German club FC St. Pauli, from which the Union plucked him.
“The way I grew up I was really concentrated on soccer,” he said. “I’m used to being a loner. I had friends, but I was so focused on what I was doing. Moving a lot isn’t difficult for me. It kind of formed the way I am today.”
He speaks seven languages
Not surprisingly, the world-traveling soccer player born to Haitian immigrants knows a lot of different languages: seven, to be exact.
He’s fluent in five of them – English, Creole, French, Italian and Spanish – and can speak a little Portuguese and German as well.
He’s a FIFA master
Picault spends a lot of his free time inviting people over to play the FIFA video game, and it usually goes pretty well for him.
“I’m very good at it, I’m not gonna lie,” he said with a smile. “Other games, I’m really terrible at.”
Whether or not he’s the best on the Union, all he’ll say is that he “hasn’t lost to anyone yet.” And while he occasionally plays as himself, Juventus is typically his team of choice.
He hopes to be the next great American striker
At 26, Picault isn’t exactly young. But, in some ways, he does feel like an up-and-comer who’s hitting his stride and finally using his speed “correctly” to exploit opposing defenses.
Picault got a taste of the US national team with a surprise call-up a little more than a year ago and said he thinks he may have been close to another call in October if not for an injury. But now that Jurgen Klinsmann has been replaced by Bruce Arena, he knows he has his work cut out for him to get back into the USMNT picture.
“I think I’m making my case now and I just want to keep doing that and showing that I’m the best American winger,” he said. “I’ll try to set myself up to be in a good position for the next World Cup, hopefully.”