AMSTERDAM – While Germany's Bundesliga system has long been a second home to American players looking to advance their careers, FC Nürnberg Under-19 boss Pellegrino Matarazzo is now on course to help blaze an American coaching trail in Europe.
Bob Bradley may have been the first American to manage a top flight club across the Atlantic, but his fellow New Jersey native is among a small group of US coaches currently rising through the youth coaching ranks in Germany. David Wagner holds the reins at Borussia Dortmund II, Steve Cherundolo is the Hannover 96 II assistant and Nate Weiss is a highly-rated federation youth coach in the national team set-up.
Matarazzo's CV and German reputation for potential are equally as impressive.
After graduating from Columbia University and having an injury derail a trial with the MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls), Matarazzo carved out a 10-year playing career that started with Rhineland side Bad Kreuznach. He would spend most of his playing years in the then-third flight Regionalliga, with the idea of coaching not even a stray thought until he joined FC Nürnberg II in 2006. Now 37, he looks a good bet to end up with much bigger clubs as a manager.
"I was a player back then, I just wanted to play," Matarazzo told MLSsoccer.com of when he was 21. "It was later in my career when I realized I wanted to stay in the game. I had coaching experience in the States, doing camps, and it was always very fun for me and I took it very serious."
His last player contract was a shrewd one. Matarazzo negotiated with Nürnberg for coaching education assistance to be included. The club has since supported his license chases, given him all manners of experience in-house and essentially built one of the hot names to watch in German coaching. Less than five years after turning toward the sideline, he is already the subject of glowing features on the official DfB website and in Munich daily Abendzeitung.
Of course, Matarazzo has now had the pleasure of both playing and coaching in a country that takes its soccer very seriously. When it came time to start his post-career trajectory, taking advantage of the rare chance to gain a proper Fußball schooling seemed a no-brainer. "Germany has a very recognized coaching system," he declared. "My German was good enough to do it and there was no question I wanted the UEFA Pro license."
Matarazzo has since worn a variety of staff hats at FCN, everything from a fitness coach to helping write the soccer curriculum for all age levels at the club. He began as an U-23 assistant and had a three-month stint as that team's interim manager before eventually leading their U-17 squad to a third place finish in his first head coaching job.
He says the brief caretaker job was key to making the head coach transition. "[FCN] got a good idea of how I would work in the job," said Matarazzo. "I had their trust in making technical and tactical decisions. It was a great experience."
Less than a year later, in 2013, Matarazzo was promoted to guide the U-19s. Throughout this rise, he was also pulling off auxiliary jobs for the club, such as kicking off an advanced training set-up for their highest-rated youth prospects.
"It was the biggest parallel responsiblilty," said Matarazzo. "It helps them with their transition to the first team. Timmy Chandler was part of the program. Philipp Wollscheid, who is a new Stoke player, came through the program."
Despite also coordinating a coaching partnership with the German federation's elite soccer school, Matarazzo has somehow found time to earn his way up to a German "A" coaching license, one short of the UEFA Pro. After a near-miss on his first shot at that coaching course, he will sign up again this year.
"There were about 160 applicants and they only take 24," explained Matarazzo, who lacked the "waiting bonus" points of others who'd previously applied. "In my first year trying to get in, I was No. 27 in the rankings. They said I was qualified, but I'm on the waiting list.
If he can achieve the top UEFA license, the coaching world could be his oyster – even if he's not sure which direction to go yet.
"To be honest, I'm keeping my doors open," said Matarazzo. "I'm just focusing on my development. If I'm good, I'll have work. I just recently signed a three-year contract with the club, which I think shows their trust.
"We'll see where [the UEFA Pro license] takes me. The US is definitely a possibility, and at some point, I do want to come back and give back. But as long as I'm making good progress over here, it doesn't make much sense to stop that progress."
For the time being, all that development and progress will come in charge of Nürnberg U-19 players looking for the same.
"Our minimum goal is to avoid relegation," said Matarazzo, already sounding like a manager. "We left a lot of points on the table early. Our performance has been better than the results. Our top goal would be top five. I still think it's realistic. But it's still about development. Learning to win is also development, so we have a good balance between results-oriented and development goals."