Vanessa DiBernardo sets sights on NWSL, USWNT

Tim Grainey September 10, 2013 11

Illinois senior Vanessa DiBernardo hopes to play in the NWSL and for the USWNT. (Photo Copyright Arianna Grainey for The Equalizer)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo was one of three players still in college who were brought into head coach Tom Sermanni’s U.S. women’s national team camp ahead of last week’s 7-0 victory over Mexico at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. DiBernardo, a senior at the University of Illinois, was a late camp replacement for Megan Rapinoe, who was resting a heel injury. Though DiBernardo, a two-time NSCAA All-American, did not play against Mexico on Sept. 3, she still found it an edifying experience.

The Equalizer caught up with DiBernardo three days after the Mexico match at the Arizona State University Sun Devil Classic, where the Fighting Illini fell in overtime to ASU 4-3 on the first night of the tournament (University of Arizona and the University of Kansas completed the quartet).

DiBernardo, a U-20 Women’s World Cup champion last fall in Japan, said her first full national team camp was a learning experience.

“I learned how the environment is and how they play and their mentality. I thought it was really good for me to take in everything,” she said.

Specifically, DiBernardo highlighted the key difference from the senior national team with her regular Big Ten playing level. “That’s their job. It’s not college. It’s not like you’re going to school and playing. They play for their job. They put so much effort into it. Just the bar and the level is so much higher.”

DiBernardo, through FIFA’s ancestry rules, also would qualify to play for Italy and Argentina, where her father Angelo–a former U.S. international–was born. She was adamant that “I want to try to play for the U.S.”

Interestingly, she said that neither country ever contacted her to play for them. Italy’s new national team coach Antonio Cabrini—the former 1982 World Cup winning defender for Italy, seems to be very focused on building a squad primarily from the Italian women’s league—Serie A—based on comments he has made to coaches and the media. At the European Championships this summer in Sweden, he called in only four players from abroad (two of them goalkeepers), two from Switzerland and two from Germany, and not bringing in long-time Italian–American goalkeeper Anna Picarelli, now with Pali Blues.

Argentina, qualifiers at Women’s World Cups in 2003 and 2007, have been surpassed of late as the No. 2 team in CONMEBOL to Brazil by Colombia. Argentina’s women’s program needs funding and direction to develop and is still primarily reliant on amateur players; it is not ready to be fishing for diaspora. Still, both countries might revisit their recruiting policies towards diaspora once they realize the talent that could have helped their programs advance.

DiBernardo became animated when discussing her goals after college, which include playing professionally.

“I want to play in the NWSL League here in America. I’ll enter into the draft and see what happens.” She said that she would be interested in playing overseas but not to the exclusion of NWSL—perhaps combining both, as FC Kansas City’s Erika Tymrak is doing with Bayern Munich, Portland Thorn’s Tobin Heath is doing with PSG and Seattle Reign’s Megan Rapinoe is doing with Lyon.

DiBernardo is a very skilled attacking midfielder who constantly sets the pace of play for the University of Illinois. Her passing skills are exquisite; she plays rapidly but is never rushed. Former Netherlands superstar Johann Cruyff once said that soccer was a game played with the brain, rather than with the feet. DiBernardo embodies that logic and would be an asset to any professional team that needs an intelligent player to guide midfield play.

Arizona State University head coach Kevin Boyd, who once recruited Alex Morgan to the University of California before he left for the ASU job, said simply about DiBernardo, “she’s a very special player.” Vanessa DiBernardo is one to watch not only for end of season NSCAA awards but during the 2014 NWSL draft.

Against Arizona State, down 2-0 on the hour mark, DiBernardo started her team’s comeback by scoring on a penalty kick after a foul in the box was called on ASU. Three minutes later, Janelle Flaws scored the first of her two goals. Tied 3-3 at the end of regulation, sophomore Cali Farquharson scored her second goal of the game in the 107th minute to give the home team the win. Farquharson, who received All Pac-12 Freshman honors on 10 goals and 4 assists in 2012, new leads the Sun Devils (3-1-0) with 6 goals in 4 games. Senior Devon Marshall scored the other two Sun Devil goals. DiBernardo now has two goals and three assists in four games on the season for the 3-2-0 Illini, and tallied 36 goals with 15 assists in 58 games over her first three seasons.

On Sept. 8, Arizona State took the tournament title with a 4-0 defeat of the University of Kansas. Devon Marshall scored another brace while Farquharson and Blair Alderson each scored once. The University of Arizona took second place after a 1-1 tie with the University of Illinois, in which DiBernardo scored her third goal of the season.

Tim Grainey is an occasional contributor to Equalizer Soccer.  His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham was released earlier this month.  Get your copy today.

  • xanthophobe

    Her quarterfinal goal in the U-20 WWC is absolutely breathtaking. (1:45 mark)

  • kernel_thai

    I still have no clue why Sermanni brought DiBernardo in. Whether u think she next thing to sliced bread or not I just dont see what a college player was going to do in one practice to convince him she was ready to play. With Tymrak and Robinson he had been watching them play in the pro league against NT players for a whole season. It just seemed like a really odd call. Hopefully she gets another chance with an actually camp to prove herself in.

    • Steglitz49

      It was nothing odd about the invitation. What was odd was how little Vanessa actually played-

      I interpreted the NT call-up as a move to tie the young lady to the NWSL. Amber Brooks went to Bayern straight and Lindsey Horan to PSG even before college. Vanessa is plenty interesting to the wealthy clubs abroad. Also, given her ancestry, she might be offered the chance to play for another country already in 2015. Why should Vanessa wait till 2019 to play in a WC?

      My own view is simple. Were a club with a fine reputation and good staff to come knocking, she must consider their offer seriously. Likewise, a call from a foreign NT manager.

      • newsouth

        and this goes back to quon. is diB good enough to ever make the national team? he could bring in hayes but she won’t start against the current 4 forwards, and she maybe as deep as 7-8 when you add in hagen, horan, etc. like the poster said above, it gives her a taste of nt training and environment. i wouldn’t have capped her for 10 mins either. if she went to italy, the nt will roll on without. she’s ok but they get better studs out there. one thing they are short on is girls coming out of college.

        • Steglitz49

          The USWNT is short of defenders and defensive midfielders. Those positions are not glamorous, like the strikers. Indeed, a defensive player is only noticed when she screws up.

          If the young ladies want to go abroad, why not encourage them?

          • newsouth

            to date Dunn, something special, is pretty much the only lady right out of college or Sr year that could start for the NT. Not even morgan was ready right out of college. DiB won’t challenge for the defensive mid-fielder. they have people but no one wants because they all want glamour. with dunn, you can move kreiger over to dmf. lloyd don’t want too because she wants to score goals. becky edwards can beat out diB. they are there. julie j is a possible.

          • Steglitz49

            Your points are well taken. I contend that TS must delare his hand one fine day. You can fool some of the players a long time and all of the players a bit, but when Mrs Moneybags comes knocking the choice will be stark.

            I wonder whether Ms Moneybags will botanize in Africa in stead of USA. Cheaper for starters, let alone all the other hassles.

    • wosofan

      This was not about Sermanni evaluating DiBernardo. This was a case of a roster spot suddenly opening up, and Sermanni wisely using it to get a promising player a taste of the full team. Sermanni has seen plenty of DiBernardo, at U23 camps in California this year, and via tapes of U20 and other matches. The point here was to get her acquainted with the team, the whole environment. That is so that if and when she is called into a real USWNT camp, the ice has already been broken, her nerves are lessened, she knows what to expect. This is a player with great feet, and a great first touch, and she’s a heck of an athlete, even if she’s a bit small in size. She has promise for the future, and nobody is suggesting she’s ready to break into the roster right now. But the WC is in 2015, and Sermanni is on his way to building depth and competition at all positions.

    • VaFan51

      I think if Tom had known Alex Morgan would be completely unavailable, he would have brought in a forward from either NWSL or college.
      Nevertheless, there’s no doubt the call-in was a great experience for her and probably will serve everyone well in the long run.
      I feel pretty certain she has the quality make the WNT, if not in 2013 or even in 2014, then afterward. We need to be patient with players who are 20-21 years old; not everybody is Morgan or Dunn. A number of players from last year’s U-20 World Cup team are in this same category — Johnston, Killion, Roccaro, Ohai, etc. If they can play a year or two in some quality pro situation (NWSL and/or Europe), they will be much better players than they are now.

      • Why Always Me

        I’m really excited to see some of these newcomers in the NWSL. They’ll definitely help bring quality young guns and it will be awesome to see how they develop. Waiting for the second season is going to be a pain.

      • Steglitz49

        The lady may not care to wait till 2019. That is 6 long years.