Fabrice “Fafa” Picault was eating at his favorite Italian restaurant in Hamburg, Germany, three weeks ago when his cell phone rang and an unfamiliar number showed up on the screen. He thought it was a telemarketer and considered ignoring the call.
Good thing he didn’t.
It was U.S. national coach Jurgen Klinsmann calling with an invitation every American player dreams about.
“He told me he’s been keeping up with my performances, is pleased with them and that he wants to bring me into camp, so I was thrilled about that,” said Picault, who plays for St. Pauli in the German second division. “I’m really glad I picked up the call.”
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The news was extra special because this particular U.S. camp is in Miami, Picault’s hometown, the place his love affair with soccer began as a youth player with West Kendall, Coral Springs, Weston and Miami Strike Force.
Picault is one of 22 players training here this week for Sunday’s friendly at Puerto Rico and beginning preparations for next month’s Copa America.
The average American soccer fan may have wondered, “Who the heck is Fabrice ‘Fafa’ Picault?” when Klinsmann named his camp roster. South Floridians who follow the sport know exactly who he is, and have been following the career of the charismatic 25-year-old forward.
Picault is a speedy, skilled, and highly motivated Haitian-American who grew up in Cutler Bay and attended Miami Killian High before leaving for Italy at age 16 to join Cagliari, Calcio’s reserve team in the island of Sardinia. He had a tough time adjusting, dealt with some ugly racist incidents, but toiled on because he was determined to play professional soccer.
Five years in Italy sharpened his game, strengthened his resolve, and thickened his skin.
He wound up coming back to the United States and landed with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and then the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, where he was a standout in 2014. Picault’s maternal grandfather, Max Antoine, played for the Haitian national team. His father, Leslie, played professionally in the Major Indoor Soccer League. He wanted to carry on the family’s soccer lineage.
In January 2015, he moved back to Europe and spent six months with Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic before signing with St. Pauli. He scored four goals in 16 games this season, and impressed manager Ewald Lienen, a friend of Klinsmann’s.
“Fafa is an interesting character,” Klinsmann replied when asked what intrigued him about Picault. “We watched him when he played for the Strikers, too. This is a good chance for Fafa. He took the route to Europe and fought his way through, and came out in St Pauli with a coach I know really well, and he told me: ‘The kid is a fighter. He wants to prove it and show it.’ ”
Klinsmann had his scouts give Picault a closer look, and they liked what they saw.
“Hopefully, we give Fafa a first impression of the national team program and he can take it as a next step in his career,” Klinsmann said. “He’s a hungry goalscorer, takes on people. He has speed, smells where the ball goes, good instincts. These are things that are difficult to teach. We can see him firsthand and give him some advice going forward.”
Picault is “thrilled” to be home, although he had forgotten how oppressive the May heat and humidity can be in Miami.
“It’s been a long journey, so far,” Picault said. “A lot of work’s been put in, so this is a great opportunity to get to know the group, get my feet wet and make a good impression. … I’m glad to see the fruits of my labor and I hope to see a lot more. It’s not a time to get complacent. It’s time to push 10 times more.”
He said he is a different player than the kid who moved to Italy nine years ago.
“I’m a man now,” he said. “You know how to deal with things a lot better. You’re professional. You can brush things off, don’t take things personal. Even if they are personal, at times, you just realize you’re there to do a job. You have hard times and good times when you don’t play. Just deal with it. When you play, make the best of it and show what you’re worth.
“Putting on that national team shirt was a great feeling, it’s your country, the biggest honor. I don’t want it to stop here.”