By Daniel Rubens
Programming note: This summer in this space, we’ll take a look at a different American player each week instead of doing some sort of update on multiple Yanks abroad. This will be an opportunity to delve into some players we don’t normally feature in this space and evaluate their chances with the USMNT, their future prospects, other important things to note with them, or any combination of the three. First up is a dual-national attacker who only recently popped up on the United States radar and just made his debut for the squad this week.
Fabrice ‘Fafa’ Picault
Club: FC St. Pauli (2. Bundesliga)
A little-known attacker plying his trade in the second division of German football, Fafa Picault was, until very recently, nowhere near the United States men’s
It’s understandable that Picault hasn’t made a major impact with the national side at this point in his career. The 25-year-old began his career in the academy of Italian club Cagliari, but never made a first-team appearance and was released in 2011 at the age of 20. His next step took him back to the United States, to Florida, where he spent the majority of his upbringing after being born in New York. Picault spent the 2012 season with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL, failing to score a goal before being released.
With his career stalling, Picault did not play in 2013, but he latched on with another Florida-based NASL side, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, in 2014. That season, he began to make waves, scoring 12 goals in 24 NASL contests and earning a call-up to the national team of his parents’ birthplace, Haiti, although he didn’t play for the side and thus was not cap-tied.
His success with Fort Lauderdale earned Picault his move back to Europe, but, once again, his career seemed to hit a standstill. In a half season with Czech powerhouse Sparta Prague, Picault made one substitute appearance off the bench in the Czech Cup before once more getting released, making the then-24-year-old a free agent.
Then, in September 2015, Picault signed a one-year deal with St. Pauli, with an option to extend the contract by a year. After the impact he had down the stretch this season for one of Germany’s most interesting clubs (who will be featured as a Team of the Week some time in the coming months), St. Pauli made sure to pick up that option.
It took Picault a while to settle with the Hamburg-based club, as he made just one start during the first half of the season and did not score a goal, but when he did settle, he made an impact.
That was the beginning of a breakout for Picault. The winger, who can also play as a striker, had his biggest influence in April, scoring twice in a 2-0 win over Bochum and again a week later in a draw with Fortuna Dusseldorf. In all, Picault started four of St. Pauli’s final five games and finished his first season in Germany with four goals in 16 2. Bundesliga appearances, only six of which were starts. It was certainly not a bad debut season for a man who has bounced around the world.
His sparkling form at the end of the year put Klinsmann and the U.S. on alert, and Picault was one of seven players not on the Copa America roster to earn a spot at the transition camp prior to Sunday’s win over Puerto Rico. Picault made his international debut in the match, putting one shot on target in his 19 minutes on the pitch.
It’s unclear as to whether those will be the only minutes he plays for the USMNT, but Picault has the skillset to make sure they aren’t. While only 5-foot-8, Picault is a burner, nicknamed “The Gazelle” for his lightning pace. Klinsmann has praised the forward’s willingness to run at defenders and his instincts in the box this week, two traits that are valuable and hard to come by. His versatility is also a major asset, as Picault can play either out wide or as a center forward with the ability to finish when he gets opportunities.
He won’t play for the USMNT this summer, but after the long route he’s taken over the past few years, just the opportunity to attend the national camp and make his U.S. debut is a huge step for Picault. If the determination he’s shown in getting to this stage is any indication, it probably won’t be the last major hurdle he clears in his career.