Leah Scarpelli is a centre-back who just loves to score and is heading for the Liberty A-League, writes Tom Smithies
Leah Scarpelli is a strong believer in the concept that everything happens for a reason – whether it’s suffering a “perfectly timed” ACL rupture or the fact that joining an A-Leagues club means that she can walk in her father’s footsteps 42 years after he played in a World Cup in Brisbane.
The US centre-back is an eye-catching signing for Brisbane Roar, fresh from a stint with Sporting Lisbon and holding a CV that includes Goal of the Year in the ASUN Conference for colleges in the South-eastern US – a strike from close to the halfway line no less.
Liberty A-League goalkeepers should be warned that Scarpelli also believes in a shoot on sight policy, even as a centre-back and no matter how far from goal.
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Maybe it’s not surprising as she grew up as an attacker until coaches in the US youth national teams converted her to a centre-back in her teens. Roar coach Gareth Macpherson may well have added defensive strength and an attacking weapon in one signing.
The thing that makes Scarpelli even more excited than scoring from distance is the fact that she is heading to Brisbane, more than four decades after her father – a goalkeeper in the North American Soccer League – played three times in the city at the 1981 U20 World Cup (then called the Youth World Championship).
Craig Scarpelli also instilled a love of football in his daughter and coached her from the beginning. “I think it’s pretty crazy,” Scarpelli junior tells KEEPUP. “I was talking to my parents about it because maybe this is a coincidence but I do believe everything happens for a reason.
“My dad, he actually played in the U20 World Cup in Brisbane 42 years ago. So it’s kind of like a sign and I’m very big on signs.
“He was a baller. He played goalkeeper, played professional for a few years and ever since I could walk or kick the ball, I would go to his trainings, he would train college girls and other teams so I would always join in even if I was three or four years old.
“So props to him, he kind of made me fall in love with the game and I wouldn’t honestly be the player I am if it weren’t for him.
“Growing up, always kicking the ball around and trying to score on him, and as I got older, it was getting a little bit easier because he was getting older.
“I’m honestly truly grateful to have a parent have that much experience in the game.”
Growing up in that environment, it’s no wonder that Leah Scarpelli caught the eye of national selectors not long after she started high school.
“My first camp I got called in, I think I was 13 years old and it was the U15 camp,” she says. “So that’s kind of when it started to pick up and get serious and I was like, ‘Oh wait, ok, I think I’m kind of good at this game, you know, I think I’m going to try to go far.’
“So after my first few camps, I decided to home school and I went to U15 camps, the U17s for a few years and then stopped once I got to college.”
There was a significant reason for that – an injury that can ruin careers and has a disproportionate prevalence in female players. But Scarpelli’s resolutely upbeat nature means even a ruptured ACL has more than a silver lining.
“I had a bad ACL tear in 2017, like a year before I went to college, which was kind of perfect timing,” she says.
“But even though the injury was terrible and the recovery was so incredibly long, I honestly believe I wouldn’t be the player I am if that injury didn’t happen.
“Like my mental toughness is crazy because of that injury. So a lot of girls that I know have gone through that same injury and if you go through it and continue to play, I think it shows a lot of strength.”
That might also explain Scarpelli’s determination not to die wondering in any situation.
That includes a speculative volley for Florida Gulf University against Queens University last year from near the touchline and some 40m from goal – though she cheerfully admits actually scoring wasn’t her intention.
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“Oh my goodness, literally so many people have asked me that,” she says. “I think I was frustrated, it was a sign of frustration.
“I just kicked the ball as hard as I could and it went in. I didn’t mean it, end of story.
“But if I’m going to be honest with you, when I was growing up, I was never a centre-back. I always played attacking mid or forward, left mid, and as soon as I went to the national team, they kind of changed me or shifted me into the centre-back role.
“So as I grew up playing in college, I kind of still had that attacking mindset, you know, and I wanna score goals!
“I love shooting the ball so no matter if it’s 10, 20, 30, 40 yards, I’m going to do it. Definitely got lucky a few times.”
Scarpelli describes the chance to play in Australia as “a dream come true”, part of her ambition to see as much of the world as possible – and, ultimately, to document her travels.
“I never thought I would play in Portugal of all countries, you know, and it was a beautiful country and the culture was amazing,” she says. “I met so many great people and learned a little bit of Portuguese even though it was quite difficult.
“But now I’m going to Australia, which is like a dream come true. Not many people get to say, from America at least, that they get to live and play professional soccer in Australia.
“Since I was young, I’ve always said that I want to write a book and people… well, they wouldn’t laugh at me but they would be like, oh, ok, that’s weird.
“I’m not a journalist, I’m not a writer, I’m not anything in that way. But I’ve always loved to journal and I’ve started a blog. I think one day in the future, writing my own book would be amazing.”