Norwalk High School Boys Soccer


Funicello working toward “Big Finnish”


Saturday, September 4, 2010

The path to success isn’t always straight and narrow.

A lot of the time, there are many twists and turns along the way. If a person can navigate a treacherous course, there’s no telling what they accomplish.

Norwalk’s Joe Funicello knows all about taking a roundabout way to the top.

He’s had to work his way up through the ranks of professional soccer, playing in several different European countries as well as in the United States, and now his hard work is paying off.

Funicello, 23, signed on to play with IFK Mariehamn of the Finnish Premier League this past Tuesday. IFK plays in Tier 1, the highest division of the league in the country.

“It’s a big challenge and a big step,” said Funicello, a defender who will be leaving for Finland tonight and will start training with his new team Monday. “I’ve worked hard for this and I’m looking forward to the challenge.” Funicello is coming off a successful six-month stint playing for Thor Akureyri, a first-division club in Iceland. His solid play with Thor led to his signing with IFK, which should provide Funicello another tough test in its level of play.

“We never lost a game when I was on the field,” Funicello said of Thor, which went 11-0 with him in the lineup and dropped both games he missed due to yellow cards. “I have to thank them for understanding the situation. They let me go to further my career.” The Thor team was in first place when Funicello left and he said it was hard for him to leave because he’d grown attached to the country and its people treated him so well. “It was a great experience,” he said. “Football (soccer) is the big thing over there. The people love their club and the players and the kids would want my autograph.

It was emotional leaving but in life you have to move on to bigger and better things in order to challenge yourself.” Funicello signed an 18­month contract with IFK and Bill Fitzgerald served as his representative.

“He’s on his way to a nice career,” said Fitzgerald, an entertainment and sports lawyer and longtime Rowayton resident. “This is everything he’s dreamed about. He’ll be playing in one of the top divisions in Europe. It’s an international showcase for him.”

Said Funicello of Fitzgerald: “My career has taken a step forward and he’s been a big part of it. It’s good to have someone local who is able to help players chase their dreams.”

Fitzgerald also represents budding pros Nate Collins, a football standout at King and UVA who signed with the New York Giants, and Sherrad Prezzie-Blue, a McMahon and Wentworth Institute of Technology graduate who is playing basketball in England.

“These are fine young men from great families,” Fitzgerald said. “They have the community behind them and it’s just terrific. It speaks to the towns and the youth leagues they’ve come out of.”

Funicello will be playing at right defender after several years of playing on the left.

He said it will be a good change because he is more dominant with his right foot.

As for playing time with IFK, Funicello said he’s ready to contribute any way he can and the better he plays, the more people will take notice.

“If I do well, I could get the call up and play for the U.S. National team,” he said.

“It’s not a definite but it could happen. At the moment, my goal is to play for the national team.”

It’s been a circuitous soccer journey for Funicello, who turned pro upon graduating Norwalk High in 2005 and was signed by the New York MetroStars, now the Red Bulls. He was released after six months and went overseas to play in England’s Fifth Division.

Last year, Funicello led the Real Maryland FC Monarchs of the United States Soccer Leagues (USL) Second Division to the playoffs for the first time.

It’s been hard for Funicello, being overseas away from his family most of his pro career, but he said he loves playing soccer and to be able to do it for a living is something he’s always wanted.

“It’s been my dream as long as I can remember,” he said. “I chose to chase my dream.”

Funicello’s path has leveled out.

© 2010 The Hour Newspaper.