ENCINITAS — A 16-year-old Encinitas resident, Xavi Gnaulati, recently made a giant next step in his ultimate goal to play professional international soccer.
Gnaulati, a midfielder by trade, is one of four young local soccer stars who have signed amateur contracts with the San Diego Loyal Soccer Club of the USL Championship.
The club, managed by former US Men’s National Team captain Landon Donovan, played in its first season as an expansion club last year with a record of 6-5-5.
“As the soccer capital of this country, we are very fortunate to have some of the very best players here in San Diego,” said Donovan who serves as executive vice president of soccer operations and manager of the club. “Being able to add four of them to a roster further shows our commitment to this community and that we are truly dedicated to making SD Loyal a club that our entire community can be proud of. We can’t wait for the day we see our first homegrown product representing SD Loyal on the field at Torero Stadium.”
For Gnaulati, getting the chance to play under Donovan will do wonders for his progression as a player.
“I thought he was a really good player and to have him as my coach, to just learn off him through everything is great,” Gnaulati said.
Gnaulati has been playing soccer almost since the day he was born, playing for local club teams Oceanside Breakers, San Diego Surf Soccer Club and Encinitas Express Soccer since a very young age.
Born in Oceanside, Gnaulati would spend most of his free time playing soccer with his father Julio or even by himself in his backyard.
“I would go out to play for hours in a day. Just make up my own games to play by myself or with my brother or with my dad,” Gnaulati said. “And that’s just such a big memory because I also dreamt of becoming a pro soccer player.”
Gnaulati says he’d spend time playing on his own pretending to play entire games on his own playing the roles of players like Lionel Messi.
The contract Gnaulati signed with SD Loyal is considered an amateur contract under the USL Academy. The system set up by the USL allows young players like Gnaulati to compete against older professional players, while still maintaining collegiate eligibility under NCAA rules.
This allows for players like Gnaulati to get the kind of coaching and experience young players never would have been allowed before.
“I get to watch and they help us understand what’s going on and how we should implement the good things in the game,” Gnaulati said.
Gnaulati is part of the first group that SD Loyal has signed to USL Academy contracts along with three other young players from southern California.
The group hasn’t been with SD Loyal for very long, but the transition has been smooth thus far for Gnaulati.
“I think I’ve been developing a lot since I’ve joined,” Gnaulati said. “They’ve been giving me advice, helping me on the field. And not just me but all four of us academy players, we’ve all felt very welcomed.”
Even if a player signed under a USL Academy contract is added to the active roster for a game they will retain their amateur status and getting that opportunity to play for SD Loyal is a top priority for Gnaulati.
“My immediate goals are definitely to get some minutes for Loyal, just start breaking in more with the team,” Gnaulati said.
In the future, Gnaulati has hopes of bringing his talents overseas.
“I would love to play in Italy or Spain,” he said. “I love the style of play in Spain and Italy because my dad’s Italian and my favorite team is Juventus.”