Player Feature: Stephen Basso
Maryland’s Prodigal Son is Ready to Defend Home Turf
For Real Maryland left-back Stephen Basso, Sunday’s home opener is more than just the first game. It is the official homecoming for a traveling professional to the state where it all started.
“It’s a big deal for me to play for Real Maryland,” Basso says. “I grew up here my whole life. It means a lot to me to play in my home state. I grew up here playing here and to play professionally here is an honor. I’m really excited about it and I’m really excited about the season.”
Born on August, 22, 1987, Basso grew up in Columbia, Maryland where he started playing for Columbia United as a nine year old. He stayed with the club until he was 17, winning the Maryland State Cup in both the U-10 and U-12 age groups. In addition, Basso joined Maryland ODP when he was 14 and was a member of the team for three years.
When Basso turned 17, he joined DC United’s U-17 Super Y team. Basso and the United youths went undefeated during the season, but lost in the semi-finals of the national championship.
Basso graduated to the DC United U-19 squad and once again his side roared into the national championships, but this time was halted by the New York Red Bulls in the semi-finals.
Basso graduated from Hammond high school in 2005. During his time there, the Golden Bears won two regional championships. When Basso graduated, he had a decision to make. Go to college, or peruse a professional career in the sport which had been his passion.
“I figured that if I want to pursue this dream I might as well go for it now and if it doesn’t work out then I’ll just go back to school.”
Basso and his family hired an agent, and Basso was given trials with two teams in Italy. One of the teams was Juventus’s U-19 squad. Basso trained with the famous Turin based club for two weeks and was offered a contract, but could not sign because he could not obtain an Italian passport.
With only papers and legal formalities standing in his way, Basso traveled to Germany for a trial with third division side SV Darmstadt 1898.
Basso impressed on his trial and earned a contract in February of 2007. In his first season with SV, Basso lead the team in minutes played, racking up five goals and 15 assists along the way.
Despite an impressive season on the pitch, it wasn’t an easy adjustment for the American teenager trying to live on his own abroad.
“The first two months were unbelievably hard,” Basso recalls. “It was a really big challenge for me and it was almost like I didn’t want to do it.”
For most professionals playing their trade abroad, the best way to cope is to focus solely on the task at hand and let the rest fall into place.
“For me it was all about playing soccer.” Basso recalls. “So that was basically it. I just tuned everything out and focused on soccer. Every day I went to practice and I didn’t care about anything else.”
The son of an Italian father and an American mother, Basso landed in Germany without any knowledge of the German language, but while the defender admits it was a problem off the field, it was the least of his worries come game time.
“The language barrier was tough because it was hard for me to understand things, but you know soccer has its own language.”
Soccer in Germany is a religion, with third division sides often drawing crowds of almost 4,000 fans per game. For Basso, the passion of the fans helped him to settle into his new surroundings.
“It’s indescribable,” Basso says about playing in front of the German fans. “The fans are paying attention to every aspect of the game. Playing in front of such crowds gave me more motivation and energy. It makes your adrenaline rush and it gives you the sense that all these people watching you wanted you to do well.”
Basso says that everyone in Germany roots for their hometown team and Basso’s exploits with SV Darmstadt 1898 turned him into a local celebrity.
“In the city I played for, everyone knows who you are. I got good recognition when I was out in the city before practice or after a game.”
Basso felt he was settling nicely into Germany, but a family emergency summoned him home.
“My mom had brain surgery in the middle of January so that was my decision to come home and be with my family.”
While Basso says it wasn’t a decision he had to think twice about, it was hard to leave a team where he had built such good relationships with his coaches and teammates. The prospect of playing for Real Maryland, however, offered Basso the chance to be with his family and continue his professional career.
“I heard about Real Maryland and I said ‘well I can come home, be with my family and still play pro soccer for my home state.’”
For Basso, playing in Maryland is an honor and a dream come true. His goal is to help Real Maryland have a strong inaugural season in USL-2. But this is just a stop off for the left back, whose long term goal is to play in the upper echelons of European soccer.
“For me personally, my goal is to play well and to get noticed by other bigger clubs. As a professional, I want to go back to Europe. I would love to go back to Germany or to go to Italy and play.”
Real Maryland is lucky to have Basso. Players and fans alike should enjoy his sturdy defensive style, tough tackling, and forays up into the attacking end while they can. One good season and Basso may well be back on a plane in September, crossing the Atlantic.
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