Inside Look: Gabriel Pellegrino
To become great, you have to take risks. Gabriel Pellegrino did exactly that by leaving his family at the age of 16 to trial overseas after being left out of the Canadian u15 squad, which he states was a difficult moment in his young career.
Born and raised in North York, Ontario, Pellegrino has been playing soccer ever since he can remember. He began his competitive career at seven years old with Woodbridge Soccer Club.
He played with the second team for a year and quickly he was promoted to the first team where he spent three years massively improving his game. “ The 04 Woodbridge team was a very strong and talented side with many players who currently still play at a high-level today,” said Pellegrino.
One of the best accomplishments he claimed this Woodbridge squad had was competing in the Disney Cup Tournament, reaching the final but coming just short to a strong Orlando City team.
After a very strong three years, Pellegrino caught the attention of Toronto FC(TFC) Academy, where he was eventually brought into the u12 team. Many people call this era of players ‘the golden generation’ that had a crazy amount of talented players.
Quickly Pellegrino became a regular starter on the squad, a smaller player at the time, but very quick and creative. Playing the majority of his games at a winger or attacking midfielder, he dominated with his decision-making and technical ability.
Doing well in the league, narrowly losing to Kansas City in the Fall Invitational tournament which is when people began to realize how serious this group of kids really were.
TFC Academy was invited to the most prolific youth cup in North America, The Generation Adidas Cup(GA Cup). This competition is an elite global and competitive youth tournament featuring MLS and renowned club academies from around the world. This was a huge test and opportunity for the squad to show what they were capable of.
TFC Academy won all of their three qualifying games against Kansas City, Minnesota United, and Houston Dynamo while they were hosted in Toronto. In the second round of qualifiers, they won their first preliminary game against Columbus Crew but fell short in their second against Chicago Fire. The third game was a deciding factor for them to possibly advance to the next round.
Columbus Crew was the opponent, and even with key players missing TFC Academy was able to get the job done and qualify for the GA cup . From there it felt like nothing was in the way anymore. They began winning every single playoff round in style against top MLS and Mexican oppositions all the way to the finals.
C.D Guadalajara (Chivas) was the opponent TFC Academy was set to play in the final round, and after playing five games in two days in super hot weather the squad was drained. The game started and right away Chivas got an early goal, forcing the boys from Toronto to chase the game. In the latter stages of the game TFC Academy scored an equalizer and took the game to penalties.
“Playing in that heat was extremely difficult, especially after so many back-to-back games the last few days. The pressure was more than ever going into penalties, but we got the job done,” said Pellegrino.
TFC Academy ended up losing the GA Cup that day, but a star looked to have been born when Pellegrino took the player of the tournament home with him. He caught the eye of the many scouts there that day and so many more watching from all over.
The academy also won the U.S. Soccer Development Academy League(USDA) that year, and it was safe to say they were the best academy in North America. Pellegrino among the soccer community in Canada was looked at as one of, if not the top prospects in the TFC Academy.
As it looked like nothing could go wrong for Pellegrino, he was suddenly left out of the Canadian U15 team camp, leaving him and the people closest to him shocked.
“I don’t think I necessarily deserve or have a right to anything in my career, nothing is given for free, but I did expect to be on the roster with the season that I had.”
“It was the hardest time in my life, all the work I did to get to the point I was, it felt like all of that was taken away from me, but I believed in myself. I knew right away there was no going back, I decided to take the opportunities in front of me and trail in europe. I left my family, left my home, I bet it all on myself.”
Pellegrino had trials for multiple large European clubs such as Freiburg, Porto and Barcelona. Spending months in Europe to show what he was capable of hoping for the opportunity to stay overseas and take his game to the next level.
“During my trials I was already developing as a player just being in these environments. My trial at Barcelona was probably the best experience of my entire life. I made incredible memories playing alongside academy players at the time like Gavi and Balde. The level at Barcelona was incredible, I learned so much.”
Nearing the end of his trials, Pellegrino was in serious talks with Freiburg for a permanent transfer move. While the negotiations were ongoing TFC offered Pellegrino a homegrown contract, a big step up in the rankings of TFC, but still, Pellegrino’s sights were only on Freiburg as he never considered moving back. The transfer was decided a few days later for an undisclosed transfer fee between the two clubs.
“It’s incredible because I truly remember that period when I didn’t get selected at TFC as the hardest time in my life, but if i can go back in time I wouldn’t change a thing. It truly was the best thing that has ever happened to me. It’s helped me become the player I am today and I’m ready to show everyone.”
After his first year playing in the third division in Germany, Pellegrino got called up for the u20 Canada team, which he says was an amazing and satisfying feeling, although underperforming in the games. He states that he learned a lot and hopes to continue building with the Canada squad.
“The players in Europe have incredible mentalities, and that’s the main difference between the level of play that I have seen. It’s all they want and they want it way more. It’s not about talent, trust me there is so much talent in Toronto, but it’s about the mentality. When I first understood and saw this in my teammates here I realized quickly, you have to be awake all the time, you can’t miss anything or fall behind.”
Tirelessly working during his time at Freiburg Pellegrino was locked in focused on grasping every opportunity he had, and during this time after lots of negotiation he signed a new contract with Freiburg.
“It’s what I wanted to do, I want to be in the pro-environment and keep working towards making my first team debut here at Freiburg. This sport means everything to me, I gave up a lot and risked a lot to do this and I want to give it my all.“
“Alphonso Davies was able to put Canada on the map with what he achieved in Europe, and that’s exactly what I dream of doing one day, I want to shock the world.”
Pellegrino, although looking to the future, knows that the moment he’s in right now is incredibly important and he knows he couldn’t be here without the belief his parents have for him.
“They did everything for me, driving me to practice, providing anything I needed and on top of all that, constantly believing in my dreams and wanting me to pursue my goals. I have to pay them back for everything they have done and continue to do for me. “
Pellegrino says he has a long way to go, but he has learned so much at the start of his career. He is fully focused on getting more minutes more often, he believes this level is so good it can help him improve his game and learn more.
That is his largest current goal and for him its one that he believes he will definitely achieve.
“One of my main goals is to play in the World Cup for Canada in 2026. Seeing what they did in the World Cup in 2022 inspired me and I want to be a part of that and build and learn as they do.“
“It would be an absolute honour, but for now my focus is on the day to day, to constantly get better.”
The future is bright for Pellegrino and through his challenging young career he is now settled, ready to show what he is capable of.