'Sweden helped me bounce back': American Romain Gall finds success after MLS disappointment
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment Romain Gall was captivated by soccer, but he knows it was at a young age. It may have been during one of the many weekends he sat in front of the television with his father and watched Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho, or perhaps it was when his family went to watch France take on Germany in 2001 and he got to see some of those same stars up close.
“Henry was definitely one of my idols but Ronaldinho was the big one,” Gall tells FourFourTwo. “I have a lot of big soccer memories, but those are the ones where I think I really started to fall in love with soccer.”
Gall’s career, just like those weekends spent on the television, has had its fair share of highs and lows. The 23-year-old American is speaking to me from Sundsvall, Sweden, where he’s slowly rebuilding a promising career that had at one stage stagnated.
“I was a little skeptical at first about coming to Sweden,” Gall says. “After talking to my agent and my family, we agreed that it was the kind of grind that I needed to get back on my feet and take me where I want to go.”
His decision involved relocating to Nyköping, a small city on the southeast coast of Sweden that is home to less than 30,000 people. That’s where Nykopings BIS, a soccer team in the third tier of Swedish football, is located along with its American assistant coach, Brian Clarhaut.
“It was extremely tough, especially in the beginning,” Gall said. “I had never been to Sweden and it’s a very small town so there’s not much to do. I was by myself, so all I could do was focus, work hard, and get out of there. Obviously, it’s tough without my family and the time difference and all that, but there’s not much to do, just work.”
Not the traditional American dream
Gall could be forgiven for drowning in self-pity and wondering how he’d ended up in such a position, and yet, in some ways, his story feels all too familiar.
At that point, it was either do the trial stages in Europe where nothing was guaranteed, or sign in MLS where it was guaranteed.
He received his soccer education in two parts. The first was spent in the United States in the academies of D.C. United and Real Salt Lake, before an ambitious move back to his native France with FC Lorient in 2011.
“Early on I noticed a big difference in the culture,” he says now of his move. “In France, the level was much higher, the speed of play was much faster. The development starts at a younger age. I think they implement more tactical situations and they have you understand the game. I know there were some drills that I was doing really young in France that kids in the U.S. wouldn’t be doing until they were much older.”
He would spend three years with the club before being released in 2014. By the end of his stay he had made just over half-a-dozen appearances for Lorient’s second team in France’s third tier, but now he needed something more regular.
“I wanted to stay in Europe and wanted to go through other countries, anywhere that could take me after my time in France,” he said. “At that point, it was either do the trial stages in Europe where nothing was guaranteed, or sign in MLS where it was guaranteed. It was a tough decision, but after speaking with my family and my agent we chose to go down the MLS route.”
Gall landed with the Columbus Crew and coach Gregg Berhalter. He arrived mid-season and by the end of August, he’d made his MLS debut. His first full season was not as fruitful, however. He was loaned to the USL with the Austin Aztex midway through the campaign and managed only a dozen games. By the turn of the year, his future with the Crew looked somewhat uncertain and he was eventually released midway through preseason in February 2016.
A second chance in Europe
Gall had only recently turned 21 by that point and he was in dire need of regular game time at a good level. That’s when a proposition from Nyköpings passed across his agent Remy Cherin’s desk. The plan was to start low and aim high.
By late March, a deal was agreed and after a solid season with the club, Gall caught the eye of GIF Sundsvall in the top flight, joining the team before the start of the 2017 Swedish season.
In just over two years in Sweden, Gall has played 50 competitive league games, and the influence of regular playing time is not lost on the young left-footed attacker.
“Games help so much with your confidence, with literal details on how to improve,” he said. “When you’re just training and training with no games, it starts to get to you. You know you’re not in the sharpest form you can be. When I was able to get a good run of games, a lot of qualities came back and started to show up, and you have a good full season to express yourself and sharpen everything that was dulled when you weren’t getting games.”
Gall also acknowledges that his own path in Sweden -- rising through the divisions -- may be tougher to achieve back in the U.S. because of the influx of college players and European signings each season. Although Gall concedes it is still possible to make the jump, he also encourages any young American willing to work hard to consider Sweden in much the same way so many Scandinavian talents have begun attempting to make it in MLS.
“I came to Sweden and it really helped me bounce back,” Gall said. “I’ll always be grateful for coming here, so if a friend or a teammate of mine had the same situation I’d tell them what I’d been through, that you’ve got to come here and work but anything is possible. I think there are opportunities here if you’re young and can play at this level and want a lot of games. It can expose you to a good level of European football. ”
The “anything” Gall talks about could also be a U.S. men’s national team call-up. Gall was previously capped by the U-17 and U-20 national teams, and while he’s wary of making grand proclamations, there’s a noticeable enthusiasm when he talks about a potential call-up for a pair of summer friendlies the U.S. has scheduled in Europe.
In the meantime, he must continue to find success with Sundsvall. At present, Gall has split his time between the left and right wing, (he says he’s comfortable in any attacking position) and produced seven goals and two assists in nine games in all competitions.
Any talk about that exciting start is tempered by the man himself, however. He prefers instead to talk about the grind, about the hard work, and maintaining consistency. He knows that’s the quickest way to get to where he wants to be and perhaps inspire the next generation of kids sitting on the couch watching soccer for the first time.