TORONTO – As a teenager, York9 midfielder Joseph Di Chiara made a bold decision.
In 2011, having just finished high school and with the aid of contacts from his Russian coaches at Spartacus SC in Concord, Ontario, Di Chiara trialed at several clubs before signing a contract with FC Krylia Sovetov Samara, some 850 kilometres southeast of Moscow.
It was a world away from the comforts of home.
“I learned a lot, grew a lot as a person,” Di Chiara said on Wednesday. “Over there you have to learn quick or you won’t adapt.”
The most important lesson that has stuck with him over the years was the value of “tough love.”
“They care, but they won’t hold your hand, won’t babysit you,” Di Chiara recalled. “That has stuck with me, not just through sport, but life.
“I care about people, about players, my teammates, but I’ll show them the tough side. That’s my way of teaching; of showing that I care.”
While that approach took some adjustment, it was language that proved the most difficult, though not insurmountable with effort.
“It took some time,” he admitted. “I worked hard at it, was in classes two, three times a week.
“It was my responsibility as a professional to learn the language so I could communicate with coaches and players.”
That hard work made life easier, and he still has a bit of it in his back pocket when needed: “The other day I was speaking (Russian) to a friend and after five minutes it comes back to you.”
Tough love and the benefit of effort parallel with the task at hand for Di Chiara and his York9 teammates as they prepare for the fast-approaching season. But there is another as well.
‘GROWING UP FAST’
Much as the dawn of the Canadian Premier League is a momentous period for soccer in his homeland, Di Chiara’s arrival in Russia coincided with a heady time.
Russia had been awarded the 2018 FIFA World Cup and Samara was named one of the host cities. A new stadium, Samara Arena, was also built for the occasion.
“There was a lot of buzz,” Di Chiara said. “You could notice the excitement.”
A few years later, during his spell with an historic club in the capital, Torpedo Moscow, the Canadian crossed paths with the man who would score the tournament’s opening goal in a 5-0 win for the hosts over Saudi Arabia: Yury Gazinsky.
“I had the pleasure of playing with him in Moscow,” Di Chiara said. “You can learn so much from a player of that ability: How they carry themselves off the field, on the field, their habits and tendencies.”
Between stops in Samara and Moscow, he spent time in Hungary before returning home. The next few years would see further adventures in Kazakhstan and Lithuania, spells in League1 Ontario with Vaughan Azzurri and Unionville Milliken SC interspersed.
Reflecting on his wide-ranging travels in search of the game, Di Chiara said: “I grew up fast, had to learn everything on my own.
“Sport and life run parallel. Everything I learned, about myself on the field, goes with my everyday life. Playing there helped me become a well-rounded individual.”
Having just turned 27, Di Chiara is no longer a youth in a foreign land; that mature balance is exactly what he intends to bring to his new club.
“On the ball I’m confident, poised,” detailed Di Chiara. “Someone you can rely on to be that calming presence in the midfield; in pressure situations to make a play. [If] my team is under pressure, I’ll settle things down.
“A leader in the midfield, day in, day out; professional on and off the field. I’m hoping to bring that to York9. A steady, consistent performer; hopefully bang in a few goals as well.”
Assistant coach Carmine Isacco, who worked with Di Chiara in Vaughan, called him a ‘quiet leader.’
“I lead by example: show up early, get extra stuff done,” Di Chiara promised. “That will rub off on other players.”
And when necessary, nor will he shy away from spreading a bit of that tough love he learned in Russia.
“Definitely,” Di Chiara cracked. “You’ll see it during games; more so during practices, I’ll get on guys.”
“If a coach is really getting on you, it’s not because he doesn’t like you, it’s that he wants and knows you can do better. It’s a bad sign when they stop, they’ve given up,” continued Di Chiara. “When a teammate is getting on you, trying to help you improve, it’s because they care and want to see you succeed.