ORLANDO, Fla. — It took 37 minutes for the Montreal Impact to take a shot on goal during Saturday’s preseason match at Exploria Stadium. But the lack of action did nothing to lull goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, who was eager to prove himself during his first outing on his new home pitch.
After a sleepy start without a single shot on goal, Montreal broke open a counter attack and Gallese sprang into action. He swatted away the initial shot, then stopped a rebounding shot from point blank range while still on his knees. The sudden pair of saves made an impression.
With several years under his belt as a starter in Liga MX and with the Peruvian national team, Gallese brings experience and leadership to the Lions. But he also brings an intangible quality — an extra level of ability coach Óscar Pareja said will be a game-changer for the team in 2020.
“It shows the pedigree that he has,” Pareja said. “The keepers are to stop the ball that we need the most, and that was the one. They didn’t create chances, but they created that one and Pedro was there.”
Here's a look at that Pedro Gallese double save from Saturday's preseason scrimmage against Montreal: pic.twitter.com/mcGcj9TXkG
— Julia Poe (@jpoe24601) February 10, 2020
At 29-year-old, Gallese has already forged his experience during 12 professional seasons — nine in the Peruvia Liga 1, then three with Veracruz in Liga MX. His move to America speaks to a shift in his focus at both the club and national level.
Gallese watched talented strikers continue to move to MLS, and felt he should do the same to continue to face a high level of challenges in goal. This offseason continued that trend — he played against Mexican star Chicharito for years for their respective national teams and welcomes the opportunity to face him at the club level.
In MLS, Gallese feels he’ll find a challenge that wasn’t available in the leagues where he used to play.
“While I was [in Liga MX,] we couldn’t really reach anything important,” Gallese said. “I came here to play in the finals and fight for something. I want to add something to my career and I want to make history here in this club.”
Moving to Orlando also offered a new opportunity for Gallese’s family. His wife, Claudia, and their two children — a 1-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son — will move to Orlando to join him this week. He’s missed his family during their weeks apart, excitedly sending them pictures of their soon-to-be new home in America.
When each of the Orlando City newcomers were forced to serenade the team during a recent dinner at camp in Cancún, Gallese selected “Me Gusta,” the salsa song he and his wife danced to at their wedding.
Gallese isn’t sure if his rendition did the song justice, but he said his teammates loudly applauded regardless. The same jovial energy filled the training camp, which Gallese described as exhausting but rewarding as the team learned about one another both on and off the field.
That promise of a welcoming environment — from teammates, coaching staff and fans alike — was one of the aspects that attracted Gallese to Orlando City when he spoke to Peruvian teammates such as Carlos Ascues, who knew the team well.
Although Pareja has focused on fitness in the opening weeks of preseason, allowing little time for tactical sessions, Gallese said he is already forming a bond with defenders Antônio Carlos, Robin Jansson and Rodrigo Schlegel.
“This is a group that welcomes you to the club,” Gallese said. “We have very good communication, and we were able to get much closer when we were in Mexico.”
Between the posts, Gallese describes himself as quick below the net, calm, communicating constantly with his defenders.
That style is defined by an overall toughness, an underlying grit that keeps him on edge whenever he’s between the posts. Gallese put this on display in 2017, when Peru sought its first World Cup qualification in more than three decades.
Only months after cementing his role as the team’s starting goalkeeper, Gallese broke a finger in his right hand during a match with Veracruz in August 2017. His team doctor outlined a four-month recovery process. Gallese rejected that, undergoing immediate surgery and returning to the field less than two months later to suit up against Lionel Messi and Argentina for World Cup qualifiers.
Six weeks after surgery, Gallese made six saves and fended off 22 total shots to shutout Argentina in a 0-0 draw. He went on to hold off Colombia for a 0-0 draw, then New Zealand in a 2-0 win a month later, qualifying the team for the World Cup for the first time in 36 years despite the injury.
Although Peru failed to advance beyond the group stage of the World Cup, Gallese only allowed two goals during the team’s three-game run. One of those goals was netted by Kylian Mbappé of France, which went on to win the tournament.
For Gallese, it was never a question — he had to play in those matches, broken hand or not. He feels a sense of both pride and duty in representing his country.
“You feel very emotional to represent your country,” Gallese said. “You are the face of your country, you represent everyone. That’s what I want to bring to this club as well. I want to represent this city.”
In the month since his signing was officially announced, Gallese received messages from Orlando City fans across all forms of social media. This warm welcome grounded Gallese in that same sense of duty, something that was only reaffirmed during the team’s first preseason match on Saturday.
His teammates had told him fans would show up for any match. Seeing the support was different, however, and Gallese felt emotional in the second half when he lined up in goal for the first time with the Wall at his back.
“I want to bring happiness to the fans,” Gallese said. “I promise to give my all. I want to fight all the way to the finals.”