Sept. 13, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
Carmelina Moscato hasn't been in her Kellner Hall office for long but it's already starting to shape up and reflect her personality. That's long been a selling point for Wisconsin women's soccer coach Paul Wilkins, who has recruited Moscato twice -- once as a player to Penn State, and now as an assistant with the Badgers.
"She brings a different element, a different excitement and a different set of eyes, which is fantastic for us,'' Wilkins said of Moscato's addition to her staff. "She's confident with what she knows and that plays a big part in coaching.
"She loves the game. She loves the sport. And she has this great personality.''
There's something else that sets Moscato apart.
A bronze medal from the 2012 London Olympics.
Eyeing the prize, she said, "It's the peak, the pinnacle; it's pretty beautiful.''
Moscato played for Team Canada, which edged France in the bronze medal match that was staged off-Broadway (or off-Fleet Street) in Coventry. It was still significant because it was Canada's first medal in a traditional team sport at the Summer Olympics since men's basketball won silver in the 1936 Games in Berlin.
But not even that historical perspective may have totally lessened the lingering pain from Canada's controversial loss to the United States in the semifinals. Abby Wambach's late penalty kick sent the match to extra time and Alex Morgan got the game-winner for the Americans in the 123rd minute.
The controversy stemmed principally from a free kick that was awarded to the U.S. after Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod was called for delay of game -- for holding the ball for more than six seconds. On the ensuing kick, a Canadian player was charged with a handball in the penalty area, and Wambach converted.
The 4-3 loss was tough to swallow, Moscato admitted.
"Basically, it was the most pivotal moment of our careers in the sense that we had a day of mourning,'' she said. "We kind of understood that we had this goal of going for it all (the gold) and now it's not going to happen, so what do you do? We took a day off to do whatever we needed to do individually.
"On the second day, we came together and gained perspective on how much we still had to play for. Were we going to let the U.S. take our spirit away? Absolutely not. The truth of the matter was that our goal was to podium (medal in London) and we still had an opportunity to do that.
"We were playing for all the people back home who were supporting us, so we went from narrow vision and `Oh, my gosh, we are victims' to `We actually let in four goals so it's not completely the truth.' I talked with friends and teammates and I dealt with it in a way where I got all the anger out and moved forward.''
Holding up her bronze medal, Moscato said, "This is a material way to exemplify or show what we went through as a team, not just me. It's a beautiful way to kind of say, `Wow, this is a standard of accomplishment in the world.' At the same time, it's our journey and only we will know how hard we worked.''
Along the way, Moscato's makeup allowed her to overcome rejection and speed bumps on the path and she credited her "discipline in terms of lifestyle and diet'' along with her "pure passion, pure intrigue for the game'' in combination with her "curiosity about the game that I always wanted to get better.''
All of that made her elite. That now begs the question: How can an elite soccer player like Moscato impact the UW program as a coach?
"One of the biggest things is she has a great rapport with the players in terms of being able to show them where they need to be at the highest level possible,'' Wilkins said.
Noting Moscato's playing experience on the international and pro level, she added, "She has been exposed to some of the best soccer minds in the world and played with some of the best players in the world. She has a great standard. She knows how to maximize players and get the most out of them.''
That emerged while playing for Wilkins on four Big Ten regular-season championship teams at Penn State. Throughout the recruiting process and beyond -- their run in State College -- Wilkins talked to Moscato about how "she was going to make an amazing coach when her playing career was over.''
Still fresh in her mind is how she was recruited. Wilkins and Tim Rosenfeld -- a former Penn State assistant who's entering his fourth year as UW associate coach --traveled to Mississauga, Canada, and delivering their pitch. Recalled Moscato, "It was easy to see that they were very genuine and passionate people.''
Regarding Wilkins' influence on her development as a collegian, she said, "Paula is great at instilling a competitive nature. For all of us who play this game, sometimes you lose that competitive aspect but she creates such an environment that you ask the best of yourself. Every day we are held accountable.''
Wilkins had another strength.
"She had a vision for me that was greater than mine,'' Moscato said. "I came in thinking that I was a center mid, but I played everything but center mid. She saw something different in me. I was able to take on a leadership role with her and that expanded me as a person as well.''
Moscato has seemingly always been on a fast track. She was 16 when she joined the Canadian U-20 National Team. She also knew at a relatively early age that she wanted to coach. "It was always something in my heart,'' she said. "It was always in me to want to give back -- to affect someone else and help.''
Her first taste of coaching came as an assistant at Louisville. "I went through two years of learning,'' she said. "It's great to have that foundation.''
In this context, it's great to have a contact like Wilkins, too. "Paula and I are long-time friends and when the opportunity presented itself here, I didn't see a better way to start down a new path,'' said Moscato, 28. "I had basically made the decision at the end of the spring that I may want to move on after the Olympics.''
Moscato had retired from soccer once before, when she was 23, only to get the urge to compete again with the goal of reaching the Olympics. She conceded that she pretty much lives her life in the moment. "And by no means am I turning in the towel,'' she said, suggesting the door was still open. "Cracked a little bit.''
Although she may start another Olympic cycle, she can't predict if she will see it through. "I'm not 23 so I wouldn't be able to come back as easily,'' she said.
Her priority, for now, is to transition from player to coach. "My role, almost in my own life, has changed a little bit,'' she said. "My focus is less about me. Already in this first week (on the job) I feel an allegiance to the team -- making them the best players that they can be and trying to be a facilitator in that way.''
What has Moscato seen thus far out of this group of UW players?
"We have the ability and the potential to go a long way this season,'' she said. "There's a lot of talent, a lot of drive and a lot of passion on the team. They're very coachable. They seem very receptive and open to us as a staff. Slowly but surely we're going to be a very good team and tough to contend with.''
The Badgers will get an early read on where they stand when they open the Big Ten season Sunday at No. 7 Penn State. Moscato will remind the players not to play on pure emotion.
"There's a rivalry there and they're going to want to go out and win it for us,'' said Moscato, speaking for Wilkins and Rosenfeld, the ex-Penn Staters. "But they have to keep in mind it's for them.'' And about them.
At that, Wilkins has been removed long enough from the Nittany Lions -- this is her fifth year at Wisconsin -- that she can say without hesitation, "I spent 13 years at Penn State; it's a huge part of my coaching career. But I'm invested with the players here and if there's any emotion, it's for them.''
Oh, by the way, there is. "The emotion part is a good part,'' she said.
So is the commitment that she has made to her players.
"We want to play teams that challenge and show us how to get better,'' Wilkins said, "because we're preparing for the future all the time. We talk about performance, not the results. I want the performance and effort to be where it needs to be in that game (Sunday). The outcome will happen.''
Nobody understands that better than Moscato, the pupil turned teacher.