Signed with fanfare by Columbus 18 months earlier, Romain Gall was released by the Crew in February 2016 after making just four first-team appearances in 1+ seasons. Just 21 years old, the midfielder had seen his hopes with Major League Soccer and the U.S. under-20 national team crater.
A little more than a month later, he signed with Nykopings, a third-tier team in a city of about 30,000 on Sweden’s Baltic coast, south of Stockholm. With no place to stay at first, he moved into a room in the house of the club’s chairman.
“My path was different because I went down three levels to then come back up,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t think a lot of people are willing to do that or even have the idea of doing that. And of course it wasn’t central Europe, so I can understand that it’s a path that not many players were willing to take.”
Now with Malmo, a top club in Sweden’s first tier, Gall is training with the U.S. national team in London and could make his debut in Thursday’s exhibition against England at Wembley Stadium.
“He had been off the radar a little bit and sort of re-emerged this year,” U.S. interim coach Dave Sarachan said. “He has put himself in the conversation with the minutes he’s getting and his consistent production this season. He is an intriguing player in the attacking third.”
Gall’s father, Thierry, works for Orange Communications, the former France Telecom. With wife Saida and three kids, the family kept moving back and forth between the U.S. and France until settling in Herndon, Virginia, when Romain was 7.
Romain, who was born in Paris, played with Herndon Youth Soccer and trained occasionally at D.C. United’s academy when he was 13 and 14. He moved to Real Salt Lake Arizona, an academy in Casa Grande, Arizona, when he was 15 and spent a little over a year there. Wanting to train at a higher level, he went back to France and joined Lorient’s academy in 2011 at age 16.
“My father came with me in the beginning to help me get settled, but then it was just me on my own,” he said.
Having failed to break into Lorient’s first team, he signed with the Crew in August 2014 and coach Gregg Berhalter called him “a strong addition.” He made his debut on Aug. 23 as a second-half substitute against Houston and had two more appearances, both as second-half subs.
The following January, Gall scored five goals for the U.S. at the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, including a hat trick against Aruba and two versus Jamaica, tying Mexico’s Hirving Lozano for the tournament lead. He played alongside several of the players who have become part of the rebuilding U.S. national team in the past year, including Zack Steffen, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Miazga and Paul Arriola.
But Gall was dropped that May from the roster for the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand. He hadn’t gotten into a match with the Crew all season and had been slowed by a knee injury.
“It hurt at the time,” he said, unable to recall exactly what U-20 coach Tab Ramos told him.
He made just one appearance with the Crew in 2015, in a U.S. Open Cup match that June, and played 12 games on loan with the Austin Aztex of the third-tier United Soccer League. And then he was cut by the Crew and made the move to Sweden.
“I wanted to go back to Europe,” he said. “At the time, that was the only option that was presented to me. It was a tough decision. I knew that if I had to go there, I had to focus completely and move up as quickly as possible, because it was the third division in Sweden.”
He scored nine goals in 24 league games with Nykopings, then moved to first-tier Sundsvall and had nine more in 37 league matches over 1+ seasons. He transferred to defending champion Malmo, scored six goals in 13 league games and got to play in Champions League qualifying and the Europa League group stage.
“It’s nice to see him blossom in Sweden,” Miazga said. “Romain’s a very technical and skillful player. He has a lot of creativity.”
Berhalter, his old Crew coach, is the favorite to take over the U.S. national team. He has a chance to earn playing time in next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup and in World Cup qualifying.
“It’s been a grind, really tough,” Gall said. “But now it’s paying off.”