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Luppi's His Name and Soccer's His Game : Italian Brings Skills to UCLA

October 08, 1987|RAY RIPTON | Times Staff Writer

Though Fabrizio Luppi is Italian, he did not arrive at Venice High School from Venice, Italy. That would be asking too much even of coincidence.

A top soccer player at Venice High and now a freshman starter for UCLA, Luppi was born in Modena in northern Italy, about 200 kilometers southeast of Venice.

He turned up at Venice High a couple of years ago because his father Angelo, an officer in the Italian diplomatic corps, was transferred to Los Angeles from Liege, Belgium.

Fabrizio's father played soccer for many years in Italy, has a nephew who played in Italy's top soccer division and he named his only son after Fabrizio Poletti, who played for Italy in World Cup competition.

Poletti's namesake has played soccer since he was 6 and wherever his father's duties took the family--in Italy, Argentina, Belgium and the United States.

So you might say that soccer is the 19-year-old Luppi's destiny. Venice High was merely a destination.

Luppi is playing only his third season of American soccer. Most of his playing experience has been in Europe and South America, where, he said, the game is played with more finesse and not as much aggressiveness as Americans display.

In the United States, he said, "you have to go up and fight for the ball, which is a challenge. It's pretty rough physically here, and there are not so many skills.

"Here a guy will be dribbling all over the field, and there is not as much passing the ball. But it's been a good experience finding different types of soccer in different nations."

It's also been a good experience for him at UCLA, he said. "It's a great team with a wonderful coaching staff. The players and coaches (Coach Sigi Schmid and his assistant, Dean Wurzberger) make me feel at home. The coaches have improved my skills and have got me in great shape. I think I've never been so fit."

At 5-10 and 163 pounds, Luppi said he would like to lift weights so he can withstand the pounding he takes from opponents. "I'm going build my upper body strength. But I don't want to become a body builder."

At UCLA, Luppi has been a starter in his first season, something that Schmid says is not unusual. "We had a couple of freshmen start for us last year, and every year we've had at least one freshman start," he said. He added that Luppi has helped fill the gap that was left because sophomores Lucas Martin, a forward, and Ray Fernandez, a midfielder, are playing with the U.S. junior national team.

Luppi, an All-City forward as a Venice High senior for Coach Greg Durio as well as the Western League's most valuable player, started playing midfielder in his first few games with the Bruins. "But now he's playing in back on defense at fullback," Schmid said.

Although he played well at midfielder, the coach said, he prefers having Luppi as a defender. "He is a very good one-on-one defender. He has above-average speed and is above average at heading the ball and getting it up in the air. He also is a very good shot from a distance.

"I think he's ahead of some of the American players coming in, not because he's European and advanced but because you can tell he has played with older players." Schmid said that Luppi has played with more experienced players in Italy and Belgium and also performed last summer with a team called Autobahn with former UCLA players.

Schmid said that one of the drawbacks to youth soccer in this country is that better players are limited to age groups and that age groups, sometimes as narrow as one year, "don't allow a player to move up who may be ready for that challenge."

Though Luppi may be ready for the challenge at UCLA, both he and Schmid feel there is room for improvement in his game.

"I have to improve my moving more when I am off the ball," Luppi said. "I have to learn more about getting into better position for a pass."

Said Schmid: "His one area, not of weakness but of confusion, is that he sometimes isn't sure of his position in relationship to others on the team. When we're on the attack and he's at left fullback, he has to know where he should be when he's not on the ball."

Luppi may not have known exactly where he was during an embarrassing moment of last Sunday's match. Although 19th-ranked UCLA upset No. 4 Fresno State, 2-1, Luppi could have wound up the goat if teammate Nick Skvarna hadn't scored twice to pull out the win. Fresno's Sean O'Gara was credited with the Bulldogs' only goal, but Luppi inadvertently gave O'Gara an assist. On a free kick, Luppi accidentally headed the ball into the UCLA net.

But one goof is not a season, and Schmid looks forward to the next four seasons with Luppi as one of the Bruins. "I think he's going to develop into a very strong player for us down the line. Definitely by the third year, we'll be looking for his leadership in back. I like him back there. It gives me a feeling of comfort knowing that he's going to stop somebody."

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