Soccer players have long prided themselves on their sport’s minimalist equipment. If many players had their druthers, an entire kit would consist of their jersey, shorts, socks and cleats. Before shin guards became mandatory in 1990, many players eschewed them.
But Claudio Storelli, an Italian-born former college goalkeeper and co-founder of Storelli Sports believes old school machismo is on the way out, and players from the youth ranks up are now looking for equipment that will protect their bodies from impact injuries.
“An interesting parallel is basketball,” says Storelli. “Fifteen years ago, padded basketball gear was highly unusual, and traditionalists would have looked at a rib pads or elbow pads as heresy. But take a look at NBA or NCAA players today — many of them are padded from head to toe. Why? No one is forcing them to. They want to play a physical-style game. We are pioneering the same concept in soccer, and the players are loving it.”
The inspiration for the gear, Storelli says, came from his own aches and pains. Repeatedly diving on rock-hard fields during goalkeeper training as a young player, he says, gave him scars and bruises he can still point out today. After college, when he took a job in the financial industry, he continued to play in men’s leagues. He and his fellow weekend warriors began to wonder if it was worth it to get so banged up.
“So one day I was sitting after a game with a colleague, who had a PhD in biophysics and expertise in materials, and as we watched player after player leaving the field with some sort of injury, we told each other, ‘This sucks. We keep getting hurt.' We started talking about how we can buy $300 highlighter pink shoes but cannot find something that will stop us from bleeding after a slide tackle. The idea of a brand dedicated exclusively on advanced soccer protection was born there. But we had no money, so we created the company in the basement of my apartment in New York City.”
Storelli shows you dozens of emails from amateur players and parents, thanking him for his inventions, which he proudly calls “batman-like.” That may not come as a surprise, since moms and dads certainly want to make sure their children are safe on the field.
What may come as a surprise are a few of the stories coming out of the pro ranks. Back in September, Manchester United star Wayne Rooney donned a Storelli Exo-Shield head guard after sustaining a head injury. Storelli actively sought out Rooney after reading about his injury in the newspaper.
“We Fed-Ex’ed samples,” Storelli says. “The product was designed with a partner that makes helmets for Navy SEALS. It includes the most protective military-grade materials that we could create, and it's designed to be comfortable and look sleek. We knew what other options Wayne had, like the rugby helmet worn by (Chelsea goalkeeper) Petr Cech, and we gave him a much better option. We are now the gear of choice to keep players healthy. The Rooney success led to many more professional referrals. Every week we get an email or call from a team somewhere in the world asking us to help get one of their top players back on the pitch as soon as possible. When South Korea played the US national team a few months ago here in the U.S., one of the Korean players loaded up on gear from our website, and asked us to rush the gear to the training grounds.”
Storelli knows the acceptance of their protective gear on the professional level is more of a final frontier than a mission statement.
“While helping pros is a testament to the quality of what we do and glamorous and makes for some fun conversations with cab drivers when we go to Europe, our mission is to enable every player, youth or amateur or pro, to play their hardest,” Storelli said. “Our goal is to help players be in the zone and lose themselves in the moment. Injuries, pain, fear of injury detract from the experience, and impede performance and concentration.”