Pedro Gallese Brings Barrier-Breaking Mentality to Orlando City

In five MLS seasons, Orlando City has yet to reach the playoffs, but in its new starting goalkeeper, it has an intense and determined leader.
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When it comes to defining the role of a goalkeeper, current and former players have often talked about its demanding requirements. 

Oliver Kahn once said you need a certain element of insanity. Gianluigi Buffon affirmed you need to be a masochist and an egocentric. Brad Friedel described the goal as a place from where there’s no escape, as it’s just you and the opponent charging forward. There is no hiding place. It can be a solitary responsibility, with the burden of a loss falling on a goalkeeper's shoulders. In the words of David de Gea, the goalkeeper “remains in the spotlight forever.”

But there are also goalkeepers who see this spotlight as an opportunity to flip the script and use it to their advantage. Iker Casillas, for example, saw it as the ultimate symbol of rebellion. 

“Most kids dream of scoring the perfect goal. I've always dreamed of stopping it,” he once said.

And this is perhaps the best way to describe Pedro Gallese, the confident, undisputed starter for the Peruvian national team and now Orlando City’s starter. Through the years, he has produced some of the most jaw-dropping saves for his clubs and country, and he's served as the backstop for Peru's recent breakthrough. His new club is hoping for a similar impact. 

The 29-year-old joins Oscar Pareja’s squad with a strong reputation and a clear goal: help turn this team into a contender and do something it has never done before by reaching the playoffs. Beyond bringing Pareja back to MLS from Club Tijuana, Orlando made a few new additions to its roster, turning to South America for its incoming signings. Gallese joins other newcomers such as Brazilian midfielder Junior Urso (arriving from Corinthians) and Argentine center back Rodrigo Schlegel (Racing Club). They'll accompany an established core that features attacking stars in Nani and Dom Dwyer. The question, as it has been in Orlando for some time, is how to turn all of its pieces into a successful squad.

“This is a beautiful city. My teammates have welcomed me with open arms, and now I’m here to show what I have, to make sure the league sees what I have and make sure Orlando succeeds,” Gallese told SI.com. 

He looks forward to joining MLS, especially now that the league features an abundance of Peruvian talent. Now that his wife, Claudia, and two children are also here in the U.S., he has settled in. It’s a good thing, too, because his family’s happiness was naturally a major factor in his decision, as Gallese wanted a more tranquil life outside of the game.

“Something that’s very important for me and my family is to live peacefully, too, so I can also get on with my job," Gallese said. "When you’re in Peru, it’s hard to go outside in the street, go shopping or whatever, because someone would want a photo, so as appreciative as I am, I’d rather have a little more peace.”

Gallese’s arrival also improves the goalkeeping pool across the league, and it could even be argued that he enters as the best–or at least the most accomplished–goalkeeper in MLS given his résumé. He’s the only goalkeeper currently in MLS who played at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and last year he helped Peru reach the final at Copa América in Brazil.

Now, he welcomes another challenge in a new country.

“In Mexico it was about trying to save my team (Veracruz) from relegation," Gallese said. "With Alianza Lima, it was about reaching the final. So now, with Orlando, the aim is to reach the finals with the team. This move represents a big objective for me and for my career. I have made it my goal to reach the finals with Orlando and make history with this club.”

Gallese has a determined and somewhat intense personality. On the field, he’s always talking, constantly moving and always watching where the ball is going. Whether it's training or an official game, there’s a consistent passion to his methodology. When his team scores, for example, he celebrates as if he scored the goal himself. These are all attributes that will help Orlando. Gallese won’t score your goals, but he’ll be an influential voice in the dressing room.

His true talents, however, are in his shot-stopping, and some defy logic.

Aside from his athletic abilities, his strategy is simple: stop the goal with everything and anything. It’s another reason why he is nicknamed “El Pulpo” (the Octopus), because at times, it seems as if the goal is being protected by a man with eight limbs, and no matter what an attacker does, the ball just won’t go in. 

Gallese attempts to save every shot, whether it’s a tap-in or a 25-yard volley, with the same intensity. Sometimes this lack of regard for his well-being has cost him. In August 2017, for example, while playing for Veracruz against Pachuca, the stopper fractured his finger in his right hand after tracking backward to try and stop a shot from Edison Puch. The injury meant he needed surgery, and doctors predicted a return to action wouldn’t come until December. 

This was disastrous news for the player and his club, but it was also bad timing for the national team, as Peru, with a spot in Russia not yet confirmed, was about to enter the final matches of World Cup qualifying. Gallese, ever the resilient, stubborn man, rejected the timeframe, and a day after he suffered the injury, he had surgery and worked toward a quick return. He missed the matches against Bolivia and Ecuador in September but returned in October, where his first test was against Lionel Messi’s Argentina–at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires. 

The match ended 0-0, and Gallese stood firm and delivered a commanding performance in one of the most hostile venues in South America, helping the team to a precious point. It eventually helped Peru reach the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.

“I’m the type of person who sets a clear objective in whatever I do and which team I play for," Gallese said. "I’ve always been like this. I’ve always been fully focused, determined.”

After Gallese played well at the World Cup (the team didn’t advance from the group stage, but he only conceded two goals in three matches), his mental strength was tested once again last summer at Copa America.

In the final game of the group stage, Brazil demolished Peru, 5-0, and placed La Blanquirroja in a delicate position. It was an embarrassing performance, as Gallese was beaten from almost every angle. Brazil’s second goal came off a horrendous Gallese mistake. As he was ready to clear the ball from his own box, he failed to take into account Roberto Firmino’s proximity and hit the strike in the process. After the ball rebounded off Firmino, it hit the post but the Liverpool star collected the rebound, rounded Gallese and tapped it in.

It was a calamity of errors.

For some goalkeepers, this might have been a soul-crushing moment, but Gallese faced the music, picked himself up and gave one of his best performances for Peru in the following match: the quarterfinals vs. Uruguay. Gallese was outstanding in a tense 0-0 draw, but it was in the penalty shootout where he also delivered, saving Luis Suarez’s opening penalty. Peru scored all of of its penalties and then went on to shut out Chile in the semifinals. It was the greatest memory of his career aside from making it to the World Cup.

“Saving [Luis Suarez]'s penalty at Copa America was amazing to me," Gallese said. "Especially because it happened right after the Brazil game. That to me, was a moment that lifted me and picked me up. And then after that save and that win against Uruguay, I gained more confidence."

Gallese saved Edu Vargas's stoppage-time Panenka to seal a 3-0 semifinal win over Chile before Peru wound up losing to Brazil again in the final, this time a more respectable 3-1 defeat that remained in the balance throughout. 

As a South American goalkeeper, Gallese’s résumé stands up against some of the best on the continent, but he’s never played in Europe. For some, this is somewhat inexplicable, given his pedigree on the international stage. But he believes–like many other countrymen–that for years, there’s been a general disregard for Peruvian talent, not just him.

“In the past, for Peruvian players, it’s been tough–not able to qualify for the World Cup, not doing so well during qualifiers–but now step by step, we’re changing that narrative,” he says. “We were Copa America finalists, we qualified for a World Cup. We want everyone to see us in a better light.”

Gallese admits as hard as it is for an outfield player to make it at the biggest clubs, things can be even harder for someone at his position.

“For me, a Peruvian goalkeeper–it’s even harder to play abroad and play in the biggest leagues, but I think little by little, we’ll get there," he said. "But I have to perform well here. Not even just for me, but for the next generation, so we can open doors to more Peruvian keepers. It’s a long process, but I think for the next generation, they’ll be able to take advantage.”

That starts at his new club, one looking for a leader to help open the previously locked doors to MLS's postseason.