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Injury sidelines young man’s soccer career but not his devotion to the sport


Francis Barilo played semiprofessional and professional soccer before he launched a pair of soccer-related programs.

For Francis Barilo, soccer was first “the thing that my dad and I do together.” And second it was a devoted hobby involving trips from their Wilmington home for training and games in places like Bensalem and Conshohocken, Pa. – plus Italy. And third it became their “shared dream.”

Then the dream became reality. The 2019 Salesianum School graduate played semiprofessionally and professionally in the United States (Allentown United in the United Premier Soccer League), Germany (FC Ottensoos in the Bezirksliga Mittelfranken Nord) and Spain (Real Club Celta de Vigo in La Liga and Escuela de Fútbol Huesca). 

Playing in Europe led him to acquire his Italian citizenship so he would be legally more attractive to European soccer teams. “And with my Italian roots, Italy was always the goal I wanted to get to.” His father Charlie’s heritage is from Campbosso, and his mother Edea’s parents, Ada and Francesco DiFonzo, were from Caserta. Yes, DiFonzo’s Bakery in Wilmington is part of the extended family. 

Then reality dealt him a twist with a 2021 ankle injury that rehab couldn’t quite restore. “I tried to keep playing, but the injury wouldn’t let me,” he said. “Whenever I do something, I pay for it, even if I just train a few kids at the park.” So he switched from playing soccer – a central midfielder and also an outside back and a winger on both sides of the pitch – to founding two soccer-related enterprises.

FMFooty coaches players, ages 4 to 23, challenging them to get “1% better every day,” it says on https://fmfooty.com, with that motto also appearing on all their shirts. Francis himself was challenged to become many percents better when as a 4-foot-11 high school freshman he was told he was too small. “That burned a fire in me,” he said, now 5-foot-8 and a trim 150 pounds.

“Part of being Italian means the Sunday dinners tradition. Another part is to be tenacious, to fight for what I want and to work hard…“

Lehigh Valley Futsal runs indoor leagues that year-round help players with “technical ability, decision making and movement off the ball,” it says on www.lehighvalleyfutsal.com. Futsal is a soccer-like sport played on a hard court a bit bigger than a basketball court, with teams of five. League games usually run 40 minutes, with a two-minute halftime. Tournament games run 18 to 22 minutes.

Both are in Allentown, Pa., where he took classes at DeSales University and met girlfriend Meghan Foley. She’s one of FMFooty’s coaches and handles marketing for both businesses.

Barilo has packed a lot into his 23 years, including college classes at DeSales and ICN Business School, then a bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in business administration from the EU Business School. After slightly more than a year of living in Germany and Spain and a lifetime of living Italian, he’s not quite fluent in Spanish; his German is rusty; and he’s working on his Italian.

He’s visited Italy three times, first for a youth tournament called the San Marino Cup when he was in high school; later visiting family members in Caserta and Rome after he was in Germany for some soccer trials; and then to Northern Italy in 2023 as a tourist.

“Part of being Italian means the Sunday dinners tradition,” he said. “Another part is to be tenacious, to fight for what I want and to work hard, like my grandparents did. They came over and created a new life for themselves and our family. Being Italian means also enjoying life, stories and a lot of laughs.”

His dual citizenship allows him to stay connected to his Italian traditions and Italian relatives (“we text and talk all the time”). “And I would like to grow FMFooty overseas as well.”

“For my whole life, my dream has been to play soccer, and luckily I was able to do that for a few months before I got hurt,” he said. “It became the shared dream and goal for my dad and me, and now he helps me a lot with FMFooty, so it’s been like a full circle. With my dad’s help, I’ve been able to basically create opportunities for the next generation of kids.”

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