Deacon Sportlight: Leo Guarino

Guarino scored the game-winning goal in Wake Forest’s final regular-season game


Evan Harris

Men’s soccer midfielder Leo Guarino strikes a pose in front of Farrell Hall. His presence isn’t only felt on the field—Guarino was named to the 2021-2022 Academic Honor Roll.

Evan Harris, Photography Editor

Sophomore sensation Leo Guarino closed out Wake Forest’s final regular season game, a 3-0 home win against No. 9 Louisville, in acrobatic fashion. Hailing from Long Island, NY, Leo wears No. 11 for the men’s soccer team and plays as an attacking midfielder. I sat down with Guarino a few days after their final regular season game to talk soccer. 

How did you get into soccer and when did you start playing?

My family’s Italian. My grandparents are immigrants from Italy. My nono played soccer when he was a kid in Italy. It was really just in the family, and my dad played all his life growing up and ended up playing semi-professional. Pretty much ever since I was a kid, the only sport for me was soccer. It’s the only sport I’ve ever played. I started as soon as I could walk. Based on what my dad tells me some stories about when I could first walk he would throw me a ball and kick it around. That’s how it’s all started, and I fell in love with the game and now I’m here today

Would you say growing up you had a mentor or someone you looked up to?

My dad was the one that introduced me to the game and got me to fall in love with it. He was definitely my biggest mentor. Someone else who helped me become the player I am today would be one of my trainers.  He came straight from Italy and he’s like my big brother. He was the one that picked me out when I was about six, seven years old and was like, ‘I think this kid is gonna be special.’ He’s been there from the beginning and he’s always there for me still. So those are the two biggest mentors I would say.

Growing up, you’ve played for the NYCFC Academy and the New York Red Bulls. You’ve also played for the Cosmos in New York City. Describe your academy process, how you climbed the ranks and ended up here at Wake Forest. 

I started out at the New York Red Bulls when I was either 11 or 13 years-old. There were a lot of Red Bull camps on Long Island. I was invited to play in a tournament in Dallas one year. After that tournament, based on how I played, they told me, ‘we want you to come play for the Red Bulls next year.’ I played with the team that was a year older for two years. It was a great experience, the coaches were amazing and I still keep in touch with kids there today, but it was a hard commute for my parents. My dad would come from working all night as a police officer and then drag me to practice all the way in New Jersey.  We’d be out pretty much right after school, and I wouldn’t get back to like 10 or 11 at night; it was very tolling on him. We found out New York City was making a team and I was invited for tryouts there.

 After making the team, I practiced with the older team in the same fashion I did with the Red Bulls. The coach showed some interest and offered me a spot. It was this new and upcoming team 30 minutes from my house and a lot of kids trying to make it; how could I say no? I played there for the next, I think three and a half years up until COVID. Going into my u19 year, they got rid of the team, and I went to go play with the New York Cosmos men’s team. One of the coaches worked with NYCFC and had already seen me play. He took notice of me and I ended up signing an amateur contract with the club since I was already committed to Wake Forest and didn’t want to interfere with my eligibility. 

On Friday night, you scored an incredible acrobatic attempt to put away No. 9 Louisville, describe what was going through your mind at that moment and how it felt to see the ball in the back of the net. 

That’s hard to describe, but I’ll try the best I can. I knew the play. We knew what was happening. The guy on the ball hit it back post, and Takuma headed it back in. It was just perfect. I thought, ‘alright, I’m gonna just hit it. I’m gonna go for it.’ I hit the ball. I knew it bounced and then had to look back and see if it went in. I saw the goalie get a hand to it, but he wasn’t strong enough to push it out. Once I saw it hit the back of the net, I was excited. I mean, you can tell from the celebration I don’t even know what I was doing. I just ran to the corner and ended up at the bottom of a dogpile. Watching it again, it’s probably one of the best goals that I’ve scored honestly. I mean scoring a bike is every pro’s dream. It might not have been the cleanest, but it hit the back of the net — I mean, that’s all that matters.

This season has had its ups and downs. Wake has gone from No. 1 in the country to becoming unranked by the end of the season. Describe this transition and how you guys prepare for the postseason.

Yeah, I mean, we started off with a great run. We were I think it was 9-0, ranked No. 1 for a bunch of weeks. Then we hit a little midweek, midseason crisis where we were losing a couple of games in a row. We were dealing with some pressure in those games. The common theme was that we’d give up the first goal and wouldn’t really be able to get back into the game. It’s been kind of difficult for us and something we need to work on. But all 30 of the guys know what we’re capable of, we know that going down is something that we can overcome and especially now in the postseason, like these games if you lose, you’re out. So there’s a bit more that we’re gonna have to put into this because no one wants to lose at the end of the year. We want to come back to Wake Forest with a national championship. That’s the goal year in year out, but we feel that our team this year is really special, as we saw at the beginning of the year, starting off er, much smaller. When you come to the ACC and you get to college in general, you could be an 18 year-old playing against guys who are 22 or 23, so physically the game’s much different. I also feel that the academies kind of all had. specific ways of playing. They try to recreate what their first team was doing. But here in college, I feel like many teams have their own identity that is so different from the next. We like to possess the ball, create scoring opportunities, keep the ball in the attacking half playing off the switch. Other teams have bigger players, much different than what we have. We’re not the biggest team, we’re not the strongest, but I think we definitely are the most well-rounded playing with the ball. Differences in playing styles and physicality are two of the main things I think I’ve taken away from the Academy compared to college in general.

What is your end goal with soccer? Do you plan on pursuing a professional career after Wake Forest?

Ultimately, that’s every kid’s main goal growing up. That was and still is my goal. Obviously after my four years here, I’m definitely going to try and go play professionally, whether it be here overseas. 

Before we go, imagine you can make a five-side team with any current players in the world, who would you pick?

Dybala, Van Dyke, Messi, Donnaruma, and De Bruyne.