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The Man That Keeps the Train Running

By El Paso Locomotive FC, 12/21/18, 11:45AM MST


El Paso Locomotive FC has signed Gabriel Zapponi as the Manager of Sports Performance and Science.

You rev the engine to hear it purr. There is power between your hands and feet that can be unleashed in a flash. The acceleration is incredible, and it maneuvers on a dime. You push it to its limits and test the full capabilities of the finely tuned machine. Just how close can it get to its peak without it breaking? How do you keep it running over time and prevent anything from wearing out? One is comprised of forged metal and gears while the other is a fusion of cells, flesh, and bone. Both are built for speed and power and follow many of the same grand ideas of maintenance and energy. Your sports car has a mechanic, our squad has Gabriel Zapponi.

With the first team training session on the horizon, Zapponi has likely positioned himself as the most loved and hated person on the coaching staff. His role is to push the players to their edge—redline—then bring them back a fraction of a percent better than before every day. His game is one of little victories—measured in fractions of a second, fractions of an inch, the addition of a single pound more on a lift—with the final goal of producing better athletes and taking a proactive rather than reactive approach to injuries. As the Manager of Sports Performance and Science, Zapponi is ready to get the Locomotive well-tuned and barreling down the track day in and day out.

Born and raised in Brazil, Zapponi came to the United States when he was 20 years old and attended a junior college before making his jump to the University of Central Florida where he played as a midfielder for the Knights. Upon receiving his undergraduate degree in Sports and Exercise Science in 2014, he moved to Jacksonville, Fla. to pursue his master’s degree. This opened the pathway to the Jacksonville Armada, where he started his work on the youth soccer side and where he just so happened to meet Mark Lowry.

Zapponi recalled on his last two years of working alongside Lowry and developing fitness in their players, “Working with Mark before and knowing his style has helped me to better coordinate workouts and training sessions based on what the players need. We have this understanding already that allows us to work well together. Without a word, I know what he is thinking and am better able to do what is best for our team.”

This understanding between the coaching staff for the Locomotive and the swagger that stems from it has been duly noted. In short, there doesn’t seem to be any first day of school moments between the two. They are moving along without missing a step or rep (because we all know that Zapponi is counting).

From designing workouts, running analytical measurements on players during and after training sessions or games, and everything that falls in between, Zapponi has his work cut out for him. If you are not a gearhead then perhaps the relationship to soccer and music is more your tune.  If soccer is a symphony, our team is an orchestra, Lowry is the composer/conductor, and Zapponi is the “A” note in which all others tune to. Music and soccer share a dance with one another and there is a rhythm about the sport that runs in its veins; from the coaching perspective there is a give and take, and when it comes to the training aspect, Gabriel puts it best, “It’s all about trying to find that balance. I want the highest level of fitness for the guys and I want to push them, but I also need to make sure they are ready for games and have fresh legs. That’s the challenge in my position, the more fitness and training you do the more technical they become, but the more fatigued they become as well. My job is to find that point where we make the best athletes.”

Zapponi is not unaccustomed to moving someplace new for his career, but how would you even begin to describe El Paso to someone coming from a place as drastically different as Florida and Brazil? What would you tell them about first? How do you define the culture and feeling that El Paso gives you when you see that shining mountain star from the window of an airplane? How do you describe the interchange of language, where people effortlessly switch between English and Spanish without a hiccup?

“You can’t tell what El Paso is through the internet. I tried Googling it to see what to expect and get a feel. Once you get to El Paso, you say ‘whoa this is not what I expected’ in a really positive way.

“My first impression of El Paso is how friendly everyone is. Everyone wants to help you no matter what you need. I’m really happy here, my family is going to be happy here also,” states Zapponi as we begin wrapping up the interview.

But before we finish, I ask him one last question, the question that EVERY single person gets asked in a workplace-centric interview, “What's the best part of your job?”

He responds without hesitation, “Getting to work with soccer every single day, making sure players are getting better every single day. I want to educate and teach these players so that they have the tools to become the best version of themselves as players and as people.  I want to get them to the next level. Every player, no matter who you are or what level you are currently playing in has a next level in them. I am here to get that next level out of them.”

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