Interview: Tanner Tessmann

July 29, 2021

Earlier this month, United States international midfielder Tanner Tessmann, 19, became the first American player in Venezia’s history on his arrival from FC Dallas.

A few days into joining up with the squad at preseason camp in the Dolomites town of San Vito di Cadore, Tessmann opened up about his decision to come to Venice, his unique career between American football and the international game, and how he’s settling into a new life in Italy.

Why Venezia and why now?

A lot of Americans want to get to Europe and play in the top five leagues in the world, so when the opportunity came, I had to take it. This is the moment Venezia got promoted to Serie A and it’s a moment in my career when I’m ready to take the next step and try to reach my full potential. Venice is a beautiful city, the people are amazing, the food is amazing. When it all worked out, it was perfect for both parties.

What do you know about the city? Had you visited before signing?

I had never been to Italy. I knew Venice was the “City on Water,” so I was really excited to see how it functions, because it’s obviously very different from every city in the world. It was interesting for a couple days to see how people go about their business.

Now that you’re in Venice, what excites you most about the opportunity to play for Venezia?

Playing in Serie A and playing in front of these fans. I’ve had people reach out to me and send me pictures of Venezia jerseys. It’s very big in the U.S. as far as the brand and the team. A lot more people knew about the team than I was expecting. But again, the biggest thing is to challenge myself in Serie A and see if I can compete and how well I can do—that’s what I’m most excited about.

How are you getting on with your teammates so far?

Everybody’s been very welcoming—they’re amazing guys, honestly. The staff as well. Everyone’s very friendly and ready to get going in Serie A. We all have the same goal, the same mindset. Venezia brought in a bunch of international players, so we’ve all stuck together and gotten to know each other. These past couple of days I’ve gotten to know the guys more off the field, so it’s been great. I have a lot of respect for everyone on the team.

How do you make a good first impression on and off the pitch, in your opinion?

I think it’s different player to player, but the biggest thing for me is trying to earn respect from each of the other players. Just showing them that I’m going to work hard and that I’m a good player who’s here for the team—I’m not a selfish player. I think that goes a very long way on and off the field. Off the field though, it’s about being natural, just being yourself. Some guys will like you and some may not like you a lot, but we’re going to be teammates and we’re going to win together and fight for each other.

What has manager Paolo Zanetti told you so far? What’s the plan for you this season?

He’s helped me a lot in terms of how he wants me to play and how he sees me on the field—tactics on offense and defense. We’re getting on the same page and it will take a few more days I think, but we’re getting there. It’s still early in the preseason.

You had an offer letter and a commitment to play kicker for Clemson University, a massive American football college powerhouse—or sign for MLS and FC Dallas, the club that helped develop you in soccer. Why choose professional soccer over big-time college football and a potential NFL career?

The reason I moved to Dallas when I was 14 was to try and become a professional soccer player. But when the offer from Clemson came, I didn’t have anything else on the table then. There were a bunch of other big schools that I was deciding between, but Clemson was the one because they have a great soccer program and football program, so I could live the best of both worlds and have two opportunities to play a professional sport.

That's definitely the reason, as well as my family being close to Clemson—I moved away when I was 14 and didn’t see them for four years, so it would’ve been nice to go back to them, be close to them, and do what I love. Clemson was a no-brainer in terms of that commitment.

But before I was going to go, FC Dallas offered me a contract. In that moment, it was amazing. It was what I was working toward for four years, and it was a dream come true, so it was impossible to not sign the contract and pursue my professional career.

In 2019, you were playing in the third division of U.S. soccer and now you’re competing with a Serie A squad. How were you able to make that leap?

It really isn’t a leap. It’s everyday, two-a-days, working hard, taking care of your body, surrounding yourself with the right people—it’s a lot more work than “the leap.” But it seems like that because there’s been years of preparation and hard work, dedication, and a lot of help from other people.

Everyday I was preparing with the mindset of “I want to be in Europe, I want to be playing in a top five league,” but there are everyday goals as well—like waking up and doing your best that day, not worrying about the future, and taking it day-by-day. You can get lost in all the BS, but it was everyday focus on how I can make the team better and how I can get better, and then things happen. It looks like a leap, but it’s definitely not.

At what point in your career did it become a dream to play in a “top five league” in Europe?

I don’t think I really understood what my dreams and goals were until I went to FC Dallas. When I was 12 or 13, I didn’t know what MLS was. I didn’t know Dallas had a team. I didn’t know anything. I was playing soccer and wanted to reach the highest level, obviously, as every kid does, but I didn’t understand what it meant to do that. When I went to FC Dallas and I was surrounded by people chasing the same thing as me, it only made me see things clearer. By 14 or 15, I started to believe it would happen.

You were known as “Tanner The Tank” while at FC Dallas. Anything in that nickname? What are your strengths as a player and what do you want to improve upon the most?

It just kind of stuck coming from the Dallas social media team. I’m a big midfielder, but I can move the ball and I bring a different mentality—just helping bring a team together to achieve things and having a winning mentality.

Where I’d really like to improve in Serie A is defensively, which I’ve been trying to improve since I signed pro, because when you’re in the academy you don’t have to defend because you’re bigger, faster, and stronger, so you’re only focusing on the attack. I want to work on defensive tactics and positioning, as well as trying to get forward and score some goals.

What’s one aspect you’d say you’re eyeing to improve at Venezia?

My long-range passing—just the accuracy with the height of the ball and the flight of the ball. Also the timing and when it gets there—that’s going to separate me from a lot of other players.

You stepped up in big moments during your short but sweet FC Dallas career—like when you converted your penalty in the MLS playoffs shootout at the Portland Timbers—what do you tell yourself when you're under pressure?

It was definitely one of the best nights of my life and such an amazing game. In those moments, you really have to be calm. It’s a moment you’re going to face as a professional athlete, so you prepare for that every week—to be in those big moments.

When I was walking up to take the PK, I told myself I wasn’t missing. It wasn’t in my head to miss. I knew in my head before the game it could go to PKs and we trained for PKs, so the team had my back. I had everyone else’s back. We knew that if you miss a PK, it’s no worries. We’ll move on and focus on the next PK or the next save. In my head I knew that the team had my back and whatever happened, I still had a bunch of guys behind me that were proud of me and loved me. I didn’t want to let them down, so in my head I wasn’t missing.

Is that how you deal with high pressure situations—just knowing you have a support system?

It starts with my parents. They’re huge supporters of me and my sister as well. They love us to death and will be there for us no matter what. And from there, it goes to my girlfriend who loves and supports me as well and always has me back. I also have a very tight-knit group of friends and family who are always in my corner. That’s my support system.

What do you value most in life?

I’d say family, Christianity, and God. My close friends and my girlfriend too. Those are my values and everything I need. Obviously soccer and sports and socialization is important but those are my core values. My family and friends all work hard, and they deserve to see what they’ve produced and who they’ve been around. I want to show them how far they can push things and what they’re capable of.