Interview by: Kendra Lee
You were born in Portugal. What was it like in the town where you grew up?
So I was born in Nazare which is like a little fisherman town with about 5, 000 people. So everybody knows everybody kind of thing. But my mom used to live in the States for a while and also in Canada, so that door was always open in their early marriage. So when they had me after a year they decided to go to Leamington, which is by Windsor, Ontario. My mom lived there for a while and my grandparents had lived in the States and in Canada for a while. In Leamington there is a pretty big Portuguese population and I guess they just decided to go there and live there. I lived there for about eleven years and then at the age of 12 my dad got me to go train with the team [in Portugal]. They liked me and I stayed there in Portugal and then basically started taking my soccer life a bit more serious, I guess.
When did you start playing soccer?
At first, I’m guessing I was 4 or something like that. I was pretty young. Soccer runs in the family. My dad used to play soccer. He loves the sport. My grandparents, they used to wake up every weekend just to go see the local team back in Nazare. They used to follow my dad, wherever it was. It’s kind of like a religion back home. And basically my first toy was a soccer ball so whenever I went out, my dad was like “ok here’s a soccer ball” and that’s what happened.
You went back to Portugal and played youth soccer in Nazarenos. How did that opportunity come about?
It’s the team from our town back home so back then my dad had a couple of connections inside the club. I went on vacation, he started talking to them and they were just like “Okay, just send him. We’ll scout him and we’ll see what happens and then we’ll take it from there.” And that’s what happened.
So did you move back there without your parents?
Yeah. I was there for maybe three and a half years or something like that and then they would obviously come visit and they decided to join. My dad went first, found a job and then mom came and the whole family. My parents and my brother live there [now].
And your brother, Stephen, also plays professionally, right?
My brother is U19 right now, he was born in 96, and yeah, he plays soccer there. He got a couple of scholarship offers to play in the States but it was one of those things, “Should I go for a scholarship or should I wait another year and try my luck in Portugal?” And that’s what he did. Right now it’s going really well for him. He’s on the senior team. He’s the youngest there and he’s actually starting and getting minutes. I’d have to say he’s…he’s better than me…he’s a little bit better than me!
What was that like growing up for you guys? Were you competitive with each other?
Very competitive! Yeah, very competitive. I used to always have older friends so wherever I go my brother would go and I would play with the older guys and that means my brother had to play with the older guys. So it was a little tougher on our side but when it was 1v1, we would probably kill ourselves to see who won!
So when did you think that professional soccer was a career or something you could work towards?
I first started thinking about it maybe when I was about 15. There was a regional team where they picked the best players in the region and you would go compete with other regions in Lisbon, a nine-day tournament. And I got called for that team. I made the final cut and we went to a tournament for those nine days and we had, I think, a game a day. The games went pretty well for me and I was just like “I’m competing with guys that play for Benfica, Sporting, Porto!” and I was just like “I’m still on a little town team and I think I’m doing pretty well here.” So after that tournament the directors from União de Leiria, they started talking to my dad and to me. And back then União de Leiria was known as a club that would get a lot of young players with a lot of quality but when they reached the senior level, it was just like “OK you’re not making our senior team. Just go back where you’re from.” So my dad kind of hesitated in sending me there. So basically what happened was me and União de Leiria basically went and we were kind of just talking on and off for a few years until I was 18, and I told my dad, “Listen I gotta go.” They wanted me for so long it’s my opportunity to play with the big dogs like Benfica, Sporting, Porto, everybody will be watching. It’s a great competition. I said, “Just let me go and then whatever happens, happens.” And my dad was like, “Fair enough. If that’s what you want, then that’s what we’ll do.” So my last two years, I think it was U-17 and U-18 I played for União de Leiria in the national league and I got to play against all these guys. Now some of them are playing for Valencia, Monaco, and some of them just got to the second place in the Euro Cup U-21 that happened this summer. So I played with all those guys and just to see where they are now is something incredible.
And then after that you went to Sporting Pombal?
Yes. So I was trialing at a bunch of teams, had a bunch of coaches come talk to me to see what I wanted but it just always seemed that the club that wanted me was, in my opinion, wasn’t good enough for me. So this was late in pre season at the end of August, teams normally start in June so it was pretty late, and they came up to me and they were like “hey, we need a couple of young players. You’re a young player that we want. We thought you already had a club but thankfully you don’t.” And I was like, “Yeah, I want to come here.” So between me and my agent and the coach, settled on a deal and I was happy at Pombal for the first year. They were a semi-pro team. They got relegated the year before I went there. But the facilities were great. We had our own stadium, our own grass pitch. We had a turf pitch where we trained at. It was something really well organized.
You started to get noticed by the Canadian National team at a young age and have played in a few tournaments. What was that experience like?
It was great! It was great! I first got called up to a friendly in Mexico where we played twice in Mexico. It was probably a ten-day thing. It was nothing special, it was just friendlies. In an official game, normally you always hear your national anthem and all that stuff and I was just like, “I can’t wait for that moment.” So playing the first game against Mexico obviously you’re playing one of the best teams at youth level in the world and I saw that on the pitch. You know there’s a pretty big difference between Mexico’s youth system and Canada’s youth system. But lucky enough we got a draw, we tied 1-1 that game, and then we lost 1-0 in the second game, which isn’t a bad result. And after that I kept on being called up. The coach at that time was Nick Dasovic and Phil Dos Santos, Marc’s brother, so I kept on getting called up by them and then I went to the World Cup Qualifiers which was also in Mexico in Puebla and that was a big sensation. Having all the gear, everything so professionally well done and all of the sudden you stand up and you’re hearing your own national anthem…talking about it still gives me goose bumps! It makes me want to go back!
What are some of the differences you see between the sport in Portugal and North America?
They’re huge, I’m not going to lie about it! Back home right now, if we’d peek out the window you’d see kids playing with a ball running around barefoot or with shoes, whatever, they’d have a ball at their feet. And that’s something you don’ t have here. Maybe because Canada’s a hockey country but back home it’s a religion. And just like here, everybody loves hockey and will do anything for hockey, back there it’s soccer. But I’ve noticed a big change from one year basically. From last year to this year, I’ve noticed that the city’s more about soccer. Little kids are more about soccer now and that’s what the country needs. You know, at the end of the day, believe it or not, families don’t put their kids in hockey because hockey’s an expensive sport. And at the end of the day for soccer all you need is shoes and a ball and some shin guards, you’re done. And then you can have your kid playing a great sport during the whole summer and even in the winter. And it’s not just because it’s cheap; it’s because it’s a great sport. It’s good for the kids and once they play it one time, I’ll guarantee you, they’ll want to play it more and more.
What challenges did you face in your transition from youth soccer to your senior career?
Oh they were big because you know youth in Portugal, you play U15s with the U16s so you have two years where you could play younger players or you play older players. You play U17s with U18s. So you have one year to experience the league and the second year to play the league. The moment that you become a senior, you’re 18 / 19 playing against guys that are 34 / 35 and it’s a quicker pace. Guys have been around for a long time, and they know the game better than you. People think it’s not tough but it’s very very tough. My first season for the first couple of games, I’m not afraid to say, I was completely lost. It’s obviously different. It’s the Campeonato Nacional Seniores, so you’ll have players that played in the first division of Portugal, Champions League, UEFA back in the day, you’ll have players playing in that league against you. So you’re getting to know the game, and those guys have been there, done that. So ya, I struggled. But at the end of the day a player can only get to know the game and play better and get your progress done when you get minutes. And thankfully in my first year, I got a lot of minutes and I think that helped me a lot.
What’s the biggest think you’re learning about the game and yourself as you’re progressing?
My limits, I’d say. I’m starting to get to know myself more as a player. Sometimes I believe I can do something and I try it once, twice, three times, and then I’m just like no, it’s better to do what you know as simple as you can. And I think that’s something that maybe smartens up your game a lot. Just to keep things simple. Do what you know best. Try not to get out of your zone, I’d say. Obviously there’s things that you have to learn and you have to do but do what you know and if you do them well I’ll be fine going from here on forward. And about the game, it’s so much different in so many parts of the world. Back home because it’s been around for so long, it’s a religion so everybody breathes soccer so they know the game very well. They play it very well. And every team likes to have the ball and the players are very very technical. Players will miss 1 – 2 passes the whole game. It’s very hard to see a player have a bad game and miss 10 – 11 passes. And then come onto this side of the world and there’s more contact. Obviously you’ll have players that come from overseas that bring the technical side to the game but I find here there’s a lot of teams that have a lot of athletes that are just like running down for the full 90 minutes, and they love the contact. And that’s things that, you know, me coming from Portugal I can’t complain about. At the end of the day, I’m here and I have to live with it. So from one year to the other I got to know the league, I got to know what some teams strengths are, what other teams do better and at the end of the day you have to adapt. And I think that’s what me, and the rest of the guys, have been doing.
What influenced your decision to come to Ottawa and play for the Fury?
So it all started actually, I got the casual invitation from Phil Dos Santos. We had a tournament, the Francophone games in France and Phil actually took the head coach of that U23 squad and at the end of the tournament he came and talked to me, he was like “Listen, my brother got interviewed to coach this team that’s going to be it’s first year in Ottawa.” and I was just like “Sure why not!” At the end of the day it’s a professional thing and in Portugal everybody knows that there’s a lot of teams that aren’t considered professional. So you’ll have around 30 teams between the first and second division that are considered professionals and all the rest are semi-pro. So the opportunity to come into a professional environment and come to the country that also gave me and my family a lot, I was like, “Why not?” I’m at the age where I could take on these little battles and I was like “Why not go to Ottawa, see what happens.” And that’s what I did. I got into a conversation with Marc and took it from there.
What do you think is the Fury’s greatest strength right now?
Our greatest strength right now I’d say is what we have in the locker room. We’re just a bunch of guys that take our job very serious, on the field and off the field we’ll do whatever it takes to help each other out and I think that’s probably one of our top secrets. Marc does a lot for us; we do a lot for Marc. I do a lot for my teammates; they do a lot for me. Fighting for each other’s a big deal and when someone’s wrong we’re not afraid to say, “You gotta be better. You gotta be on you’re toes” Taking the criticism and giving it is something that our locker room does well. We don’t have anyone who thinks they’re above anyone else. Everyone’s on the same level and I think that’s something that’s been helping us during the whole season. It’s never giving up on each other and we’re going to do what it takes to be successful in our second year which is a pretty big accomplishment. It’s not easy for a team, in their second year, to make it to the playoffs. It’s a big deal. And from there, it’s a game. You know semi-finals, finals, anything could happen.