It is time to throw away the American inferiority complex with its place in the sport, where many blindly claim that technique should come above all in choosing and developing the best prospects and that the U.S. is not an international power because it cares too much about athleticism.
Paulo Pita's Unique Journey to Success
There's a poem by Robert Frost that reads, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." This is meant to reflect the fact that sometimes an unorthodox path is exactly what is needed to take us where we want to be. Paulo Pita is the definition of taking the road less traveled by. Even when it seemed like all roads may have closed, and many told him it would not be possible, he found a way.
That road reached a new checkpoint on January 9th of 2020 where Paulo Pita was selected as the 24th pick in the first round of the MLS draft. Joining an LAFC team coming off a 2019 season that saw many MLS records broken.
To outsiders who have observed Pita's outstanding talents, the draft may have seemed like a foregone conclusion, but the path to that destination was filled with obstacles.
The start of that road can be traced back to Sao Paulo, Brazil, a country where soccer is synonymous with life. It was there that Paulo developed his passion for the game in support of Sao Paulo FC and their legendary goalkeeper, Rogerio Ceni. Professional soccer was the end goal but in a country where soccer and school do not mix well, a better opportunity for both looked like college soccer in the United States.
The plan was to then compete at a community college in the United States before seeking a four-year institution.
That path started off with some disappointment, Pita's initial plan was to enroll at Richard Bland Junior College. Richard Bland, at the time was in its third year of fielding a Men's Soccer team and only a year removed from an inaugural season that saw the team lose 14 games, 4 of which were by more than 10 goals. Nevertheless, the new head coach was a fellow Brazilian who had been in the United States for over a decade. Eduardo De Souza, would have greatly eased the transition from Brazil to college soccer.
Before joining, Paulo would have to take a test that renders international players eligible for college soccer but after falling short of the required scoring threshold, Paulo could not enroll and was left stranded with no alternative.
That's when the University of Charleston came into the fold, a growing Division 2 power house looking for a goal keeper, and would take Paulo on based on the recommendation of de Souza. Paulo would have to sit out a season due to international test scores, but at least it was an opportunity to fulfill an American soccer dream.
Paulo would have to adjust to a new language, life in West Virginia, life at the University of Charleston, all while a long way off from family and the beaches of Sao Paulo.
If the grading scale for adjustment is based on success, then Paulo blew all expectations out of the water.
An incidental union quickly proved to be a match made in heaven. In his second season at Charleston, Paulo stared in a back line that won the Division 2 National Championship.
On December 2nd of 2017, Paulo led the University of Charleston Men's Soccer Team to the school's first ever National Championship. Led, meaning he saved 2 PKs in the (3-1) penalty shootout victory after the game finished tied 0-0 in regulation. Paulo was rightfully named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player and an All-American, among many other awards.
First Team All-American, Defensive Player of the Tournament, National Champion.
Those accolades are more than enough for most to reach a level of satisfaction. But not Paulo. He demanded more from himself and a greater opportunity to play professional soccer, which meant a new challenge at the Division 1 level. A challenge he would have to tackle with a new addition to his family.
In April of 2018, Paulo had his first son, a child he calls his biggest blessing.
A blessing for his family, but when it came time to transfer, many coaches thought a child would deter his focus from soccer. Paulo once again had to prove himself despite a national championship and a proven record as a winner.
An opportunity finally came, and who better to present that opportunity than Chris Grassie, the head coach of Marshall University, and the same coach that gave Paulo an opportunity at Charleston. This felt right, Grassie was someone Paulo could trust, someone who would take care of him and his growing family.
The move worked like a charm, 2019 saw Paulo and Marshall University set a school record with 16 wins and qualify for the team's first ever NCAA Tournament in its 41-year history. A trip to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, and a final national ranking of 11th meant Paulo left his mark on the greatest team Marshall has ever fielded.
The draft was next, and when Paulo was taken in the first round few who knew him were surprised, including Paulo. A fighter from the onset, professional soccer was always going to be the end goal one way or another.
They say home is where the heart is, and for Paulo that is in his wife and son. They have been there for him since day 1, even when a professional future did not look so clear. From Charleston, West Virginia to Huntington, West Virginia, and now Los Angeles, California, Paulo knows his home is wherever his family is.
It's not hard to see why LAFC took a chance on the man who took the road far less traveled. A proven winner at every level, the future is bright for Paulo and his family.
Latest posts in our blog
Read what's new this week
Following last year's list of nine underground teams to watch, I bring the list back with eight new teams you need to follow. From entertaining amateur players to professional coaches revolutionizing the sport from behind the scenes, here are eight underground soccer teams to watch this season.
The Premier League is here and with that comes an uncountable number of variables and uncertainty from which teams will stay up to which teams will secure a Champions League spot. Here is a prediction of the premier league table from 20th to 1st.