It’s not easy being a rookie fresh out of college in Major League Soccer.
In college these players are all top dogs, All-Conference if not All-America selections or even better: college player of the year nominees.
But at the professional level, specifically in MLS, once you enter the league you’re just another player looking to prove your worth every training session and -- fingers crossed -- in a game situation.
This is what Pedro Ribeiro learned in addition to dealing with the adversity of a preseason injury and spending time with the Union’s developmental affiliate in Harrisburg. Ribeiro, whose six-foot, four-inch frame makes the technical staff salivate over his potential, is still trying to find his way; but thinks he’s learned enough to make sure his sophomore season can be one to savor.
“There has been a lot that I expected and some stuff that I didn’t,” Ribeiro told philadelphiaunion.com following a recent training session at PPL Park. “It was a tough beginning, of course, I got hurt in preseason and after I got healthy, I got loaned to Harrisburg. At the moment, I thought [being sent down the City Islanders] was going to be the end of the world but definitely not. It was a great place to be. A lot of the guys were there like Cristhian [Hernandez], Richie [Marquez], Jimmy [McLaughlin] and even Antoine [Hoppenot] ended up going there toward the end of the season. It was a great opportunity for me to show what I’m able to do and get real minutes because I wasn’t playing here, I was just practicing – and I’d rather be playing real games. The coaches thought that was going to be good for me and it was a great experience to be in Harrisburg for a while and then come back.”
Now that he’s back up with the big club, Ribeiro is looking to remain with the first team but first he knows that he has to grasp playing the forward position with more tenacity and quite frankly, score more goals.
Those are his words – not ours.
But he’s still learning the position. A year prior, Ribeiro led tiny institution Coastal Carolina to a 19-5 overall record, a Sweet 16 NCAA tournament appearance en route to being a runner up for the MAC Hermann Trophy, given to the college player of the year.
But that was as Coastal Carolina’s rock in central midfield.
“In the beginning it was hard,” Ribeiro admitted on having to learn how to play forward. “It’s a different position, different kind of runs, different kind of movement and stuff that I have to do off the ball that I didn’t have to in the midfield. But having guys like Conor [Casey] here – he’s a guy I’ll always watch in practice – and watching the kinds of runs he makes, the ideas that he has and I feel like I’ve developed a lot as a center forward. And guys like Conor and even BC [Brian Carroll] talk a lot to me, Fred as well. Leo [Fernandes] I have a good relationship both on and off the field. I feel like I still have a lot to improve; if I want to be a center forward, I have to score more goals – that’s the main thing. But it was tough in the beginning, but that’s something every soccer player has to be able to do because it happens a lot. In five, six years, I could be playing as a center back, who knows in this league?”
It's a family affair
They all sit in the same row in the locker room.
They stay after and practice free kicks, get in extra touches after training.
It’s a mini-family, their relationship.
The dynamic of the Latin American players in the Union locker room is a unique one, very much a band of brothers collective where the elder statesmen and the younger players all co-exist in a type of synchronicity unique through similar languages, home and family lives and cultures.
For Ribeiro, coming to work each day with this dynamic in tow certainly helped his comfort level.
“It’s amazing. It couldn’t have been better than this,” said Ribeiro. “I didn’t expect them to be as nice as they were. It is tough being in a professional environment – everyone, of course, has to think about themselves. But those guys, they think about the group. And the group thinks about the group in general, first of all, instead of individually. And those guys helped me a lot to adapt. Leo [Fernandes] was a rookie two years ago, so he showed me the ropes. And Fabinho, Fred, the more experienced guys – Fred played in the league for four-five years, Fabinho has played for a bunch of different teams in Brazil – those guys show me what to do.”
Just like Luis does it...
Ribeiro never heard of D.C. United’s Luis Silva until the season started. But little did he know that many look at Ribeiro and wonder if he might become Luis Silva 2.0 in a few years at the forward position. Both have good feet, strong shots and are good at holding off defenders or running in behind them.
Silva obviously has been the better of the two specifically this season, as his 11 goals have helped United to a playoff berth after a dismal 2013 in which D.C. won just three matches in MLS play all season.
Silva is a player that Ribeiro wouldn’t mind emulating and becoming the catalyst for the Union in his sophomore season considering in terms of size and weight, its Ribeiro that is built better as that big, bruising Conor Casey-like striker.
“Coming into the league, I didn’t really know [much about him],” Ribeiro said of Silva. “But once the season started, I heard a lot about him because he was pretty good. He’s got good size, good technique and that’s something that I know are two of my great characteristics as well. So here’s a guy who has been doing great and has a lot of similarities. I know he’s been getting more and more minutes and that’s a guy I look up to. We played there [at RFK Stadium] and he did really well against us to beat us 1-0. He’s definitely a guy I look up to.”
But is he seen as that player by his manager, Jim Curtin? Curtin would say yes.
“Pedro is a very good young player,” Curtin said. “Again, he has a presence about him. He’s good around the goal, he’s a big guy. He can play multiple spots – he can play underneath as a target forward, he can play as a [No. 10] – we’ve used him primarily as a target to replace Conor just as kind of a leg-for-leg type situation. He’s a guy we’re still figuring out his best spot in MLS. But he has the quality, you can see, to make the final pass and to strike the ball.”
Wherever he’s placed, Ribeiro knows what he needs to work on as he now knows what’s expected of him heading into his sophomore season. A season in where expectations will certainly be high as the playoffs escaped Philadelphia yet again.
“Once I got here for preseason, everything was new,” said Ribeiro. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what they wanted from me for the first couple of weeks. But now I know what to expect. I know they want and I’m just trying to improve my game overall.”
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Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org