Having two different families has made rookie forward Pedro Ribeiro strong on both sides

 

His tangibles gave him favorable options, but according to Pedro Ribeiro, he had to make a choice.

That choice was a favorable one: stay in Brazil and go professional or seek a better opportunity in America – and get an education all while doing so.

Money now or an education and potential for money later…

Most at just 17-years-old would have chosen option No. 1, but for Ribeiro, who just finished his rookie season with the Union after being drafted in February as a first round pick out of Coastal Carolina, option No. 2 was the only option.

I knew I wasn’t ready and I knew I wanted to get my education,” Ribeiro said in a recent discussion where he told philadelphiaunion.com that while in the academy system of Brazilian club Esporte Clube Cruzeiro he was presented with an opportunity to sign a professional contract. “I was 17-18 years-old at the time and I was graduating from high school and they told me I had to pick one of them; school or soccer.”

But the story gets even more interesting and admirable from the standpoint of Ribeiro as he continued to further explain.

“The main thing for me was to have the opportunity to be playing soccer and get a degree at the same time,” Ribeiro continued. “In Brazil, that’s not possible. I was with the academy team for a division I team in my city. But when they told me I’ve have to quit school in my senior year of high school, I just decided that was not what I wanted to do.”

Where to go from here…

As he packed his bags to seek a better life, it quickly hit Ribeiro that this could be the last time he sees his extended family for quite some time. Aunts, uncles, cousins, even his parents would be detached from a life he only knew for one he believed would make his situation in the long run better.

“I try not to think about it to be honest,” said Ribeiro who will leave for Brazil on Thanksgiving to see his family in person for the first time in over a year. “Once I first came here, I knew it was going to be hard, but it was necessary to pursue this. It’s something that I wanted.”

Ribeiro’s grades and apparent skill were clutch enough to land him a scholarship to Coastal Carolina University where he led Coastal to four NCAA tournament appearances and was a runner-up for the MAC Hermann Trophy, given to the college player of the year. He also received a college degree and bulked up in size tremendously over the years.

Still home was always on his mind.

“When I was in college I went home at least once a year and when I could I would go twice – summer break and winter break,” said Ribeiro. “[In the beginning], it was hard, but I still talk to them every day and that’s how I stay connected.

“My American family…”

Faith is an integral part of Ribeiro’s makeup.

Coincidentally, it was in a church where Ribeiro would later meet his “other” family.

Pastor Jamie Barfield oversees the Palmetto Pointe Church of God in Myrtle Beach, S.C. an institution located just 20 minutes from Coastal’s campus. Going to the church on a consistent basis Ribeiro said it was actually his assistant coach at Coastal that connected the Barfield’s and Ribeiro together.

It was an instant bond.

“Pedro and a group of guys – soccer players at [Coastal] – started coming to church with us,” Barfield said. “[We] started having a really good relationship and we started going to the games. I have kids myself – I have three – and come Thanksgiving, everybody was going home, and he was staying here with nowhere to go. So my wife and I invited him over for Thanksgiving dinner and that kind of started the relationship.”

Now as an MLS professional, Ribeiro hasn’t forgotten how instrumental the Barfield’s have been in his success and routinely visits the family which was one of his first stops on a short respite this offseason. In turn, the Barfield’s have made the trek to see Ribeiro play, in the house for the club’s 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas season in the final home game of the season.”

“He was just over at the house [to hang out with our] kids. It was so great to see him and it was sad to see him leave us. It’s just grown into this amazing relationship where we’re literally his American family; it’s just really hard to explain.”

But when pushed further Barfield did explain…

“He is absolutely one of the most phenomenal individuals you will ever meet,” said Barfield. “He is so humbled and so grateful. Growing up in Brazil, the opportunity to do what he is doing isn’t there every day. So he’s so humbled and so grateful for the opportunity that he has. But he never took it lightly. He always worked his butt off to make sure that he was doing the extra stuff. Whenever he got here – I’m not sure when it was – but he was big and tall and goofy and wasn’t the picture he is now. He had to work at that and the great thing is his work ethic because of where he came from, and because of the culture he grew up in.”

No such thing as a sophomore slump...

Ribeiro isn’t a guy that puts too much pressure on himself.

Then again, that doesn’t mean he takes situations lightly either. Finishing a rookie season in which he played predominantly as a forward, the native center midfielder had a lot to learn. He labored with the Union’s developmental affiliate in Harrisburg this past season and really showed what he was made of even before joining the Union as a member of fellow affiliate Reading United, but now as a go-to-guy in head coach Jim Curtin’s arsenal, Ribeiro knows he has a lot to learn and a lot to learn fast.

In an article written earlier this year  on philadelphiaunion.com, Ribeiro said that learning a new position was a trial by fire, but that it was a challenge he was ready for. To get ready for that challenge Ribeiro didn’t want to divulge his offseason workout but said that it’ll be in tune for getting ready for a season in which he hopes he can not only contribute – but have a breakthrough year.

“I don’t believe in sophomore slump, what is that?” Ribeiro asked. “I know what [coach Curtin] wants from me and what I need to be successful here. So my job is to learn as much as I can and work on my game. I need to define who I am going to be as a player. I love playing in Philadelphia and I hope in this season I can give back to an organization that helped me in my dream of playing this game for a living.”

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com

 

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