CITY IN SEASON: JANUARY 2024 (RONALDINHO DINIZ)
Go behind the scenes with Utica City FC as a part of our City In Season interview series!
Ronaldinho Diniz has had a superb start to the 2023-24 season, totaling 11 goals (1st on team, 4th in league), 5 assists, and 17 points (1st on team, 8th in league) after rebounding from injury in the previous season. He is highly regarded for his speed and effectiveness in transition, continuous positivity, and scoring touch. Hear from the Brockton, MA native on his success this year!
Talk about your collegiate soccer background and transition to the indoor game.
My collegiate career was very chaotic, especially in the beginning. When I came from Portugal, I couldn't speak English. The classes I was taking was only to teach me how to speak English. They were never challenging enough to prepare me for college.
After graduating high school, I attended Wheaton College. It was Division III program. As a freshman, I was the leading scorer for the team. I was second leading scorer on the league. We went to the finals and lost in the finals, unfortunately. I got nominated Rookie of the Year. That caught the eyes of many different school programs, such as Boston College, which was actually my number one choice, and the head coach, Ed Kelly, who is just a wonderful guy. He helped me out in so many different ways— I'm very grateful for him.
I applied to BC and I got accepted but was not able to play because I was not ACC cleared. I went to a community college as a sophomore and did not play soccer that year. I was taking classes in the fall, in the winter, in the spring, and in the summer as well. I believe it was around 14 classes that I had to take. I did all that because I wanted to go to Boston College as a junior and not only as a senior.
So, I applied to Boston College as a junior. I got accepted. Everything worked out. I played there junior and senior year, but unfortunately, I did not play as much as I would have liked to.
I did learn a lot and I think going to Boston College prepared me to play at the next level here in Utica, being a professional team, being one of the best teams in the league, being coached by one of the best coaches in the league. Not playing as much as I would like to at Boston College, it definitely prepared me mentally for what was coming, which is the now. I'm grateful for all that.
What do you contribute the breakout start to your season to?
I started this season very well. I'm very happy for the opportunity that I had. I was able to capitalize when the opportunity came. Just the way the season ended last year was extremely hard for me because I was injured. I was not able to help the team as much as I wish I could.
Having home playoff games was an amazing experience and I wasn't really part of the games. I wasn't part of the team winning or even, you know, the loss of the team had. I just felt horrible not being able to help. And I think the fire from last year just carried on to the beginning of the season.
I just took my first game of the season as a playoff game. You have to do good so you can play the next game. And I just felt like that's how each game is supposed to be. If you think it's your last one, you're going to give your 100%. I think that's the mindset that I have going on for the remaining of the season.
Who/what do you give most credit to for your success?
That's a great question, by the way. I would love to answer it at a later date with a little bit more time to think about it— I think it would be a great conversation as well.
But as of now, I think the answer is just God and myself. Didn't really give up. I always kept my head high. I always kept trying. I always kept working and this year I got an opportunity and I'm just very grateful for it.
How much more comfortable are you in Hewerton's system in Year 2 vs. Year 1?
Coach Hewerton's system is a system that works. I believe is a perfect system for us because we have a very fast team and I think we can definitely execute what the coach wants offensively and defensively as well. We have a very good team. We are very fast, we have a lot of creativity... we have guys always hustling, looking for that one spot, that one chance.
The level doesn't really drop too much. The system itself, each day, it's just getting better. It does take time to actually understand what the coach is saying. And then it takes a little bit more time to apply what the coach is saying.
So for guys that were here last year-- me included, of course, it's a little bit better this year because it's not something new now. It's just about repetition. The more you do it, the easier it will become. Last year, I didn't really get a chance to play as much with injuries. But I think this year as long as, not just me, but as long as all of us, we stick with the system, we will win games. Because it's a system that works and everybody knows that.
You had a performance on December 17th vs. the Heat that made the MASL take notice: 4 goals, 1 assist for the most single-game points of your MASL career. Run me through that game, your performance, and your emotions afterwards as you were recognized as the first star.
Back to back games are really challenging. Back to back games against the same team-- it's difficult and everybody knows that, especially when you play against them so many times. They know your system, they know how you attack, they know how you defend, they know players favorite side to shoot on, they know a lot of stuff, and for us to come out and just beat them twice, it was going to be extremely challenging.
But I think what made me stand out a little bit more was the fact that I knew that more than ever I needed to be mentally ready for the game. I knew physically everyone was a little bit beat, but how could I get a little edge?
I believed that meditation was going to be the answer for that night and it turned out to be. I was envisioning receiving the ball from the defenders, passing it to the midfielders, passing it to the targets and run. One of the games that I scored, I think I visualized the same play multiple times in my head.
That's what I'm proud of the most for that game— it wasn't the fact that I scored four goals, but it was the fact that I took the time to prepare myself for that game and it turned out to be just fine. I'm just happy and grateful I did that and it's something that I will definitely continue to do for the remaining games of the season.
Tell us about the hand signal that you're often showing the fans after goals. What does it mean?
The hand signal is extremely special to me for many different reasons. I want to share it with the Utica family for sure.
I think it's a question that would be better answered in a conversation just because it has so many different meanings and is also an educational piece as well. So I'd like to come back to it at a different date.
What I can say for now is that the hand sign is related to God, trust, staying humble, praying, meditating, being patient, and just knowing that what is yours is coming.
How do you feel Utica City FC's offensive firepower compares vs. the rest of the league?
Overall, our team is amazing from the goalkeepers all the way to the targets. The sacrifices that the goalkeepers make, not just in games, but in practice too is very inspiring. Early in the morning, blocking shots with their body, with their face— you don't like to see players getting hurt, but you like to see players putting their body on the line to block a shot as an example or to score.
That's the small things that motivate each one of us. Defenders are doing really good as well. We have defenders that have been in the league for so long. They have so much experience and they're always willing to teach and adjust according to whatever the coach or the system requires.
Our midfielders are amazing as well. They may not be scoring a lot of goals, but I honestly think they are the core of our team offensively and defensively as well. They're very creative. They work extremely hard. So it's a huge respect towards them.
Our second forwards are very fast. They are scoring a lot of goals. We even have second forwards that haven't played yet and they could get a chance at any point and be okay.
We have targets that have been in the league for so long with so much experience. They can shoot themselves. They can pass. They can hit the boards. They can hold the ball. They can play defense.
So overall, our targets are doing really good as well. I think our strength is still offensively, because we are such a fast team overall that we can capitalize on scoring a lot of goals. Comparing our offense to the rest of the league, I can confidently say that we are a threat. We are good, we are very fast in transition, which is going to punish a lot of teams.
There's so many teams with great offense like the Texas Outlaws or San Diego even Kansas City for the game tomorrow. It's going to be a huge challenge because they have, you know, great offense as well. But I would take our guys 10 out of 10 times regardless. I know what we have and I'm sure that we're gonna continue to do good.
The beginning of the season began with a 6 game winning streak but the team faced some unfortunate circumstances in the last two games on the road. How are you personally and as a team preparing to come back from that as you head to KC?
We had a great start of the season. 6-0 is an amazing record to have. Although we only played two teams, they were not easy games. Playing Harrisburg away back to back was very hard. We did good on that one. Then Baltimore, which is a team that goes to the championship very often, they did not change their culture. And we were able to beat them twice at home and on the road.
So I think we should be proud of that. The record definitely shows that we can score and win. But facing teams that we don't face so often, like Milwaukee or Tacoma, they were able to capitalize on the mistakes that we made. It was mistakes that we made the first game, second game, third game. So it's mistakes that we continue to make every single game that they were able to capitalize and score and win the game.
The two losses that we had, I think it was necessary I would much rather have the two losses now. Learn from it and move forward instead of having a great record until playoffs and then lose it on the first round.
Nobody really enjoys losing, but I think as long as we can learn from our losses, I think we'll be okay. The game against Kansas City will not be an easy one either. It's on the road. We just played two games in the past week. So, we haven't really recovered 100%, but that's indoor. You really don't have a lot of time to fully recover.
I feel confidence going to the game against Kansas City. It hasn't been a week yet since we played those games, but in practice I could tell there was a difference already. Of course there's always ups, there's always downs, but I think overall the focus is there. The focus to follow the system is there, which is the most important thing.
I think it's going to be a good game. I'm excited for it. I love challenges. I love playing against big teams, big players. Overall, I don't think I changed much of the way I prepare for games besides watching more videos in terms of how I defend and how I attack. Because I think if I'm able to be at my best and I'm also able to encourage my teammate to be at his best, then we can each focus about our house, which is something the coach always says.
As long as I'm giving my 100% and I'm following the system and my team is giving their 100% and following the system, I think overall as a team we're gonna do good. It's gonna be a battle from beginning to end. We've done our homework. We know what we have to do, and I think at the end of the day we'll be okay.
Utica City FC returns to the Adirondack Bank Center on Sunday, January 21st to take on the Texas Outlaws. Tickets are still available at ucfctickets.com.