The Passion of Lucio Gonzaga
Lucio Gonzaga had a smile on his face as he signed autographs at the Adirondack Bank Center last Sunday. Utica City FC had just continued their home unbeaten streak by besting division rival Baltimore. The young fans in the stands shared Gonzaga’s passion, but will take much different paths to success than the one he did growing up in Brazil.
Lucio’s introduction to soccer took place in the South American city of Sao Paulo, a place he likened to New York given its population of over 12 million. What brought the city together was a love for soccer.
“You see plenty of people playing soccer,” said Gonzaga. “It can be in a small ally or on the streets with goals made of flip-flops or whatever you had around to make goals.”
As a child, Lucio was just another kid in the middle of a pick-up game on a dirt street. Competing with friends that would turn professional and others who settled for a seat in the stands, each young footballer gave their everything even when the playing conditions were poor at best. The streets that he played on compared to the green fields available in America were one of the major differences that he noticed between his native country and his adopted home.
“I think that’s the difference between Brazil and the United States is seeing how many places they have over here, parks, grass fields, and things like that which no one uses. And that is really different to us because we will play anywhere. That would be a luxury to be able to play in grass fields the way you have them over here.”
In addition to the difference in playing surfaces, the equipment available to children in Brazil was much less than the supply of gear that can be purchased at the thousands of sports stores in the United States. While hardly any young American player goes without proper athletic footwear, Gonzaga played barefoot throughout his childhood. He did not receive his first pair of cleats until he was sixteen years old, often borrowing cleats from his friends.
“In Brazil, we didn’t have that much money to put towards soccer equipment so it was either put food on the table or buy new cleats and it was a no brainer that my mom would always put food on the table.”
The Gonzaga family’s financial burden was like of much of Brazil. These situations made young players want to perform well as they saw soccer as an opportunity to build a better life.
“For everything being so hard for us there, we always had that thought. We always wanted to play, become professional, and be able to help our family members and ourselves to get out of that situation, to have more, and be able to afford more things. Because of that, when we go to a club team or we’re playing for someone, we always do our best because that can be a way to change our lives.
That’s why we’re so passionate. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing pick-up, professionally, or amateurly. Whatever game we’re playing when we step on the field, it’s business for us.”
Through hard-work Lucio’s dreams of becoming a pro-footballer became reality. After seven years of elite play with top clubs in Brazil and Uruguay, Gonzaga briefly pushed pause on his soccer career to pursue another career path.
“In Brazil, I told myself that I was done with my professional soccer career. I was going to go to school for physical education. In 2007, a friend of mine called me up and asked me if I would like to come to the United States to go to school. And I said, ‘I would love to go.’ It didn’t work out to go to school but opened another door to come and play indoor in Baltimore.”
While the style of play in arena soccer differed from that which he had previously experienced with outdoor club teams, the dirt streets and makeshift goals of his childhood allowed for an easy transition into indoor soccer.
“I related to the indoor soccer game a lot because of the pickup games I played on the streets,” said Gonzaga. “We used the walls a lot so that brought me back to my childhood playing on the streets. So, I was able to adjust to the game really quickly and to the system that the coach of the Blast had for his group and I was glad that I came over and that I was able to win in my first year.”
The inspired style of play Gonzaga has brought to clubs throughout his career has been on display during Utica City FC’s inaugural season. In four games, he has already recorded three goals and two assists.
When the young fans stare down at Lucio with professional hopes of their own, he will smile knowing that some of them share a passion similar to his own. A passion developed on the dirt streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil and led him here, some 5,000 miles from home.
Lucio and the rest of UCFC will be back in action on Sunday at 2 p.m. as they take on the undefeated Milwaukee Wave. Tickets are still available at www.empirestatetix.com.