Nothing binds a country together like the world’s most popular game. In Brazil, there’s hardly anything comparable to 22 athletes and a ball inside a stadium — 90 minutes of emotional bliss that can push away a person’s worries and urgencies with the first tremendous strike on goal.
Soccer has tied Michigan junior midfielder Fabio Pereira and his country together through a prominent mutual bond. His dad played, his brother nearly made it professionally back home in Sao Paulo and everyone else in Brazil can easily relate to the experience that soccer brings to South America’s largest and most soccer-crazed nation.
“Soccer is like a culture,” Pereira said. “Even among the lower classes you see people just playing in the streets.”
Pereira was no different — soccer strengthened every connection in his life, from his family to friends, and between his home and another country.
Pereira has always been a step ahead throughout his soccer career — he’s had a ball at his feet ever since he could walk, and ultimately he competed at the highest youth levels with many of his buddies back home. Pereira says his fondest sports memories in Brazil stem from the youth tournaments that he participated in across the world.
“In high school, I went with this team in Brazil to play in the Gothia Cup and we made it to the finals,” Pereira said. “It was really cool for me to make it all the way there.”
The Gothia Cup is the largest youth soccer tournament in the world. More than 1,500 teams from 72 countries competed last year in the week-long event that takes over Gothenburg, Sweden every July.
On a global stage with over 52,000 people attending the matches, it’s easy to understand why the experience was so powerful for Pereira. You can label the experience an unforgettable one for a student-athlete that every Michigan soccer fan has grown to love.
“My dad (got me started) when I was like 3 years old,” Periera said. “(He) was huge in my decision to come here to the U.S.”
Pereira came to the United States just before his senior year of high school, and for genuine reasons that reiterated the true meaning of the term student-athlete.
“I always wanted to play professionally,” Pereira said. “I had to drop out of school to play soccer in Brazil and it was a very risky choice. Here I can still get a degree and pursue my future, and then (still) get in the MLS draft, hopefully.”
His ambition landed him in Connecticut, where he led South Kent High School to a New England Championship, en route to winning all-state honors in his first year in the United States. Fabio continued to tally up more remarkable accomplishments, even in an extremely unfamiliar environment.
But the transition between the Americas wasn’t easy. If it wasn’t for his father, Pereira very well could have been back in Brazil for good several years ago.
“I knew the basic of the basics (of English),” Pereira said. “I could say hello and thank you but that’s about it. It was very difficult for me. I almost gave up after one semester, but I just made a deal with my dad to finish out the year.”
Now having a few years in the United States under his belt, his transition to Michigan has been much smoother.
“I came to the campus (and) the atmosphere was unbelievable for me,” Pereira said. “I wanted to be a part of something new and make this a winning program. You can get so much college support for sports here.”
Additionally, the Michigan men’s soccer team’s transition back to the national stage has undergone a resurrection with Pereira’s breakout season this fall. He racked up six goals during the season and anchored the Michigan offense nearly every match.
First-year Michigan coach Chaka Daley knew that Pereira was a unique talent the first time he watched him play in the 2010 College Cup. After all, he was the man who put the Wolverines in the Final Four with his sliding overtime finish in the Elite Eight against Maryland. Taking the job at Michigan with a player like Pereira running the offense must have eased some nerves this fall.
“Fabio and I met in January,” Daley said. “There were a few players that were seen as widely recognized (in the NCAA Tournament), and (Fabio) came highly accredited. He’s hungry, keeps himself in top fitness and his work ethic is superb.”
Pereira has received unending praise from his coaches, but he’s always focused on getting better and enjoys living in the moment. Ann Arbor and Sao Paulo, particularly with respect to the sports atmosphere, share some recognizable differences that he can fully embrace.
Michigan is just another stop in Pereira’s path, but possibly the most impressive one, at least at this stage of his career. Pereira has always been ahead of his competition, whether it’s by crossing up opponents with crafty footwork, succeeding in the classroom or deciding to move to the United States.
During the season, double teams would flock to Pereira in hopeless attempts to somehow diminish his confidence on the ball. Additionally, opposing defenses have hardly salivated at the bitter taste of Pereira’s remarkable ability to place the ball anywhere he wants, as he tallied eight assists this year.
Pereira’s journey from Brazil to Connecticut to Michigan has bridged a new path for some of his friends from his youth team to follow.
“From my friends, I was the first one to come to America,” Pereira said. “Now, two of them play at Kentucky and one is at Wake Forest.”
Pereira’s life has been directly paralleled to numerous instances of success and important connections. Like soccer has the ability to unite an entire nation, Pereira has fused a connection between the United States and Brazil for himself and his friends back home to have a better chance at playing professionally someday.
At Michigan, Pereira is getting a taste of what a professional footballer, as most of South Americans would say, feels like each time he steps on the pitch. Until he can entirely grasp the ecstasy of playing at the highest level, the always-rowdy Michigan Ultras will have to take the place of true soccer fanatics and the U-M Soccer Complex can act as a sufficient precursor for the next chapter of Pereira’s career.