Fabio Pereira was 16, alone, and couldn’t speak a word of English when he came to the United States.
In his home country of Brazil, the Sounders rookie would have had to drop out of school to pursue professional soccer. But his desire for an education, in addition to a soccer-related paycheck, drew him to the U.S. He ended up at South Kent School in Connecticut with a dream and some cleats, but without his parents or any knowledge of the language.
“The beginning was hard. I couldn’t speak anything. I couldn’t understand anyone,” Pereira said. “The first six months was when I learned the most because I had to speak English; otherwise I wouldn’t eat.”
Even when Pereira couldn’t find the words, he communicated in the way he always had: with his feet. Pereira earned a Connecticut all-star selection (twice), then a University of Michigan scholarship.
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English started getting easier. So did soccer. Then came the broken records.
Before being drafted by the Sounders last in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, Pereira left Michigan as its all-time leader in shots, as well as No. 9 in goals scored, No. 2 in assists and No. 5 in shots on goal.
Pereira left Brazil with the vision of getting a college degree and playing professional soccer. With one half of that complete, he was considered a longshot to make the Sounders’ team after they drafted him 77th this year.
Last month, he played his first pro minutes for the Sounders in their U.S. Open Cup match against PSA Elite.
It was a gratifying moment for the 22-year-old, who, not long ago, was that lonely teenager without an English vocabulary.
“That’s the reality of the professional level,” he said. “You’ve got to wait, you’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to work, you’ve got to learn.”
But even with all the pieces falling into place for Pereira on the field, there was always a crucial part missing since he left Brazil: his family. The uncle who Pereira played soccer with as a kid, the father who encouraged his education, the mother whose name is tattooed on his forearm — Pereira’s biggest supporters — were 4,000 miles away.
“I think it’s really hard to balance your dream with your family,” he said. “My family is the most important thing in my life and being so far away from them and seeing them twice a year was really a challenge. So if I didn’t have soccer to keep me going … I don’t think I would be able to make it.”
Thanks to the Sounders signing him in March, Pereira now has plenty of soccer, which helps keep him grounded. Dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant,” the last pick in the draft usually doesn’t carry a high chance of making the team.
But Pereira beat the odds. Now, it’s just a matter of staying in the league.
“For him, it’s a little bit of a learning year this year,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid.
Pereira is just fine with that. He has a spongelike quality that helped him adapt to a new country, and it serves him well on the soccer pitch.
“I’m here because the best players in the country are here and that’s the kind of environment I want to be in,” he said. “I want to compete every day and I’m really hard on myself to get better and I think maybe those are some of the qualities Sigi saw in me. I always want to get better. I always want to learn.”