by Michael Lewis

In some respects, this weekend's Major Arena Soccer League combine and draft could very well be a microcosm for what Utica City FC head coach Hewerton Moreira will face over the coming months.

Translated: there is and there will be much on his extremely full plate.

As head coach of the host club, Moreira has worked behind the scenes to make sure the event will run smoothly, from last night's orientation through Sunday's draft. He also will assess talent and select three draft choices for the team before turning his sights on the regular season.

As head coach of the U.S. Futsal National Team, Moreira has been tasked to qualify the side for the 2024 FIFA Futsal World Cup.

Moreira has welcomed the challenge with open arms.

"It's a very unique experience," he said in a telephone interview from Utica, N.Y. on Thursday. "I'm very excited. I'm very proud of all these years, coaching, investing in myself, and what I was able to accomplish that. It's a privilege to be to be in a position that I am in. I try to be as organized as I can, proactive.

"If there is any major conflict, we'll have solutions for the problem. It will be a little hectic, anticipating I will have conflicts because this is a World Cup year. It's down for three years and up in one year. I'm the head coach of Utica City FC. That's my full-time job. I love where I am. I love this organization. I'm not going anywhere. I've been getting a lot of questions. 'Well, are you just the national team coach? Are you doing both?' I'm doing both. I'm preparing for both seasons."

Under Moreira's guidance, the national futsal team held its first training camp in Downingtown, Pa. from Sept. 13-17. The camp included several MASL standouts, including San Diego Sockers goalkeeper Boris Pardo, Milwaukee Wave defender Marcio Leite, Utica City midfielder Nate Bourdeau, Texas Outlaws midfielder David Ortiz and forward Luiz Moralez, the 2021-22 MASL rookie of the year, Kansas City Comets forward Zach Reget, among others.

"It was an amazing camp," he said. "They had everything from the installations from the hotel to the training facility, to the professionalism of the staff. Everything was top notch.

"The level was amazing. We had great players on and off the field. Those players are not only great football players, great soccer players, but they are great men with character. Their number one goal is to qualify for the World Cup. So, that makes my job very easy. It was a great week."

Moreira said that he planned to hold two more camps prior to the Concacaf Futsal Championships in Nicaragua next spring. No dates have been selected yet, but he figured it would be in April or May. The top four teams will qualify for the FIFA Futsal World Cup, set for Uzbekistan from Sept. 14-Oct. 6, 2024.

"My goal is to build a strong core and maybe close to going to the Concacaf tournament add one or two spots on the team," he said. 

Moreira, 43, knows a thing or two about indoor soccer and futsal. Born in Santos, Brazil, he performed for the Santos Futsal Clube, Saldanha da Gama, Osan Futebol Clube, A.A. Portuarios and FEFIS-UNIMES FC, winning nine successive futsal league championships from 1997-2004. He was also part of the Brazil Futsal National Team pool in 1995 and 1998.  

In 2004, Moreira journeyed to the United States to continue his indoor career. He competed in the Major Indoor Soccer League and MASL, helping the Milwaukee Wave win three MISL titles (2004-05, 2010-11 and 2011-12). After also playing with the San Diego Sockers, Detroit Ignition, Philadelphia KIXX, Chicago Mustangs, Cedar Rapids Rampage, St. Louis Ambush and Utica City, Moreira finished his 16-year career in 2021-22, with 198 goals and 174 assists in 301 games.

In his first year as Utica City head coach, Moreira installed a new system and introduced many newcomers to the lineup. It wasn’t until the second half of the season that the team gelled. Utica (13-10-1) finished fourth in the Eastern Division.

"We had a very good season," Moreira said. "Last season, we were able to accomplish a lot of our plans. We were trying to build a strong core of the team with younger players. I think we accomplished that. We were trying to give a face and identity to the team. I think we accomplished that. We have built a culture within the team.

"When you start to accomplish a lot of short-term goals, you look forward to the next season to see how the team is going to respond. Our second part of last season was great. We did really well. The players had stepped up. We did not change a lot of our players, which makes us a very strong squad going next season. I'm extremely excited. I'm looking forward to it."

The squad starts training camp on Nov. 13 and kicks off the season, hosting the Harrisburg Heat on Saturday, Dec. 2 at 7:05 p.m. 

For the second consecutive campaign, Utica City supporters better get used to seeing the Baltimore Blast and Harrisburg. They will face their foes a dozen times, six apiece. In fact, the Central New York club will play Harrisburg four times in its opening six matches.

"We did a great job against both," he added.

Utica City won both season series last year, with a 4-2 record vs. Baltimore and a 5-1 mark against Harrisburg.

"It's a direct confrontation for the conference," Moreira said. "It is good. We're doing our homework. We're doing our job, playing with intensity, being smart, studying the opponents. With that, we're going to be able to win the series and create this gap between us. That would be great. You end up being rivals. It’s also great for who's coming to watch the games, because they'll be expecting to be watching a very exciting game.” 

Moreira also will have another responsibility, keeping an eye on how players on United Elite Krajisnik FC, the team's new Major Arena Soccer League 2 (M2) affiliate fares. That team will be based in Utica. 

"It is a great opportunity to watch young players, to help to develop those players within our culture, with our identity on the team," he said. "Players are likely going to be younger, coming to the M2. Sometimes you bring players to your squad for M1, and you end up having a large roster. Not all the players play and will get experience from games.

"Having M2 will be a perfect situation for us to develop our players and for players that don't play with the M1 team to get some playing time with the M2 team. This is going to be win-win for the organization. We're going to be able to develop our players. That's going to be huge for Utica. Hopefully we will have local players, which helps the community and us to in so many ways." 

A busy year, indeed.

Before any Utica City players can kick a ball in competition, some a few things need to be completed, such as the MASL combine draft.

The combine kicked off with more than 115 hopeful candidates at 7 a.m. today. It will run through Sunday morning. The draft will follow at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday (televised live on Twitch).

The MASL is holding a combine and draft for the second year in a row, Moreira felt that this year's version will build on the 2022 event in Dallas and Mesquite.

"The league did a great job organizing the combine last year," he said. "Last year was very organized, but it was the first one. They knew that they could do better. It was already a great experience for everybody. In Utica, the organization has a lot to offer to the league. Just bringing the combine to Utica, it's going to be twice, three times better than what it was last year in terms of experience for the players to succeed at the sessions. 

"The installation, the facility, everything here is top notch.”

Players with all sorts of backgrounds are attending the combine, from professional experience, to M2 experience, semi-pro leagues, weekend players and those who perform in tournaments.

"I'm looking forward to the level that they can bring to us," said Moreira, who added that he was hopeful of finding a few gems.

"It's hard to just even imagine what we would be able to get," he continued. "I need a left footer. I would like to have one more defender or one more target player. I would be looking more for players with that type of profile, but also players that can play both ways on the field. Everybody should be able to contribute offensively and defensively. Unfortunately, you don't have a lot of players with that profile."

Regardless of what transpires this weekend, the 2023-24 MASL campaign can't start soon enough.

"The players are the ones itching the most to be playing," Moreira said. "They've been already getting together a couple of times a week to practice, some kick arounds, to make sure that when the season comes, they are already in shape."

For Hewerton Moreira, it certainly shapes up to be one unique season in more ways than one.


Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at socwriter@optonline.com. He has written two books" Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers and a sequel, STILL AND ALIVE AND KICKING: The story of the 21st century Rochester Lancers. It has many features about indoor soccer and MASL players. Both books can be purchased at www.RochesterLancersBook.com.