by Michael Lewis

Well before this week, Ricardinho Cavalcante knew the Dallas Sidekicks already were facing a unique challenge.

The team is scheduled to ring out the old year and ring in the new one, playing three games in four days, twice the road.

What he didn't see coming was a new role. He will lead the Major Arena Soccer League side through those matches as interim head coach in the wake of Pablo Da Silva's firing last week.

The Sidekicks (0-3) are in last place in the Central Division.

"I just accepted the challenge because of the love for the game," Cavalcante said. 

Club president Jesse Llamas certainly has seen it firsthand through Cavalcante's 10 dedicated years with the organization. 

“Coach Ricardinho truly understands the player's needs, while still keeping true to the organization since he has always been a fan favorite," he said in a statement. "He is going to bring professionalism and experience to the team.”

The 42-year-old former midfielder was promoted to his new position on December 22. Due to the Christmas break, Cavalcante hasn't had much time to work with the players.

"The system will be the same," he said. "We have two practices. I don't think there's enough time to try to change a lot. Maybe after these three games. I have to have the trust of the kids who want to be here. ... I talked to the guys. They seem to be on the ball."

Tonight at 7 p.m. CT, Dallas hosts the St. Louis Ambush in the first game of a home-and-home series at the Credit Union of Texas Event Center in Allen, Texas.

"I talked to those guys who need to give our lives for the first win," Cavalcante said.

"I hope everybody will be on time next day for 4 a.m. [departure] in the next day as well. It's a tough schedule but there's nothing you can do."

The teams will turn around and play a New Year's Eve encounter at The Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo. at 3:05 p.m. CT. After a day off (New Year's Day), the Sidekicks visit the Milwaukee Wave for a 1:05 CT kickoff.

If he had his way, Cavalcante would be in the middle of the action in those matches. During an 18-year-career from 2003-04 through last season, he scored 126 goals and added 208 assists over 325 games.

"This is my dream because I've been here a long time," he said. "Man, I can't wait for Thursday's game. I'm so excited. I want to be on the field so bad. I hope I can transmit what I feel to the players that I want to compete."

As a former pro indoor player, Cavalcante has gotten used to being away from home for holidays, although that doesn't mean he likes it. He would rather be home with his wife and children.

"I don't drink. I'm no party guy," he said. "You hope to spend time with the family after this. And then if you win, even better." 

For rookie forward Luiz Morales, a homegrown product from nearby Irving, Texas, the three games will be an eye-opener.

"This is going be a little bit strange," he said. I'm used to seeing my family and friends keep during holidays. It’s going to be a first-time experience without my family but hopefully we get through it. Looking forward for the win. So hopefully that keeps me up my head being away from my family."

The Sidekicks will be fortified by some veteran help. They recently signed former Dallas midfielders Cameron Brown and Jamie Lovegrove.

Lovegrove, 31, who has recorded 77 goals and 108 in 73 MASL matches, played five years with Dallas. He was acquired from the defending champion San Diego Sockers. 

Brown, 32, became the first Sidekick to score in 21 successive MASL games while breaking the legendary Tatu's record.

Both players have high hopes for Cavalcante.

"Coach Rica is a big part of why I chose to come back and play for the Sidekicks again," he said in a press release. "Rica has been my teammate, then captain and now coach. I look forward to playing for him and giving my all to help him and this team. ... I know what Rica expects of me and hopefully I can do that.

Ditto for Brown, who hails from nearby Garland, Texas.

 “I expect a lot of positivity and fun to come from training sessions and games," he said. "Ricky is a players’ coach who allows each player to express themselves and play to their strengths and enjoy their time playing.”

Cavalcante’s ultimate goal?  To create an identity for the Sidekicks.

"Of course, I want to win games," he said. "I want to first make one we can compete with any team [and] ... bring back at least the respect."

Cavalcante, also who owns who operates RC10 Professional Soccer Training in suburban Carrollton, said he planned to talk to Tatu for some advice. Tatu coached the Sidekicks during two tenures and most recently the Mesquite Outlaws, who are sitting out this season. 

"Imagine how much he can help me grow," he said.

If you haven't figured it out by now, the Sidekicks are close to Cavalcante's heart, competing for the club in nine campaigns in an indoor career that has spanned 18 seasons. He retired after last season, completing his third stint with the team. Cavalcante also has competed for the Milwaukee Wave, California Cougars, Detroit Ignition, Philadelphia KiXX, Omaha Vipers, Baltimore Blast and Florida Tropics.  

"I met my wife here,” he said. “I have a family today because the Sidekicks gave me the opportunity. I am here because of the Dallas Sidekicks

"The Dallas Sidekicks opened the door, changed my life. It means everything to me, everything."

Cavalcante was 24 when he first joined the Sidekicks in 2003-04, not too much older than the 22-year-old Morales, who could very well be the future of the team. 

Morales grew up rooting for the Sidekicks as a friend of his uncle played for the club. He has gotten off to an encouraging start, connecting for a hat-trick in his MASL debut, an 8-4 loss to the Ambush on Dec 4. Morales has accumulated four goals and an assist in three appearances.

"I didn't expect to score three goals in my first game, especially coming in as a rookie, being new to the league," he said. "My hard work and dedication paid off. Just happy that I got to come out with a hat-trick on my debut."

What made it even more impressive was that Morales scored only 94 seconds after the opening kickoff to give Dallas a 1-0 lead as he earned the second star of the match.

Now, how many rookies can say that after their first goal?

Morales’ first score was an emotional one. He recently had a close friend pass away.

"He was like a brother to me," he said. "He had been supporting me since we were in high school. He was always behind me, trying to keep me on track. When I scored my first goal, my first reaction was to look up and dedicate it to him."

His dream is to have a long professional career and score a lot of goals.

"If it's possible this year, but probably not, but in the next few years, become one of the top strikers in the league," he said. 

"I want to be remembered in setting my standards high." 

Morales realized that his learning curve will be great, adjusting to the faster play of the MASL and learning the ins and outs of the indoor game from veterans. That included teammates and opposition.

"I tend to pick up little from here, a little bit from there, try to learn, to put it into my game," he said. 

If Morales’ kind attitude is infectious, the Sidekicks could wind up turning their season around sooner than later.

They hope to start this week by celebrating the new year with a win or two.