'This guy is for real.' Marcio Leite
Milwaukee Wave head coach Giuliano Oliviero likes to say that he has two versions of Marcio Leite on his team:
One who plays very well in the regular season and the other who steps it up another notch or two and who excels in the playoffs.
"We joke about it within the team," he said. "When the playoffs rolled around, we call 'Playoff Marcio.' He seems to elevate his game when it becomes more and more important. And we're seeing it again this year, which is remarkable at this age. He's been great and I think the best is ahead of him."
That is not hyperbole. Leite's history post-season history rubber stamps that.
Leite has celebrated four indoor soccer championships, including two in the Major Arena Soccer League, while winning a pair of playoff MVP honors.
And if you think the 38-year-old Brazilian has lost a step or two this season, consider this fact:
Entering the divisional finals, Leite leads everyone with eight points on the strength of three goals and five assists in only two-plus games, against Utica City FC in the Eastern Conference final.
Not too shabby for an attacking defender who has stayed with the same team for 99.9 percent of his indoor soccer career, except for the truncated 2021 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I just feel like during the regular season I'm more about, 'Okay, what does the game need?' If the team is winning, and the team is doing well, I just want to win the game. I don't need to really make a difference. But usually playoff games that are closer, or games that every play matters. In these kinds of games, I need to step up my game. I need to take more chances. I need to really give everything I got right because there's no tomorrow."
It's all about pacing oneself and making the right decisions.
"During the regular season you might be playing a Friday game and then you play a Saturday game," Leite added. The Friday game we are winning by a lot, you take the foot off the pedal, where in the playoffs, it's just hey, there's no tomorrow. If you lose, you're out."
Leite's playoff success started years ago, in the Major Indoor Soccer League when he connected on a three-point goal to boost Milwaukee's lead from 7-4 to 1-4 in the third quarter en route to a 16-7 triumph over the Baltimore Blast in the 2011 final.
A year later, he outdid himself, striking for a hat-trick, including twice in the second quarter, in a 14-2 rout of the Blast in the first match of the championship series. That night, Baltimore head coach Danny Kelly told the Baltimore Sun that Leite was "a special player ... one of the top players in the league."
In the second game of the series, Leite, off a give-and-go with Oliviero on the power play, equalized at 10-10 with 9:26 remaining in the fourth quarter. He was named playoff MVP, a feat he duplicated in the MASL final in 2019.
"I think there's a belief, a confidence," Leite said. "It all started a year that I wanted to win a championship. I was able to score two three-point goals and in the first championship is that I know deep down that I can really make a difference, help my team win a championship. That's when I really stepped it up. I pushed myself and I tried to be a difference maker. Sometimes it works, sometimes doesn't work. I want to make sure that after the game, I can say, despite the result I know I gave it all, for the good or the worse.
"It's more of a mentality of I would rather be criticized by doing something too much and try to maybe help too much than be criticized by not really showing up."
And remember, Leite has become accomplishing this as an attacking defender. He started his indoor career as a midfielder-forward.
"Having been playing the indoor game for so many years, you understand angles, runs, players, opponents, is all very important,” he said. “My first few years I was a second forward and scored a lot of goals and assists. I remember one game when he [Oliviero] was the head coach, we were low on defenders. He said, 'Marcio go play defense.' I was like, 'I'll go, no problem. And after that game, he came to me: ‘This is something we can do if we are losing the game or something we can move you to defense, and you can be an attacking defender out of the back.’ "
Which is something that MASL commissioner Keith Tozer, who coached Leite on the Wave, knows all too well.
"If you don't have the right forward marking him, you're in trouble," he said. "If I was playing against him, I would probably take my fastest midfielder and mark them up as him and not a target because he's dangerous coming up from the back."
Of course, given the 6-foot, 166-lb. Leite's skills and talent, that might be easier said than done.
In case you were wondering, Leite earned first star honors by registering two goals and four assists in the 11-8 home win over Utica in the conference final on April 13. He added a goal and assist in the second match, a 4-3 away loss on April 16. He did not score in the Wave's 2-1 victory over Utica in the ensuing 15-minute match that decided the winner.
This Marcio Leite should not be confused with the Marcio Leite who performed in the MISL and Continental Indoor Soccer League from 1981-95.
Born in Aracaju, Brazil on Aug. 5, 1984, Leite, like many boys in the South American country, took to the game very early in life.
"It is a big part of our culture," he said. "It's like the first gift you get from your dad. It's probably from the team he supports."
Well, not always. His father was a fan of Santos, the team of the late, great Pele, while Leite supported Sao Paolo.
"When I was growing up, Sao Paulo, won everything," he said. "I believe they won the Liberatores Cup. I have a little rivalry with my dad."
Leite then laughed.
Regardless, his passion for the game grew. Leite played the beautiful game wherever he could with his friends.
"You and your friends are always talking about soccer, making fun of each other," he said. "It's an easy game to play because you just need a ball, a friend and you guys can play 1 v 1. In Brazil we have this culture of just of playing on the streets, playing with your friends, playing against the next street teams. It's something that people don't even understand here."
The Brazilian soccer culture is bigger than the country itself. Pick a World Cup, any World Cup and there are familiar scenes.
"It’s how the country stops," Leite said. "Whenever there is a World Cup, people don't work, companies don't even make other workers work because they know that people are going to be watching TV or be on their phones. The country totally stops. It’s really a huge thing in Brazil and I see a lot of growth here in America from my first year and hopefully can be something like that one day."
Vava Marques, then the assistant coach of the U.S. futsal national team, saw Leite playing in Brazil, and realized he would be a perfect player to perform in the USA and recommended him to Tozer. Tozer was the U.S. futsal head coach who also directed the Wave at the time.
"I can remember the moment I saw him play that first practice," Tozer said. "I just turned to the coaches. I was like, 'Oh my God! What a player! I'll never forget. I coached Hector Marinaro. I coached Usyian Thompson, Chico Borja, Greg Howes (three-time league MVP for the Wave], and the list goes on. But when I saw him play that first day, I was like, 'This guy is for real.'
"I'm talking dynamic. I'm talking speed, quickness with or without the ball could shoot. There are many great 1 v 1 players. Some of the players are great shooters. They're great at getting into the second post. But when you find a player who can take people 1 v 1, and do what he could do it the ball, it was like wow, this is this is something. I'll never forget that day."
As it turns out, Leite also has a day he will never forget - Nov. 4, 2006.
"I had offers from teams from Brazil. I had offers from a club from Italy," Leite said. "Because I really wanted to see America and I always had a dream of coming here and experiencing everything after hearing great things from Vava, I decided to sign with the Wave. I remember my first day here was Nov. 4, 2006. That's when I came to Milwaukee, and that has been my home since."
Speaking Portuguese virtually his entire life while living in a warm climate there were culture shocks.
"I could speak a little bit of English.," Leite said. "Obviously, I was in shock when I came here because of the speed that, Americans will talk to me It took me a little while to get it going."
Then there was an annual occurrence that fell from the sky in Milwaukee and in many U.S. regions - snow.
"Like what is going on? What is this?" Leite said of his first reaction to snowflakes.
"It's beautiful, but it gets to a point in the winter where it's like: Is it ever going to go away?"
Leite has stayed in Milwaukee since, becoming an icon of the soccer team and culture of the city and area in Wisconsin.
"I was very lucky, right to come to a team like the Milwaukee Wave," he said. "I think the Wave is a dream team for a lot of players that play in the league. The organization, the structure, the legacy. It is a team that every year, we are fighting for the playoffs. We're still one of the best organizations and teams in the league, and you know that if you come into the Milwaukee Wave, you're going be competing to a championship.
"The second thing is that I'm a very loyal person. It is really hard for me to go from team to team."
You can say the Wave was loyal to Leite. Twice he suffered ACL injuries early in his career with the team, and both times the team refused to give up on him.
"I had two years where it was very hard," he said. "I tore my ACL in back-to back seasons. So I didn't play two seasons. They stuck with me, with all the question marks about my ability after having what can be a career ending injury. Keith Tozer, my coach at that time, believed in me. I ended up coming back and we won two championships."
Leite got further ensconced in the Milwaukee community by becoming a youth soccer coach, "which is something that I never thought I was going to be doing," he said, in the offseason with SC Wave.
"I fell in love with it," he said. "It just became the full package. I could do something that I love, which is coaching and play. ... When I first got my first team, it was a U-10 girls team. I totally fell in love with it, seeing the kids getting better."
He is the team's MLS NEXT boys director of coaching, and a few years ago was named Wave assistant coach by Oliviero, his former teammate, for whom he said he "always had a great amount of respect."
"Even when I retire, I'm still going to be around soccer full time because this is what I love to do," Leite added. "I think again I can help a lot of people and young players developing in also become better men and just have the same passion that I have for the game. These kids will have the same kind of passion vision I do."
Given the off-the-charts passion Leite has for the game, that might be difficult to duplicate or measure.
"My love of the game, I just love soccer. It's all I do," he said. "If you talk to anybody, even my teammates. They're like, 'Marcio, relax. We don't have to talk soccer anymore.' My wife you know, there's the TV's on in our house watching soccer games. I just love the game and to be able to stay with it is something I definitely don't take for granted."
He is married to Cindy and they have twins, Leo and Melissa, who are five-years-old.
Leite felt he was very fortunate to have his children attend the 2019 MASL finals when the Wave defeated the Monterrey Flash for all the marbles. To top it off, he was named playoff MVP.
"Winning the championship, being MVP in front of my family, my wife and my kids was definitely the greatest feeling because I remember doing an interview and my son Leo was sitting on my shoulders, touching the microphone," he said. "It was it was a fantastic experience because I was with the people I love the most."
Leite's stay in Milwaukee was interrupted by a short stint during the 2021 season. Since the Wave did not have a team due to the pandemic, he was allowed to join the Sockers for the short season and helped San Diego win the MASL title.
"San Diego was a fantastic experience," he said. "I had multiple offers from three, four or five teams that year. My thought process was that the San Diego Sockers right they have a great tradition of winning championships. I knew some of the guys there. I know the talent that they had. If I'm going to leave Milwaukee, I want to go somewhere where I can win a championship. Lucky enough that happened, which made the experience even better. But right after the championship, I remember all the guys celebrating there for a week and I had to come back to Milwaukee the following Monday and coach my teams and get back to work."
Leite credited his longevity to a stable lifestyle off the pitch.
"All my teammates know this," he said. "I don't drink. I don't smoke. I'm a really old person that doesn't go out. I try to sleep well and rest. I don't do stupid things because I want my career to be as long as possible. My teammates even know that the only night I allow myself to get a drink is when I win a championship. Hopefully, that happens very soon."
At 38, Leite is no spring chicken. The Brazilian, who has recorded 177 goals and 257 assists in 263 regular season appearances, said that he wants to play until he can't contribute anymore. He has spoken to Oliviero about that.
"The moment where I am struggling physically to keep up with the young guys and the moments that I feel that the young guys are carrying me over where I'm there because of my name and because of the qualities and the impact that that I have on the game, that will be the moment that I will stop playing," he said.
"I think I have played well the last two years. Obviously, my recovery, it's the struggle now. It takes me a lot longer than when I was 20 years old to recover from the games. But if I can still impact the games positively, I feel like you can help the team and I'll handle that.
"As long as I can keep playing at a high level, helping my team to get some wins, I'll keep playing because I know regret. I can't coach right until I am 70 years old, but I don't want to go stop playing and say man, I could have still played one or two more years. I know these memories have been with me forever."
Retirement is far from Leite's mind these days. He has been more concerned with the Baltimore Blast in the Eastern Division finals. The Wave will host both games and a possible tie-breaker, if needed, on Friday, April 21 and Sunday, April 23, because its rivals could not secure a venue in Maryland.
“Baltimore, it doesn't matter where they're playing," Leite said. "I've seen they win championships in the last second in Monterrey, Mexico in here in Milwaukee. They have a lot of experience. They probably have more experience than our team. They know what it takes in the playoffs. They reach a different level of concentration. They've always been the team that you don't want to play against in the playoffs because Baltimore in the playoffs is a different animal.
"So, playing them is going to be fun. Those are the games that I want to play. I wish I could play games at this magnitude and against these kinds of opponents all the time. We're excited about it. We have a lot of respect for their team, the organization, the players. I have a lot of friends there too. But we're going try our best and I believe that if we play well, and we're focused and we do all the little things that we've been working on all season, I think we can be really successful."
Just like Leite has been in his career.
However, finding another Marcio Leite for the Wave or any other MASL club, for that matter, just might be an impossible task.
Perhaps Oliviero summed it up best.
"It's very difficult to find the next Marcio Leite at the moment," he said. "It doesn't happen every day. He's been an amazing ambassador, role model, player, and superstar for the Milwaukee Wave over the years. He's had two ACLs. He's missed almost two full seasons. But the guy takes incredible care of his body. He's not out at the night clubs. He's not a drinker. Off the field, he's a dad. on the field. He's a great player. He's also a player-assistant coach for us. He works within the youth club as that director for SC wave. So, the guy is pretty much a very, very valued asset and that's putting it as an understatement for the Milwaukee Wave."
And probably for the MASL as well.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, recently was published. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.lk. His sequel, STILL AND ALIVE AND KICKING: The story of the 21st century Rochester Lancers, will be published soon. It will have many features about indoor soccer and MASL players.