Veteran Presence

by Michael Lewis

Every time Marcelo Moreira enters the arena, his wife, Kayla Kent-Moreira, admits she has mixed emotions. 

On one hand, she loves the way the veteran goalkeeper pursues his passion.

On the other hand, she is fearful of the 45-year-old keeper getting injured. 

Of course, that's completely understandable, especially for someone who allowed to use his hands in the Major Arena Soccer League. 

"I have a lot of mixed feelings," she said. "Obviously, I'm super excited for him because you can't take the love out of him, especially if it’s all he's ever known, being Brazilian. He's played his whole life. When he's not playing, it's really hard to watch his friends still playing." 

Moreira is a goalkeeper coach with the Western New York Flash Academy in Buffalo, and he has his own business called More Keepers. 

"So, that always needs to be his No. 1 priority," Kayla said. "Playing is always nerve wracking for me because his job requires his body to be healthy and I'm always scared of injury. But I'm happy for him because I know how he still loves it and his passion for the game just so bleeds through him. I'm really happy for him.” 

But … 

“I'm nervous as a wife,” she added. “I hate seeing him at the games. I hate watching him when he's in goal. I'm a nervous mess. So, that part, when he's not playing, I'm so relaxed, like having fun." 

Moreira understood Kayla's sentiments. 

"Indoors is not my main job anymore," he said. "When I came here six years ago, it was my main job. Now I have my priorities. If I get hurt during the game, it will stop being a problem with me because I have to do my best in my main job. As a goalkeeper coach, I have to coach [youth players], kick them crosses, do everything so the kids have to learn about the beautiful game." 

But now Kayla needs to worry again because Moreira has come out of retirement to help the Lancers, who returned from a five-year hiatus from Major Arena Soccer League after competing in MASL2 last year. 

Entering this weekend's action, the Lancers (0-9) have struggled with essentially a rookie team, with games in Milwaukee on Saturday and in Kansas City on Sunday. 

Rochester has two young keepers -- Brian Wilkin, whom Moreira coached at Nazareth College, and Christian Esposito, whom he met when both were at Utica City FC last year. 

"It was more to help because the keepers will be the future of the indoor Lancers," Moreira said. 

Head coach Doug Miller thought Moreira would be a natural working with his young goalkeepers, first as a coach, then as someone who could set an example by playing. 

"When you've been around the game your entire life, you never really lose that competitive spirit," he said. "He wants to see the Lancers be successful and he thinks that he can add not only on the field, but helping the young players learn the game of soccer." 

In his first game back against the Harrisburg Heat at the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg, Pa. last Sunday, Moreira made several huge saves in the opening quarter in what turned into a 13-3 defeat for the visiting side. 

"He's a good shot-blocker," Miller said. "He knows the indoor game pretty well and he gives that veteran personality that we lack on our squad, being all rookies who don't have 20 games of MASL experience under their belt." 

Miller knows something about playing deep into his career. At 43, he won the Major Indoor Soccer League scoring title and MVP honors. He played for the MASL Lancers last year at 49 after scoring a goal for the outdoor squad at the age of 47 during the 2017 National Premier Soccer League season. 

"It gets harder. The older you get the harder it is to stay fit to sacrifice all the little things that need to be done within your craft," he said. "He's always working at his craft, coaching, mentoring younger players. All of a sudden you throw yourself into a high-pressure situation you try to resort back to what got you there in the first place to be able to do these things. I think that's what he did [Sunday] night for us because he made some huge saves." 

Especially in the opening half. 

Within a 16-second span in the first quarter, Moreira produced a one-handed save on Dom Francis at 10:12 and then another stop on Daniel Villela at 10:28. In the second period, he denied JJ Gibson's point-blank opportunity at 10:41 and stopped Tavoy Morgan at 13:24. The Heat led at the half, 5-3. 

"The first half was okay," Moreira said. "I didn't give many giveaways passing the ball. I played ok with my feet. It made me happy. I made a couple of good saves, but I also know that a couple of things that I could have done better, like better position and better reaction time. When it was 5-3, I think I could have been 3-3. ... I haven't played for long and I had two practices with this team before the game. At halftime I was so sore. My leg was so sore. I talked to Doug: 'If my body didn't respond to the way I wanted it during the game and it started like to be a problem for the team, if I can't make the save or I can't react the proper way, you have to replace me.’ " 

Moreira knew he was done in the third quarter when Harrisburg tallied five unanswered goals and pulled away. Esposito came on in the final period. 

On Monday morning, Moreira paid the price. When you're 45-year-old, it takes longer to recover from match to match. 

"I was so sore. I felt I was hit by a truck," he said. "I was so sore, my legs, my back. my chest, my shoulder because first of all I'm not game fit. I don't have the same muscle when I practiced every day. It was tough, especially in the morning when I woke up. Oh my God, it was horrible." 

But during a coaching session in Buffalo on Monday night, he felt better "when I warmed up and kicked some balls." Nothing like adrenaline to get you going. 

"I feel much better today," he said Tuesday. "Definitely, my recovery is much longer. My recovery is not the same when I was 20-, 30-years-old, probably more than three days before it was one day or two days. But we have time, one week before the next game." 

At the age of seven, Moreira became mesmerized with goalkeepers when he saw one make a diving save on TV with his father in Sao Paolo. 

"When they showed slow motion, the keeper diving, 'Oh my gosh, those guys ... that's so cool. I want to do this,' " he said. 

So, he played goalkeeper in the streets with no soccer shoes or gloves. 

"We made a small goal with rocks and I stayed in the middle, and they shot, and they smacked the ball," said Moreira, who made save after save. "One friend saw me play and said, 'Why don't bring this to a club, an academy? They teach kids.' " 

So he did. "I didn't know a lot about right back and left back, midfield, striker," he said. He learned the position at Corinthians before joining Palmeiras for the next decade at the age of 16. He also played for first division sides Londrina Esporte Clube, Clube Atletico Juventus, and A.D. Sao Caetano. 

Though he isn't Jewish, Moreira got an opportunity to participate in the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem. The Brazilian Maccabiah team had an open spot for a non-Jewish player and needed a goalkeeper. 

"It was a great experience because more than 10,000 athletes from around the world, different sports like ping pong, tennis, futsal, soccer, volleyball, handball," he said. "It was great. I went for 15 days. We had the opening ceremony, which was amazing with all the countries and all the Jewish people around the world. It was a great experience." 

At the time, Moreira also competed in a "show ball" competition for retired, legendary and older players, in a game that is like futsal, but is played on a square field. A friend mentioned that he might be able to continue his career in the United States. 

He flew to Baltimore and trained with Baltimore Blast midfielder Lucio Gonzaga, now with the Florida Tropics, while preparing for a tryout with the Syracuse Silver Knights. Gonzaga spoke to Tommy Tanner, then the Syracuse head coach, about a tryout. 

"He's my brother from another mother," said Moreira, who stayed with Gonzaga for two months, learning the indoor game. "He taught me about indoor, the boards. He hit the ball on this angle of the boards." 

Moreira also was introduced for snow for the first time in Syracuse.

"When I saw it the first time, 'Oh gosh, this is beautiful,' " he said. "The feeling of snow falling on my body, I said, ‘This is amazing.' I started to record, taking pictures.  The second week, oh my gosh. You have to clean. You have to shovel and clean the driveways. Oh my gosh, it's cold, it's cold. gloves, When I get a chance, I walk outside with my daughter [Jilliana] and she loves to be in the snow and make a snowman. I've gotten used to it. 

With the Silver Knights during the 2013-14 season, he met Kayla, who was working with the Lancers; she is their director operations and CFO. Moreira moved to Rochester for the 2014-15 campaign and played for the St. Louis Ambush after the Lancers went on hiatus and eventually returned to Western New York for M2 last season and as a reserve with Utica City FC.

Moreira's most memorable match? When he saved two shootout goals in a 12-11 victory over Syracuse after trailing by seven goals. He felt he had let his team down after conceding an easy goal. He denied Nelson Santana and Slavia Ubiparipovic in the tie-breaker.

"I made a huge mistake," he said. "I touched the ball and the ball went under my foot. We tied the game and we went to a shootout. It was a great moment. Everybody ran towards me and hugged me. I was crying. I was so emotional because of my mistake." 

While all he wanted was a pro career in Brazil, Moreira admitted he never thought it would last an astonishing 26 years.

"I never thought I would go so far," he said. "When I came here six years ago, I was 39 and I made sacrifices. I give my best and signed with the team. Now this is definitely going to be my last season. I hope maybe my last home game I can do something official and make the final point of my career. 

The Lancers' final home game is set for the Dome Arena in Henrietta, N.Y. against the Kansas City Comets on Saturday, March 7 at 7 p.m. ET. 

That certainly is fine with Kayla, who has seen a bit of a silver lining to Moreira playing soccer. 

"It's fun our daughter gets to be there and experience it and go on the field with him and do all that fun stuff," she said.

"But I am officially, and I say this every season, this is it. This is going to be the last time." 

Kayla got no argument from her husband.

"I am happy that I still can play at a decent level, play against the best teams, the best players in the league, because this is the best league," he said.