Who is Marcelo Saragosa
by J.T. Elliott
September 26, 2006
DALLAS (MNN) -
At 13, Marcelo Saragosa made a choice that would change his entire life. He decided to be a soccer player.
He wouldn't be a soccer player like all boys in Brazil are soccer players, with their school teams and daily pick-up games in the street. No, he would be a soccer player like all boys in Brazil dream of being soccer players, with a professional contract and big matches in fan-filled stadiums. A pubescent Saragosa decided he would make his living - and find glory - in his country's national pastime.
Achieving that dream, however, would come at a price. Saragosa would have to leave Santa Catarina, the picturesque state in southern Brazil where he had spent most of his childhood. It would mean leaving his parents' home and the comfortable lifestyle his dentist father provided for him. It would mean moving to Sao Paolo and living in a dormitory with other stardom-seeking soccer prodigies. "I wanted to do it and my parents were very supportive of me," he said. "I knew this was a great opportunity." So at age 13, Saragosa packed his bags and headed north to Sao Paolo, the largest city in the southern hemisphere. He quickly found himself overwhelmed by the sprawling metropolis.
Amid the city's 11 million inhabitants, Saragosa - who grew up in a town of 400,000 people - felt scared and alone. Sao Paolo threatened to swallow him. "At first, it was very difficult," he says. "I did not know how to live by myself in a city so big. I was young and I missed my family."
The easy choice would have been to betray his dream and return home. But the 13-year-old opted to stay, thus beginning a decade-long odyssey that would eventually bring him to FC Dallas' doorstep. "I knew something good would happen for me in soccer," he says. "I worked hard every day so that it would happen."
Four years after moving to Sao Paolo, Saragosa signed with the storied Sao Paolo Futebol Clube. He played in their youth system for several years until then-LA Galaxy assistant coach Martin Vasquez spotted him on a scouting trip to Brazil.
Vasquez, who now is an assistant coach with Chivas USA, helped orchestrate a deal with Sao Paolo to loan Saragosa to the Galaxy for the 2004 season. That year, Saragosa started 24 games and made appearances in two others. At the season's end, Sao Paolo demanded $2 million for Saragosa's rights and the MLS balked. The Brazilian returned to his homeland and looked to continue his career there.
As he contemplated his next move, the Galaxy asked him to rejoin them in mid-September 2005. Saragosa was on hand for the team's U.S. Open and MLS Cup victories, which he considers the highlights of his professional career thus far. "For an international player, there's no greater thing than winning two cups in a foreign country," he says. "It's what you play for."
The Galaxy, however, released Saragosa in May, following a dreadful start to their 2006 campaign. At the time, Saragosa figured he had played his last match with an MLS team. "I wasn't sure I wanted to stay in the league," he said. "But then Dallas made an offer. They are one of the grand clubs in the MLS, they had great players and they were in first place. I could not say no."
Saragosa joined FCD in July and made his first appearance during a friendly against Tigres. He made his debut memorable with a win-sealing goal in the second half. Saragosa, known as "o Galo" (the rooster) in Brazil, has gone on to start in six regular-season games. "It's a great team," he says. "I am very happy to be a part of it."
Though he's the only Brazilian on the team, Saragosa says he does not feel isolated in the locker room. He has made fast friends with several of the Latino players, including former Galaxy teammate Carlos Ruiz and FCD goalkeeper Dario Sala, who is the only other person on the roster who can speak Portuguese. "I am not lonely because I have friends from Argentina and Guatemala here. But maybe one more Brazilian on the team would be good," Saragosa says, laughing.
Another Brazilian would provide welcomed reinforcement for his ongoing argument with Sala over which country - Argentina or Brazil - has a stronger soccer tradition. It would also give him another vote in the pair's frequent Pele-or-Maradona debates. As it stands now, the keeper and the defensive-minded midfielder settle their differences with PlayStation. During their marathon battles, each man holds the controller of his own national team. "Sometimes Brazil beats Argentina so badly, Dario switches to France," Saragosa says with mock seriousness. "Brazil is the best in the world. It's hard to beat them."
Outside the Pizza Hut Park confines, Saragosa is equally content. His wife, Carolina, is expecting their first child next month, a little boy they plan to name Mateos. The soft-spoken player clearly relishes the thought of giving his baby a chance to realize the American dream. "I am so happy that Mateos will be an American," he said. "He will have so many more opportunities because of it. This makes me very happy."
Saragosa also hopes his son will be in the stands on Nov. 12 for the MLS Cup championship. He has no doubt that his team will be on the field that day. "There is nothing I want more than to play in the championship in front of our own fans," he said. "There is nothing our entire team wants more."