Photo courtesy of Coastal Carolina University Athletics
By JOSE M. ROMERO
Pedro Ribeiro’s path to college soccer stardom started in futsal — five-a-side indoor soccer — in his native Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and took him north to, of all places, Coastal Carolina University near Myrtle Beach, S.C.
His abilities on the regulation-sized outdoor soccer pitch could land him a pro contract, whenever he decides to leave college.
Ribeiro, a 6-3, 208-pound center midfielder, has the MLS scouts drooling over his size and skills. He has two goals and eight assists this season, the latter category tied for the most on the Chanticleers, 15-1-2 and No. 7 in the SBI college soccer rankings.
Unselfish play defines Ribeiro. He enjoys looking to set up teammates and creates chances because he plays close to the forwards in the Coastal Carolina attack.
Ribeiro has succeeded despite a knee injury in high school, and even this season missed four games due to injury. But that hasn’t dampened the interest in him from MLS.
“He is on the MLS radar,” CCU coach Shaun Docking said in an e-mail. “I think he is a legitimate first-round draft pick this year or next year.
“His size and speed make him such a threat to defend, and that is why I see him playing as a forward at the professional level when he graduates,” Docking said.
So will Ribeiro go pro after this season, or finish college? He says he’s keeping his options open, but at this point seems to prefer graduating and obtaining his college degree before the next level of soccer.
“I definitely want to graduate,” Ribeiro said. “I just want to get a degree. It’s the main reason why I came here (to the U.S.), is to get a degree.”
Ribeiro arrived at CCU barely knowing English and having never visited the school. But a DVD of his play sent to Docking’s staff through a family connection was convincing enough for the program to offer him a scholarship.
The chance to continue his education while still playing soccer was the right choice for Ribeiro, who also considered staying in Brazil and going pro as a teenager. Ribeiro passed his entrance exam, and it was off to South Carolina.
“I didn’t want to just quit school and keep playing soccer,” he said. “In case something unusual happened or anything, I wanted to have a degree.”
Ribeiro knew that to have any chance in the pro ranks in soccer-mad Brazil, he’d have to quit school and completely dedicate himself to the sport, never having another option with nothing guaranteed.
He wanted something more concrete, and is now thriving at the collegiate level.
“All attacking plays run through Pedro. He is that important to our team and the way we play,” Docking said. “He can play multiple positions and that is the beauty of the way he plays. He is our best two-way player, which means he can defend and attack all the time. We have used him as a forward, midfielder and also anchoring midfielder if we are playing against a direct style of play.”
Ribeiro has found America to his liking would like to stay in the U.S. to play, meaning that MLS could be a natural fit
“I just want to keep playing,” he said. “Soccer is my first option after I graduate.”
He might be best served playing in North America or somewhere other than Brazil. Ribeiro said it is much more difficult to make a club when you’re 22 years old and not having played in the country than it is if you were an elementary-school kid that came up through a team’s developmental academy.
Ribeiro hasn’t seen his brother and father in almost a year. He’s headed home for Christmas. But first, there is a league title to play for, and then perhaps the NCAA tournament.
“That’s the part of the season we’re looking forward to,” he said. “We’re all really excited.”
The Chanticleers will go into the Big South tournament already having clinched the regular-season title and the No. 1 seed. It’s their second league championship in the past three years.