SANDY, Utah – When Paulo Jr. first came to Salt Lake City in 2010 from second-division side Miami FC, he had some issues.
“I just don’t think he was a professional athlete,” Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis said this week. “When I say professional athlete I mean, is he strong enough? Does he have base fitness? Does he have a set amount of aerobic capacity? Is he strong enough that he’s not getting injured all the time? And the answer to those questions were, ‘no.’”
Oh, how things have changed.
The 23-year-old Brazilian (above, right) is now an important cog for Kreis’ system at RSL, having started all three of the team’s games this season heading into a huge matchup on the road against the Portland Timbers on Saturday (10 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
He’s healthy and coming off a solid preseason, and, in Kreis’ eyes, a completely different player.
“He’s worked really, really hard,” Kreis said. “I’m very happy with everything he’s putting into our matches. All the things that I was very displeased with him last year, he’s now figured out. It’s very pleasing to have him out there battling and competing every week.”
What exactly were Paulo Jr.’s issues last season, when he appeared in just 11 matches for the club? He was homesick, first of all, and still adjusting to the RSL system that requires forwards to chase the ball defensively perhaps more than any other team in the league.
“In Brazil, we have a different style of play where the forwards don’t defend as much as we do here, and also in Miami, the forwards didn’t defend that much,” Paulo Jr. said. “But I’ve finally adapted to the system that Jason wants the forwards to play.”
And as for his adjustment to Salt Lake City, he’s become close friends with fellow Brazilian Diogo de Almeida to help him along, and his improved play has been a direct result.
“I feel way more comfortable now,” he said. “I’m used to all the guys here, to the city, and I also have Diogo from Brazil to help me out. I’m also able to be friends with other players on the team.”
So what are his objectives for the season now that he’s more comfortable in his surroundings?
“My objective is to score goals and help Real in all of the competitions that we play,” he said. “I want to score goals and help the team. That’s my objective.”