This is mildly self-involved, but there's a larger point here with enough self-depreciation sprinkled in to hold you over, so stay with me.
As I'm sitting near midfield of an unspectacular turf athletic field putting on my cleats for a men's league soccer game earlier this fall, something I take unreasonably and unhealthily seriously, a Portuguese friend and teammate strolled toward us from the entrance beyond the goal. He was rarely late though definitely never early, but no one cares because your team's best player gets to show up when he wants.
Even from the distance, his jersey became unmistakable. The black and white checkers, like a racing flag. I asked if that was a Boavista jersey. Taken aback and perplexed for a moment that someone who probably hasn't watched a Portuguese team play outside of a European competition would recognize the kit of a midtable team, he laughed and said, yep, that's his hometown team. With Reggie Cannon and Alberth Elis on my mind, I, of course, erroneously thought this was an MLS-connection.
Maybe we won't see an influx of Boavista kits into soccer circles across the country, but observers of MLS and the US men's national team better get used to the Portuguese club. Their interest in players from the league won't stop with their acquisitions of Cannon from FC Dallas and Elis from the Houston Dynamo this fall.
MLSsoccer.com caught up with Boavista's sporting director Admar Lopes (his title at the club has the direct translation of "director general") last week to find out more.
"Yes, of course we will continue to look at MLS for additions," Lopes said. "There are currently several players with high potential in MLS who may be of our interest in the near future. I will not reveal who they are, but there are some that could fit in our project. I also know that there are several important clubs in Europe extremely interested in MLS players."
Boavista have multiple scouts in the US who keep a close eye on MLS. Lopes himself has been here "dozens of times" for scouting trips.
"I see a lot of potential in many MLS players and I follow some of these players very closely, even with live observations, which I consider to be essential in order to have complete knowledge about a certain player," Lopes said. "There is a huge boost in the USA concerning the development of young players. It is evident to everyone that’s the main focus not only from MLS clubs but also from the US national teams, who are doing a great job when it comes to their grassroots. That gives me even more confidence in the moment I decide to move on and sign a player from the US."
Cannon and Elis were two key acquisitions of Boavista's offseason, as well as the loan of Boca Juniors midfielder Sebastian Perez who came close to a move to MLS over the summer, per a source. Both MLS players were long on Lopes' radar, both through their exploits internationally with the USMNT and Honduras, respectively, and during their time in MLS, lining up for rival clubs at rival positions. Lopes was convinced the players were ready for Europe but have plenty of potential for growth.
"We had followed the career of Reggie Cannon and Alberth Elis for many years and we had the opportunity to watch them live dozens of times," Lopes said. "In reality, they are in the final stages of their growth as players and already deserve to play in Europe. Reggie and Elis are at the right age to take this step in their careers and reach an even higher level. I have no doubt that they will both reach the top of European football because they have incredible quality and potential."
Should they reach the top of European football as Lopes forecasts, it'll be mutually beneficial for Boavista and Dallas/Houston. Both clubs retained a sell-on percentage in each transfer, as sources told MLSsoccer.com and has been reported elsewhere.
Cannon has started all seven of Boavista's league matches and hasn't missed a single minute, while Elis has a goal and assist in five appearances. He's started each of the club's last three games, including their improbable 3-0 win over league giants Benfica.
"Reggie is a modern right back who’s highly intelligent, reliable and with technique, but I think he can still do even better in terms of his decision-making in order to increase his number of assists and goals," Lopes said. "Alberth is the type of winger that is difficult to find in Europe. He is a very versatile player, highly vertical in his game and he finishes really well, as we can see from his goals and assists in MLS. Like I said before, I have no doubt that they will be able to reach the top of European football in a few years."
Boavista believe they can provide the right platform for these players to maximize their development.
"Players from North, Central and South America need the right context to grow until they reach the highest level in Europe," Lopes said. "Boavista FC’s project is based very much on scouting and promoting young players, and we are also prepared to give them time to mature in order to grow and perform at their best on the pitch. ... Portugal is the perfect gateway for players from other continents to have a first taste of European football, even more because there is a tradition in the country to train young talents in order to sell them later to the best European clubs. Boavista FC offers all the conditions for the players to grow at all levels."
Over the summer, Boavista got a new majority owner in Gerard Lopez.
He is also the majority owner of French club Lille, a club renowned for their talent identification and development in recent years. Lopes himself worked at Lille from 2017-20, after a few years with Monaco and Porto before that. A few players have come in from Lille on loan, including former Manchester United academy starlet Angel Gomes and fellow promising midfielder Show. MLSsoccer.com reported that Lille highly rate Cannon and it is likely that's his future destination if his development continues as expected, but Lopes pushed back at the connection between the clubs.
"Boavista FC is a project completely independent from Lille," Gomes said. "The most important thing for us is that (Cannon and Elis) signed long-term contracts and the goal is to keep them for several years. Our goal is to build a great team for the next few years, capable of bringing back the memorable moments enjoyed by Boavista FC in the past. We are not linked to any club, much less dependent on anyone to build a consistent and winning project."
Who knows, maybe a handful of former MLS players will be at the heart of that project.