MONTREAL – When Felipe Campanholi Martins’ signing with the Montreal Impact was announced last December, most supporters couldn’t see how a 21-year-old moving from the Swiss second division would fit in MLS.
Some three months later, Felipe is part of MLSsoccer.com's second Team of the Week for 2012. The fit, it turns out, is just fine.
“I think Felipe has done really well,” Impact head coach Jesse Marsch told reporters earlier this week. “He went to Italy when he was 16 and he understands, tactically, how things are done. He’s sharp on the ball, he’s smart, he’s clever; he’s got a lot of good qualities.
GOAL: Felipe sets up Impact's 1st MLS goal
“I saw this when I went to watch him in Switzerland, and I was hopeful that we had found a little gem. He’s come in from the beginning of preseason and shown that he, for a 21-year-old player, is wise beyond his years.”
Felipe, a native of Engenheiro Beltrão, in the Brazilian state of Paraná, made some new friends rather quickly in Montreal – most of the 58,912 fans present at the Impact’s 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire at the Olympic Stadium last Saturday, at the very least.
Picking up a Davy Arnaud lay off in midfield, Felipe dribbled past Pável Pardo, opening up space to pass in Sanna Nyassi’s path. A pinpoint cross and an exquisite header later, Montreal’s captain had made history, much to the Brazilian’s delight.
“It gave me much joy to be able to participate in the scoring of that goal, the first in Montreal’s MLS history,” Felipe told MLSsoccer.com in his superbly accented southern Brazilian Portuguese. “I was very happy for Davy when he scored. Ultimately, it's not important who scores the goal. What’s important is that the team wins and plays well for the fans, for the staff, for the club.”
The Impact's home opener showcased the whole of Felipe’s qualities, but mostly his work rate. Not only did he provide the vital pass for Nyassi, but he also backtracked excellently for 90 minutes, winning his share of tackles and recovering the ball in his defensive half more often than any other player but center back Matteo Ferrari.
“I can play in a more withdrawn role or higher up the pitch, I don’t mind,” Felipe said with a shrug. “The coach asked me if I could help out in the attacking phase and he was happy with how it turned out with Sanna and Davy.”
Despite having spent the bulk of his short career in Europe, Felipe appears to have adapted seamlessly to the North American way of playing soccer, but there are other challenges in front of him. A speaker of both his native Portuguese and Italian, the versatile midfielder is now slowly, but surely, learning English to communicate better with staff and teammates and will probably pick up essentials of French at some point.
This being said, for Felipe, it’s all about futebol.
“Everyone told me good things about MLS,” he recalled. “Every year, it’s growing. The moment I knew there was interest from Montreal, I came to MLS and I’m glad I did. I'm happy I got the chance to come here and see how it was, because everyone was telling me about this fantastic championship, the stadiums, the people, the fans.”