PHILADELPHIA – Joao Moutinho grew up in a soccer-mad household in Lisbon, tutored in the ways of the beautiful game by a loving grandfather who had him kicking around in the backyard from practically the time he could walk.
But his long-running infatuation with the United States began with a different sort of sport entirely.
“When I first started learning English, it was actually watching the WWE – really!” Moutinho told reporters at the Pennsylvania Convention Center after LAFC selected him with the first overall pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft.
“I was like 5 or 6 years old and I would memorize all the things they would say. That definitely had an impact in my life – I started learning English from there.”
That early exposure to American culture (including his favorite wrestler, John Cena) honed his language skills and helped plant a seed of fascination with the country that would become his adopted home when the University of Akron came calling after the close of his youth tenure at Sporting CP’s revered academy.
Moutinho went to Ohio knowing the Zips program has become a conveyor belt to the professional level over the past decade.
LAFC takes Akron’s João Moutinho No. 1 overall in the MLS SuperDraft.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) January 19, 2018
Moutinho & Zakuani (2009) make @ZipsMSoc the fifth school with multiple No. 1 overall MLS draft picks (UCLA, UConn, Virginia, Maryland).
“That was something that I was aware of,” he said of Akron’s history of grooming MLS talent, “and something I wanted to do, play [in] MLS … I know it’s a league that has been growing a lot and is just getting better from now on.”
And now, after just one NCAA season in Ohio, he’s about to embark on his pro adventure with one of the splashiest expansion sides in MLS history.
“It was a big opportunity for me, I just wanted to keep playing,” he said. “This was the path that I wanted – I didn’t think of nothing else."
Asked if it was a long-running dream to make his way in America, Moutinho wagged his head in the affirmative.
“Oh yeah, definitely, definitely. It’s the country of opportunity,” said the versatile left-footer. “I want to go to a club that has the ambition to go all the way. And who else but LAFC?”
A smart, technical but undersized defender, Moutinho faces questions about his optimal position at the next level and his ability to withstand the grind of a long MLS season. He’ll confront those doubts with hard-earned confidence, though.
“I’m a soccer player and honestly, I just play wherever the coach wants me to play. I played like three or four positions at Akron and I think I did pretty well, so wherever the coach wants me, then that’s what I’ll play,” he said.
“It’s exactly what I trained for and what I’ve always done all my life has been leading up to this moment. I’m definitely proud.”