Underdog of the Week: Joao Fonseca
After attending a SoccerViza combine last year, the Brazilian midfielder embarked back to his home to sign in the Serie D. After seeing the corruption in the game, he made use of one of the key lessons taught by SoccerViza, and made his way to Uruguay and his new home.

By: Christopher McCollum

Soccer is a political landscape as most players now, and being a game of who you know often times makes it incredibly difficult to find a pathway to success if your rival competitors are receiving a helping hand up, but you are not.

Joao Fonseca, a 23-year old midfielder from Brazil, discovered that recently while trying to enjoy the start of his professional career with a club in Brazil’s Serie D. While he may have been good enough to not just make the starting 11, but training sessions showed him to be one of the better players in that 11. However, with agents running the game and coaches taking their requests, it left Fonseca with little choice but to either leave, or suffer unjustly on the bench.

For Joao especially, it was a tough time. A quiet man off the pitch, and a serious one on it, there isn’t much difference between his personal life and playing life. It’s family and team first, it’s the enjoyment of simple things and simple play, it’s being down to earth and down to business. As he plays his number 6 role with an almost German-brand of stoicism, he plays his role at home with the same degree of quiet competence and lack of flash.

“I spend my day at the house, enjoying my time with my family and my girlfriend. Most of my friends I grew up with, they travel and they go out, they have a great time. I have never been that way. If I’m not on the field, I’m focusing on what I need to be doing the next time I step on it. I’ve come to realize as an adult that it’s important to surround myself with people who have like minds, and that’s why I keep my social circle small and enjoy my time as I do with those in it.”

A lifelong player as most Brazilians seem to be, Joao would never describe himself as being the most talented player on the field. In fact, he goes out of his way to say that he doesn’t even want to be known as a talented player. What he wants is to be recognized for what he is truly good at, and that’s leaving everything he has in his body on the field.

“I don’t want to be known as the most skilled or talented guy, because I’m not. I was not born with the talent of playing football, but I was born with the talent of hard work, and I want to be known as the hardest working player on my team, whichever team it is. When you are a hard worker, you have the ability to do anything.”

That attitude of hard work left him in perfect position to be negatively effected by the gamesmanship and back-scratching that are so pervasive in Brazilian soccer. His savior ended up being something he learned at SoccerViza’s Atlanta combine in 2014, where he did well and earned praise from Founder and CEO Joe Funicello. It was about making your own path when your existing one closes.

“I started emailing people every day. I ended up emailing more than 500 people, sending them my CV and my highlight video to see if there was any interest for me. Most of them didn’t even respond to me. But I did get a note back from Fernando Aldao, the president of Canadian Soccer Club in Uruguay. He wanted to bring me in, but I explained that I had been gone from my home in Brazil for several years now in the United States and Germany, and I wanted to go back home to play.”

The two stayed in touch though, and it finally turned out to be the case where it was someone who Joao knew, who could make a change in his playing career. Dissatisfied with the culture of agents running the show in Brazil, Joao sent out a feeler to Aldao, who, several months later, was still interested in the midfielder. It worked out, and Joao moved to Montevideo to sign with the Uruguayan Segunda Division team.

With a name like Canadian SC, the back story of the club has to be interesting, and it doesn’t disappoint. Founded by former Uruguayan professionals Aldao and his partner Gustavo Urraburu, both of whom immigrated to Canada in 1988 to start a cleaning company. After many years of happiness in Toronto, seeing the welcoming nature of their hosts and the growing population of Uruguayan ex-pats around them, they wanted to start a club in their home country to reflect their appreciation of their new country.

It took many years of petitions for the team to get off the ground, with league executives telling them no for a variety of reasons, most notably though that the team could not have the name “Canadian S.C.” and be taken seriously. It ended up working out in 2010 though, and with a host of local sponsors, the club came into existence in the bottom tier of Uruguayan football. Since then though, they have made their way up the ranks, and almost qualified for promotion to the Premier League last season.

As a conduit for Canadian players to experience South American play, and South American players to make contacts in Canada, CSC is enjoying a surprising run of success over its first five years, and Joao is now riding that train to his own future.

“Our practices are really long, sometimes three hours. It’s the most demanding atmosphere I’ve ever played in, and you can tell that the club truly believes that we belong in the Premier League, and the rest of the team has bought into it. We are treated as extreme professionals and are expected to conduct ourselves likewise. It was a tough transition from America to Brazil, going from the vertical play of America to the horizontal game of Brazil. In Uruguay, it’s back to what I’m more used to, which is the American style over the past several years. Physicality is key, and vertical play is normal, so it’s been easier to fit in.”

Narrowly missing out on promotion last season lit a fire under the club’s respective rears, showing them how close they came to fighting for a Copa Sudamericana or even a Copa Libertadores berth this season. Now it’s the only thing on the club’s mind, where they lined up friendlies with the country’s top teams during the off-season to test themselves.

“We have played against River Plate, Penarol, and El Tanque in pre-season. They were good games; we drew River Plate and Penarol, and though we lost to El Tanque, we gave them a tough time. Our squad is very good, and very serious this year.”

After Uruguay, there’s no telling what the ceiling can be for Joao. He believes that if the playing field is level, one without agents pulling strings behind the scenes and coaches playing favorites, he can play in a top division. Though his experience in Brazil embittered him a little bit, it hasn’t slowed down his worth ethic; he has only taken it as a challenge to work even harder and prove that even with backhanded tactics going on, he’s still good enough to earn his playing time.

He’s taken his lessons from the SoccerViza combine to heart, and his travels made him realize that so many of the pitfalls spoken about in the seminars are accurate reflections what goes on in the professional game around the world. With that knowledge in hand, he is hurdling them and carving out his career.

“I owe a huge thank you to Joe Funicello and the rest of the SoccerViza staff. They gave me an opportunity, and a space to showcase myself, and taught me a ton of valuable information. One thing that was passed on to me and that I’ll pass on to anyone else who will listen is that football is a sport of opinion. While one coach may think you’re not a good fit, you’re just what another coach is looking for. Be wise, and try to absorb only the positive criticism. The negativity is only there to harm you, and it will come at you more and more with each success you have. Ignore it, and focus on yourself.”