Rising soccer talent Mario Mendoza was discovered playing futsal on a Brockton field.
Futsal is soccer’s Cape Verdean hard-court cousin, and the place to play it in Brockton is James Edgar Playground. That’s where Brockton High soccer coach Herminio Furtado, a futsal player himself, sometimes finds soccer players. It’s where he first saw the teenaged Mendoza whipping around the field like a professional during a pickup game last year.
With years of soccer experience under his belt, the new coach knew he was seeing something special.
But Mendoza, a recent immigrant from Honduras, wasn’t enrolled in school. If Furtado wanted him for the Brockton High soccer team, he would have to convince the unknown talent to register.
The kid with MLS aspirations decided he needed the school too.
“I didn’t want [to] leave [soccer] completely,’’ he said recently, “because without [it] . . . life would make no sense.”
Life has not been easy for the 19-year-old. With both his parents dead, he has been living with his stepfather. As a high school junior at his age, he needed a special waiver to play on the team.
Waiver obtained, he became part of an unprecedented team that on Nov. 18 won the Division 1 state final for the first time in Brockton soccer history, defeating Longmeadow, 5-3.
But the way Brockton won the game, rallying from a two-goal deficit in the second half, spoke volumes. Furtado teaches his team the mentality of aikido, a nonviolent martial art that encourages practitioners to allow opponents to be aggressors and exhaust themselves.
Early on, Brockton allows the other team to press, carry the ball, and maybe score a few goals. But as opponents tire, Brockton reveals its A game and turns the tide.
Leonardo Teixeira, a striker quick on his feet despite his towering size, was a dynamo in his first season, responsible for 31 goals as well as a game-defining hat trick that ultimately earned Brockton the Division 1 title. He is, needless to say, a leader among his teammates.
Teixeira has only lived in the United States since March and speaks little English. His grandmother convinced his family to leave Cape Verde for the States, packing him, his father, and his sister off to a foreign culture.
Still, he registered at Brockton High by the fall deadline, and swiftly adopted his new coach’s philosophy.
“He’s the first one to come and hug you in the field,” said Furtado. “If you miss a penalty kick, he’ll come and hug you.”
Teixeira’s embrace of the code of kindness drew in his new teammates quickly, none more so than Jonathan Rodrigues, a son of Cape Verdean immigrants.
“Half of his goals came off my assists,’’ said Rodrigues, “and half of my goals came off his assists” — including the tiebreaker in the title game. “There’s a chemistry.”
Rodrigues was raised in Brockton and is fully aware of the low opinion many have of it, but he has bought into his coach’s approach.
“You don’t need to go out and fight the world, fight opponents, fight teammates,” said Furtado. “If you have talent, talent will show. But it takes time and work.”
It’s an approach, Furtado emphasizes, that extends beyond the pitch.
“Can they show self control when the referee makes a call they don’t like?” said Furtado. “When a police officer stops them, asks them to do something, will they do it, or will they resist?”
This isn’t to say yellow cards aren’t tossed at Brockton, but when a referee makes a bad call, the coach encourages his players to squash whatever outrage they may feel, and be courteous instead. He sums up his boys’ reaction to the calls with one word.
“Coach has done a great job preaching class,” said Rodrigues. “In representing yourself in school or not, always show your class.”
If an opponent falls, a Brockton player will extend a hand to help him up. Rodrigues says that after games, he and his teammates are often complimented on their behavior by their opponent’s fans and officials.
Teixeira and his teammates wear their soccer uniforms around town, knowing full well that doing so draws added scrutiny.
“It gives you a sense of responsibility,” he said through Rodrigues, who translated for him. “You don’t want to mess up for your school.”
Brockton will be losing some of this team’s standouts next year. Mendoza, for example, will turn 20 soon, making him ineligible for a sports waiver or to continue studying at Brockton High. He intends to get his GED at a night school.
But Furtado isn’t nervous about losing valuable players. He’ll return to James Edgar Playground, and watch a game of futsal.
“It’s been amazing that so much talent around this city that we’re not tapping into,” said the coach. It’s gratifying, he added, “to know that soccer is getting students to school.
“You find a lot of raw talent that no one knows,” said the coach. “I’m pretty sure there’s someone I haven’t seen yet.”Katherine Fominykh can be reached at email@example.com.