Lucas Maciel did not quite come out of nowhere. But as the only one of six Revolution holding midfielders lacking first-division professional credentials, Maciel overcame odds to earn a place in the starting lineup.
Maciel has proven himself with a combination of composure and smooth passing, along with an almost instant ability to click with captain Carles Gil and veteran Matt Polster.
“Playing in the preseason with him, we played a lot together and we developed an understanding,” Maciel said of Gil. “He’s a very good player, he always keeps the ball, plays short passes. He’s one of the best in the league.”
Maciel, 21, missed the Revolution’s first two games this season with a leg injury, then became the team’s youngest starter as they took a 2-1 win over Atlanta United last week to vault into first place in the Eastern Conference.
Each of Maciel’s 41 passes found its target against Atlanta, but he will likely be faced with tighter marking when the Revolution visit Nashville Saturday.
“It is much different here than Brazil,” Maciel said. “Much more intense, more physical, strong players. It is difficult, but it helps to be training with the first team every day.”
Maciel, listed at 5 feet 6 inches, 150 pounds, developed his skills playing futsal for Bangu AC and with Botafogo’s youth teams in Rio de Janeiro. Last year, he joined the first-year Revolution II team, playing all 16 games in the USL League One season, and also training with Polster, whose first-team appearance was delayed by health protocols.
“That’s why we have a second team,” Revolution technical director Curt Onalfo said. “A big part of my role is to make sure we build a really strong developmental system, and the second team and academy are a big part of that.
“We are looking for ways to try and get an advantage, which is something the Krafts are always saying. Our partnership with Botafogo, it just makes sense to do that. We identified some of the players we liked, and it’s certainly been really beneficial for us. [Maciel] adapted to the culture quickly and he played really well in his first game.”
Argentina-based scout Sergio Neveleff alerted the Revolution to Maciel, then Revolution director of scouting Remi Roy and Onalfo followed up with visits to Botafogo FR, one of Brazil’s oldest and most successful clubs. Maciel had been performing for Botafogo’s U-20 squad, along with forward Michel, who joined the Revolution II team this year, and midfielder Caio Alexandre, who went to the Vancouver Whitecaps on a $4 million transfer.
“We do a lot of vetting of players into our system,” Onalfo said. “It’s not haphazard. We spend a lot of time making sure about what their personality is like and how they fit.
“Maciel had such a consistent level of performance [last year] and we knew it would translate to the first-team level because he is a smart player. We wanted to get him in front of Bruce [Arena] and the first-team players, but there was COVID. Now, he’s taken his game to a different level because he’s playing with better players.”
Maciel impressed Arena during preseason training, signing a contract March 22, five days before the opening training match in Los Angeles. But Maciel had to let his on-field performance do the talking, having little communication with Arena because of the language barrier.
“Bacana,” Maciel said of his relationship with Arena, indicating it is positive. “He put me in the position and it is going to take a lot of work to keep it, but I’m happy to do it.
“We’re doing well as a team, working well together and getting better. For the future, we have a lot to improve on but the team is doing well and we are going to fight to get into the playoffs. We have a good chance of getting there, no doubt.”
The Revolution’s lineup in 1996, their first season, included one Brazilian — Welton, a 20-year-old from Rio de Janeiro. Though not physically imposing, Welton relied on skill and speed to score 31 times in his first three MLS seasons, with 28 goals after he was traded to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1997. The Revolution have seldom recruited Brazilians since.
“It’s a country known for soccer, and there is such a financial incentive to do well,” said Onalfo, who was born in Sao Paulo and grew up in Connecticut. “It’s a matter of the right partnerships and finding the right players, not only for their talent, but finding the right person. And that takes time. Plus there is a huge Brazilian population in the New England area, so it makes sense from that perspective.”