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Getting to know the Revolution’s high-scoring Gustavo Bou, a.k.a. the Panther

Revolution forward Gustavo Bou makes his famous panther sign under a piece of artwork he commissioned from a fan.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

The Panther is hot.

Revolution striker Gustavo Bou, nicknamed “La Pantera,” has already endured a scorching morning practice at Gillette Stadium and a photo shoot outside his Newton home, where the temperature hits 100 degrees on the blacktop.

The minute the video crew leaves, he is ambushed from behind and pelted mercilessly in a family water balloon fight. The drenched Panther takes prisoners. He gleefully carries his daughter Martina, 7, and then his wife Marisol, both fully clothed, into the wading pool. Then he scoops up his 1-year-old daughter, Nicol, and showers her in hugs.

La Pantera is muy contento. The Argentine’s trademark poker face is shown only on the field.

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“A lot of people see my demeanor and see me as somebody who’s very serious and very reserved,” says Bou, 32. “But the ones who know me as a person on the field and off the field will tell you that it’s actually the opposite.”

Some teammates say he’s the funniest guy on the team. Bou loves his nickname. His living room has a snarling portrait that looks part panther, part Batman. It was commissioned by Bou from a fan. When he poses for a picture with it, he growls.

The nickname goes back to his amateur days.

“A teammate from my past called me ‘Panther’ because I ran fast with long strides,” Bou said. “Little by little, it stuck with me. When I went pro, I embraced the Panther nickname and I’ve carried it with me everywhere I’ve gone.”

Bou makes a splash with his wife and daughter.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

He says it’s a good fit.

“I always try to imitate my nickname in my style of play,” he says. “Sometimes it energizes me and inspires me. I identify with it because I’m sort of solitary, like a panther tries to be. A panther doesn’t go away, it hides.”

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But Bou never hides from teammate Carles Gil. The duo are the Stockton and Malone of Revolution soccer. The Spaniard knows where Bou is at all times.

“He’s the MVP of the league, and that’s well deserved,” says Bou. “He has all the characteristics and skills of a great player on the field. He knows when to pass the ball and find and strengthen his teammates. It just makes things so much easier.”

Bou, now in his fourth season with the Revolution, has been scorching hot on the field, too — when healthy. He missed the first two months of the season, then scored seven goals in eight games prior to being sidelined again with a leg injury. Since joining the team in July 2019, Bou has 55 combined goals and assists (including playoffs), fifth most in the league, while his 39 goals are third most.

Bou and his family get into the swing of things.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Argentina has given the world two of the all-time soccer greats: Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Bou, who has played on six teams in four countries, but never in Europe, would love to play next to Messi.

“But I’m not sad about not having that chance,” he says. “I always say that soccer takes you where it wants to take you, not where you want it to take you.”

He dreams of an MLS Cup this season with the Revolution. He says they have to finish strong.

“If you look at the past two years, we’ve come extremely close,” he says. “Hopefully this year is the year that we reach that objective.”

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He’s cooking now

Over a couple of afternoons at his house, Bou shoots baskets, grooves to an accordion-based Argentine band, and conducts a barbecue clinic while slow-cooking short ribs.

BBQ Argentina style is a social event and a national pastime. Bou never uses a gas grill and hates barbecue sauce. (“Too sweet,” he says.)

Ribs are on the menu at Bou's grill.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Bou uses a mix of three premium hardwoods to slow-cook his beef short ribs. The cooking temperature is key, although Bou never uses a meat thermometer.

“I learned that if you keep your hand close to the grill for 10-12 seconds and it starts to burn, it’s enough heat,” he says.

The bones heat up and slowly separate from the beef. The results are delicious.

Bou’s first visit to a US steakhouse was a little shocking given that Argentines prefer their beef well done. He cut into a steak and blood spilled out. He wondered whether it was alive and sent it back. ”I think something’s going to run up to me,” he said.

Now he accepts medium rare.

Bou has the ingredients for success on and off the field.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

The 2021 MLS All-Star has come a long way from the barrios of Concordia, Argentina, where his main meal was sharing an egg and some stale bread. Bou was acquired from Tijuana in 2019 on a $6.7 million transfer, the most expensive in Revolution history (he signed a two-year extension in 2021). He says that just gives him more incentive to succeed.

He absolutely loves Boston, although he wishes he could speak English better. He’s thrilled that his daughter speaks English fluently and has friends at the playground and in school.

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“For me, as her father, when I see things like that, it makes me really emotional and really proud,” he says through Revolution interpreter and media manager Harold Rivera.

Bou laughs about his rookie season. He remembers nearly running out of gas after a game, then making it to the pump only to find that it was closed. A fan in a Revolution T-shirt recognized him, and Bou followed him to an open gas station. The fan waved at him and drove off. The only problem was Bou didn’t know how to use a debit card.

“So I waited definitely over an hour, hoping that somebody would help show me how to do it,” he says with a laugh. “Looking back on that moment actually helped me kind of come out of my shell a little bit, to not be afraid and ask for help.”

Bou celebrated with Gillette Stadium fans when the Revolution clinched the Supporters' Shield for having the best record in MLS in 2021.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Bou says he’s never been booed in Boston and he feels the love of the fans at Gillette Stadium. One of his brothers recently sat in the end zone with Revolution supporters.

“They really took him in as one of their own,” Bou says. “And in fact, there was a song that they invented — ‘Clap, clap. Don’t stop clapping. The goals from the Panther are going to come.’ ... It rhymes in Spanish.”

Humble beginnings

Growing up in a family of 10 siblings, Bou had very little.

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“Things like having a toy, a soccer ball, a pair of cleats, new clothes, a bicycle, and everything a kid or family doing well would have, we didn’t have,” he says.

Yet somehow he thrived. Kids in the barrio have to be creative. If there wasn’t a ball, they’d make one.

Now the Panther pounces on a pair of sweaty socks at the side of the wading pool. He starts rolling them into a perfectly shaped ball as if he’s kneading dough. He then does the soccer equivalent of a Harlem Globetrotter move, using his famous feet to dribble the sock upward as if it’s attached to a rubber band on a paddle.

Bou shows some soccer moves with an improvised ball made of rolled-up socks.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Bou then picks up a basketball and cans a couple of jumpers. He almost quit soccer on two occasions.

“One time when I was young, I was playing soccer and I had a scuffle with a teammate in training,” he says. “After that, I didn’t want to go back to soccer. In the school I went to, it was basketball and soccer, and they both trained at the same time.”

The basketball coach asked him if he wanted to try out.

“I pointed to my feet and told him that I didn’t have shoes,” Bou says. “In soccer, I trained barefoot because we trained on grass, but the basketball team trained on concrete.”

Bou walked home over gravel and dirt roads barefoot. He grabbed his sister’s sneakers, which were two sizes too small, and jammed his feet in there and made the team.

Bou has some basketball talent, too.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

“I would walk around with my toes all wrinkled up,” he says. “I would walk funny.”

He almost quit soccer again, 12 years ago, when his mother was dying, and he worried about supporting his family.

“Before she passed, she asked me to never step away from the game of soccer,” he says. “That’s why I point and look toward the sky after every goal I score.” (When he won a title in Argentina, he says, “I felt like I had reached the sky with my hands.”)

“I’m very proud and happy of where I am. And to get to where I am, it took a lot, a ton. And that makes me value the things that I have today even more. Material things come and go. But things like love and humility, those are things that you’ll have forever.”

He doesn’t need a big swimming pool or even a bottle opener. He opens a beer bottle with a fork.

But he does splurge on one item.

The Panther never has to worry about his paws on the hot pavement anymore. He owns 100 pairs of sneakers.

“I have a weakness for sneakers,” he says with a big smile.

Bou, holding his daughter Nicol, says he loves Boston.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at stanley.grossfeld@globe.com.