Friday, June 19, 2009

Elite Emigrantes - The Toast of Brockton Soccer

By Matt Tempesta

Watching the Emigrantes Das Ilhas soccer club run endless laps around the worn dirt soccer field at Parmenter Playground in Brockton, one would never get the impression that this is one of the top Cape Verdean/Portuguese soccer clubs in the country.
On May 24, the Emigrantes beat Danbury United, 4-2, to earn their first-ever appearance in the prestigious Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a tournament made up of the top 40 professional and amateur teams in the country.
Despite a June 9 overtime loss to the Western Mass. Pioneers, a professional team that is a part of the United Soccer League, in the tourney’s first round, the Emigrantes are among the top eight amateur teams in America as they compete for the amateur Open Cup.
Nevertheless, while they are one of the best soccer teams in New England, it is widely know throughout the New England Luso American Soccer Association that their Brockton field is also one of the worst in the league.
“This is the only place we play that’s bad,” said Julio Pinto, the treasurer of the NELASA and a resident of Brockton. “In Boston, they have the turf fields. Nobody wants to come and play in Brockton.”
With the Emigrantes playing at such an elite level, the hard dirt surface that stretches from net to net makes it nearly impossible to play up to the team’s usual standards. And with up to 10 different teams practicing on the field every week, the conditions have only been getting worse.
“It’s tough when you have a team like Emigrantes playing a team that’s less competitive,” said the 37-year-old Pinto. “And when it comes to this field, everybody is the same because it’s all kick-and-run. There’s no skill. If you try to control the ball, it just flies over your legs.”

“We got a good team and a good group, but we don’t have the field,” said under-18 coach Orlando Ribeiro. “It seems like it’s impossible to get a good field in Brockton. I don’t want to sound prejudiced, but the Cape Verdean community has grown in this city and sometimes, we look at the bad more than the good.
“There’s a lot of good Cape Verdeans that come from hard-working families and this is all we do. We go to work, we come here and play soccer and we go home.”
Despite the haggard conditions of the field, crowds of up to 500 gather for their weekend home games to cheer on the Emigrantes Das Ilhas, which, translated from Portuguese to English means “Immigrants of the Islands.”
“This place is packed every Saturday,” said team captain Carlos Fernandes, who lives in Brockton. “Every Saturday, there’s a lot of support. Granted, this place is not in the greatest condition, but it’s what we have.”
The main obstacle standing in the way of a new field is financing. While the team holds raffles and fund-raisers to help raise money, the Emigrantes mostly rely on each other, whether it be for travel, equipment or uniforms.
“This is like a family,” said first-year coach Bobby Monteiro. “We support ourselves. People try to collect money, but most of us pay for ourselves.”
“Business-wise, we don’t get too much support,” said Pinto. “We have no field so it’s tough for people to sponsor when there’s no place to put signs for them. Our biggest hurdle here is the field. We’re trying to get all the teams together to go down to city hall and get a meeting with the mayor and see what he can do for us.”
Amazingly, with financial woes constantly hanging over the team, the Emigrantes are in the midst of a historic season. With a record of 4-0-2, the team is one of three undefeated clubs left in the NELASA and is tied for second in points scored with 14.
The Emigrantes soccer club, which was founded in 1987, is no stranger to success. In 2004, it won the NELASA championship and in 2008, it won the Massachusetts state cup.
Pinto, along with the rest of the Emigrantes, are hoping the success of the team can be a positive influence on Brockton’s large Cape Verdean population.
“My main goal for joining the league is to basically get kids off the street,” said Pinto. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in the community with Cape Verdeans and we’re trying to put a positive image into that by trying to help them out. I know that’s what helped me out.

“I know a lot of my friends got deported and stuff like that for getting involved in the wrong things and one of the things that kept me safe was playing soccer.”
As the Emigrantes continue running their never-ending laps in preparation for Sunday’s Region I Finals of the Open Cup against the Aegean Hawks in Pennsylvania, Coach Monteiro looks on with an air of pride that teeters on the border of arrogance and satisfaction.
“As you win, you get bigger and better,” said Monteiro. “It’s all about winning. Any time you do good, more people look at your team. You win, people pay attention. You lose, no one pays attention.”
And right now, people are paying attention.
It’s hard to tell if a new field is in the cards for Brockton’s Emigrantes, but if the team continues to perform at such a high level, a new field could be just the thing to put the club over the top.
“Man, that would be a dream come true,” said Monteiro. “That will change the whole community.”



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