It feels like so long ago that the two Brazilian soccer players were rivals for one day, but now that they are teammates for the Worcester Hydra, things cannot be better.
“I have a lot of friends, in Junior,” Rampinelli says, naming several other of his teammates, as well. “I think this is not friends, but family. There are 18 players, coaches, the president; it’s a family, you know?”
It’s a new family, for sure. The Hydra are playing in their inaugural season in the Premier Development League in the United Soccer Leagues. The players have had merely two months to practice and the team has already played five games of its 16-game schedule.
But on a roster dominated by players who are still in college or fresh out of college, Junior and Rampinelli are two of the team’s iconic players.
Junior, 26, is a 6-foot-2, 180-pound forward who can’t even make all of the team’s practices because of work. Rampinelli, 27, on the other hand, stands eight inches shorter than Junior and weighs 165 pounds. Playing in a league with players who are 20, 21 or 22, Worcester head coach Elvis Comrie doesn’t see their age as a problem.
“You don’t reach your prime until you’re 28,” Comrie says. “You rely on your experience and you rely on all the other aspects of your game [that] come into play, and that’s where it makes a difference. Their experience and their involvement with the club is paramount because they lend experience.”
The two both grew up in Brazil, but never played on the same field as the other until 2009. Junior grew up in Ji-Parana, while Rampinelli lived in Vitoria. They are two cities that are nearly 2,000 miles apart from each other, but in Brazil, it doesn’t matter what part of the country you are born in; soccer comes natural.
“When you’re born in Brazil, you’re born with the ball,” Junior says. “The first sport with you is soccer.”
Junior says he started playing when he was five years old and learned the game from his older brother. His older brother played professionally in Brazil, and Junior soon tried to follow in his footsteps.
“I played a tour division, too, because I lived in north Brazil and it’s difficult to get on a professional team,” Junior says. “There were good teams, but they were far from my city and state, so that’s why I ended up getting an opportunity to play out of my state to play professionally.”
Rampinelli didn’t have any siblings to look up to; rather, his father got him started in the sport when he was 10 and he picked it up quickly. Soon enough, he would be playing against people who were two or three years older than him, but still competing at a high level.
“I started to realize I was good at soccer,” Rampinelli says. “Every time I would play on a team … I would play a level up all the time, and that’s how I started moving up. I was one step ahead.”
Junior and Rampinelli played on different teams in different leagues throughout their time in Brazil. More recently, Junior played for Ji-Parana, while Rampinelli played for Desportiva E.C.
“When you have other guys from Brazil with you to give you support and give more attention and everything, it’s good,” Junior says.
They played around Brazil, but last August they saw each other on opposite sides of the field at the One Lowell World Cup championship game. Junior played on Team Brazil, while Rampinelli was on Team Jamaica.
Junior scored two goals and Team Brazil won the game, but there, Junior met more than a future teammate; he met one of his future coaches: Diogo Pessoa.
Pessoa, one of Worcester’s assistant coaches, played with Rampinelli on Team Jamaica in the tournament. Another member of Team Jamaica was Hydra president Phong Le. When Pessoa joined Comrie on the Hydra’s coaching staff, Junior’s name was brought up among players who the team should bring in.
“When I came on board the name ‘Junior’ came up, and apparently Diogo knew of him and he said, ‘This guy’s a pretty good player,’ so I said let’s bring him in,” Comrie said. “I started him right away against [Boston University] in our preseason game, and it was obvious that he could play and I couldn’t wait to tell ownership that we have to sign this kid.”
Rampinelli came to tryouts and impressed Comrie and the coaching staff.
“There was something about him,” Comrie said. “You could see that he could play the game and there’s something that stood out among the rest of the players.”
Both have been positive additions, according to Comrie, however he says that their potential on the field has yet to be seen. Rampinelli has only played in two of the team’s five games because he needed to give time for his former club to transfer papers to the Hydra to allow him to play.
Junior, on the other hand, works 10 hours each day at a construction company in Boston, meaning he cannot attend all of the team’s practices. Often times, he’ll get back home at 6:30 p.m. after strenuous work, which prevents him from training.
“I’m thinking, ‘Man, if this guy can do this on a full-time basis, it’s amazing what he’s capable of doing,’” Comrie says. “His upside is phenomenal.”
“If he can train seven days a week, it’s unlimited because he’s got it all – he’s got pace, he’s got great dribbling technique and I’ve seen players like that in the past, but, we’ll never get to see him at his very, very best. We’re seeing flashes of brilliance at times and how talented he is, but if he can play full-time, train full-time, it’s unlimited in terms of what I think he can do. He’s certainly dynamic and it’s very rare that you see dynamic players have that ability.”
Junior has scored all four of the Hydra’s goals so far this season, including two against the Boston Victory on May 12 and the game-winning penalty kick against the Western Mass. Pioneers on May 26. But as many goals as he has, Junior knows he could – and probably should – have more.
In the Hydra’s first game against the Seacoast United Phantoms, Junior took eight shots and hit the post twice, but didn’t score. Two weeks later in a 1-1 tie against the Vermont Voltage, Junior scored a goal, but hit the post twice more. He hit the post once in the Hydra’s game vs. the GPS Portland Phoenix last Sunday, too.
“I’ve missed a lot of opportunities,” Junior says with a smile, “so I want to get a lot of goals.”
Five games into the season, Comrie has seen flashes of Junior’s skillset. He’s seen Junior’s speed, ability to dribble past defenders and his ability to create scoring opportunities, but one of the best things about Junior is his personality.
“He’s very religious, a very conscientious human being, very respectful and those are good qualities; it says a lot about him as a person,” Comrie says. “There are players that are talented but are not good people and are disruptive to the team. He’s instituted a team prayer before going on to games, so it’s a reflection of his devoted religion and his faith in God, so it says a lot about the human being. Junior’s been a joy to have so far.”
Neither player is particularly fluent in English, as Rampinelli speaks mostly Spanish while Junior speaks mostly Portuguese, but the most important part of their game is that they know the universal language of soccer, Comrie says.
“It’s all universal once you play the game,” Comrie says.
Comrie says that both players have some of the essential qualities that coaches look for: experience, talent and personality.
“Those are vital components that every coach always looks for,” he says, “and those are two guys that we certainly enjoy having and having a part of this team, and hopefully for years to come.”