With 18 seconds left, the situation was dire.
The Sonora Suns led the Baltimore Blast by a goal in Game 2 of the 2016-17 Major Arena Soccer League championship. The Sonora player who had just scored ripped off his jersey in celebration as 8,000 fans in the Suns’ arena roared. The Suns were seconds away from winning the title.
“They thought it was over,” said Blast goalkeeper William Vanzela.
Vanzela remembered hearing veteran defender Adriano Dos Santos say, “Put the ball on my side and I will fight for it.”
When play resumed, Dos Santos crashed the opposing net, knocking in a game-tying goal with 11 seconds remaining to force overtime. The Blast would eventually win the game as well as the decisive Game 3 to claim a second straight MASL title.
For Blast head coach Danny Kelly, the goal represented what Dos Santos has meant to the Blast since he arrived in 2009. During his nine seasons, Dos Santos has helped the Blast reach eight league finals, winning four. Baltimore is currently in pursuit of a fourth straight MASL championship.
“That’s kind of what he brings to the table,” Kelly said. “There’s 10 seconds left in the game and he’s flying down the field throwing his body wherever, whatever he needs to do to try and tie the game and ultimately help us win it.”
“That’s Adriano,” Vanzela said. “He’s a never-give-up kind of person.”
Dos Santos was born in Goiania, Goias, just outside the Brazilian capital of Brasilia. Raised by his paternal grandparents, soccer was “in the blood” from a young age, said Dos Santos, whose father also played the sport. At age 13, he moved to Rio de Janeiro to play the game full time.
“I went after that dream,” Dos Santos said. “It was not easy to stay away from your family and your friends by yourself and experience situations that no 14-year-old should experience, but that made me grow as a person — and as a player.”
Temptations and bad influences surrounded him in crime-riddled Rio, he said, threatening to derail his career.
“I could have given up playing soccer and gone to the easy life because the easy life was all around me,” he said. “I knew what I wanted and nothing would stop me to get there.”
Dos Santos’ perseverance carried him to the United States in 2008 where he was discovered by former Blast players and fellow Brazilians Denison Cabral and Sagu at a beach soccer tournament in Virginia. They convinced him to try out for the Blast.
Dos Santos had never played indoor soccer before. In Brazil, the main indoor game is futsal. But soon he was training with the Blast reserve team and eventually joined the active roster. He’s been a mainstay for Kelly ever since.
“He’s always played the game with a lot of passion,” Kelly said. “As the world knows, Brazilians love their football. … Every day in training he’s competing like it’s his last game playing because he loves to play that much. … It’s just contagious.”
Dos Santos initially played forward — he has more than 60 career goals — before switching to defense four seasons ago, a move necessary for the then-27-year-old to extend his playing career, Dos Santos said. He now prowls the Blast’s back line, blocking shots — he led the team in blocks in 2016-17 — and occasionally sprinting forward to score goals.
“When you get older you start getting slower,” Dos Santos, 31, said. “We always had good defensive players. Three or four years ago we lost all the defenders we had. … Coach saw something in me that could help in the back.”
His leadership role has increased, too, taking what he learned from former Blast veterans like Sagu and Pat Healey and teaching his younger teammates.
“You can’t [overstate] what he’s given us in terms of not only the heart and soul and will,” Kelly said, “but pushing them and demanding that they give everything they have.”
For Dos Santos, that’s his role as the team’s oldest player.
“On the field, you’ve got to keep everybody accountable. You’ve got to be the leader,” he said. “Especially now we have a lot of young players. You’ve got to make them feel comfortable. You’re a family.”
Off the field, Dos Santos is the “exact opposite” of the brash and physical player he is on it, Kelly said, often playing jokes on his teammates.
“He’s just very laid back, very soft-spoken,” he said. “He’s got two small boys of his own, so he’s now a family man.”
Dos Santos’ sons, ages 6 and 4, are starting to pick up soccer just as their dad did back in Brazil. When he’s not playing, spending time with his kids is his only focus.
“Sometimes I’m not around, coaching or playing, so I’ve got to give that time to the family,” he said.
“That’s the kind of guy you’re talking about,” Vanzela said. “He has a big heart.”
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran
Issue 251: February 2019