Jonatas Melo had the moment planned in his head for the better part of six months.
The Baltimore Blast midfielder told his best friend on the team, forward Vini Dantas, that he planned to propose to his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Harris, at some point during the team’s 2018-19 season opener against the Mississauga MetroStars last December.
“He had mentioned he was planning on proposing but he didn’t say how,” Dantas said. “I think he wanted it that way. He wanted to surprise a lot of people.”
Melo’s chance came in the third quarter as he set himself up in front of the opposing goal at SECU Arena in Towson, Md., and redirected a pass from defender Andrew Hoxie into the back of the net.
“I was trying my best to help the team, and if I scored, I wanted to make something special for her,” Melo said.
Before the game restarted, he hustled to the bench where he grabbed a rose and a small black box. As the crowd cheered, Melo ran into the stands, bent down on one knee and proposed. Harris broke into tears of joy, and Melo hopped back onto the field to help finish off the MetroStars.
Little did Harris know, Melo had told her family in Canada and his family in Brazil what he planned to do. They all watched on a livestream as the moment unfolded, Harris said.
“The fact is we are from two very different countries. We have no family here in the U.S.,” she said. “It was a great way to bring our families into it as well.
“I really didn’t think he would do it during a game because he takes his work so seriously. I never thought he would ever take time out from soccer to do it in that moment.”
Blast head coach Danny Kelly remembers it as a perfect encapsulation of who Melo is as a player and as a person.
“I didn’t have any issue with it. It was something that he wanted to do,” Kelly said. “On the other side of it, not only is he an outstanding player but he’s just a great guy.”
Harris joked that the proposal was the springboard for what Melo now describes as one of his best seasons with the Blast. He finished with career highs in goals (19) and assists (22), totaling a team-high 41 points and earning second-team All-MASL honors. Only Dantas scored more goals for the Blast.
Last season’s performance secured his place as a reliable contributor on a team that has won three of the past four Major Arena Soccer League titles.
But the indoor game hasn’t always come easy for the native of Sao Paulo, Brazil. In his first three seasons with the Blast (2014-2017), he adapted somewhat slowly to the unique style of indoor soccer. He was hindered by a sports hernia during his second season that kept him out for most of the year.
Melo met Harris shortly before he had surgery that season. She watched as Melo worked his way back to full health, marveling at his dedication.
“I saw how hard he worked,” Harris said. “He came back and played in the playoffs. That’s him. He’s very dedicated and hard-working. He’ll do what it takes.”
There were times he would get home from a game or practice and think, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” Melo said. “But you’ve got to be patient, and you’ve got to keep listening and grinding.”
In 2017-18, he managed double-digit goals and assists for the first time in his career, helping the Blast win a third straight championship.
Though the team fell two wins short of claiming a fourth straight MASL title the following year, Kelly said the 2018-19 campaign was a culmination of steady improvement for Melo since he arrived four years prior, boosting both his ability to score and to keep his teammates involved.
“Last year, he imposed his will on games,” Kelly said. “He’s a tireless worker. He’s a guy that we want on the ball as much as possible because he makes things happen. We keep wanting him to grow and expand his game and he’s continuing to do that.”
Before coming to Baltimore, Melo had a successful futsal career in Italy for eight years. As a teenager, Melo earned a spot on a futsal team for his home state and trained with future pro players such as Willian of the Premier League’s Chelsea FC.
Futsal is a variation of soccer with four outfield players and a goalie played on an indoor hard court. Those skills helped him transition to indoor.
“It’s a game you need to play for a few years to understand,” Melo said of indoor.
“The guys from futsal are used to playing in tighter spaces, fewer numbers, so they usually adapt a bit quicker and Melo did,” Kelly said.
Dec. 1 marked the one-year anniversary of Melo and Harris’ engagement. They plan to tie the knot next summer during the offseason. Dantas, who will be one of Melo’s groomsmen, recalled helping facilitate the pair’s first date in 2015, a trip to watch Dantas play in a United Soccer League game for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
“I always say, I was there from Day One,” Dantas said. “Now it’s a big privilege to be a part of their day.”
But first Melo is hoping to build on his stellar statistical season and help his team return to a fifth MASL title game in six years. The Blast’s semifinal loss in the spring was the first time in Melo’s career he didn’t reach the championship game.
“My first four years here, we reached the finals. We lost the first year and then we won three in a row,” Melo said. “Obviously we are disappointed, but this year I can see we are more hungry. We are trying to figure out how to be better and make it to the championship again.”
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran