When Gabriel De Souza heard a few years ago that Brazilian legend Palhinha would be coaching a new soccer team in the area called Boston City FC, he knew he wanted to be a part of it.
Palhinha had been one of De Souza’s favorite players growing up and he played for De Souza’s favorite team Sao Paulo.
“Palhinha is a big guy is Brazil. He’s a very important guy. I was very excited to play for him,” De Souza, 28, said.
It was a rare opportunity to play for someone who had made a mark on the legendary Brazilian national team and won two Club World Cups.
“If you say Palhinha in Brazil, everyone knows who he is. He’s a very famous guy,” De Souza, a Brazilian native, said.
Speaking through an interrupter on a windy Revere Beach where his team was undergoing a grueling fitness session in the sand, Palhinha said he is bringing a Brazilian passion for soccer to the local sporting scene.
“It’s a different style than people are use to here. It’s to play with purpose, with love. It’s not 11 guys running loose,” Palhinha, whose formal name is Jorge Ferreira da Silva, said as the team enters its third year of operation.
Boston City is a member of the 4th Division National Premier Soccer League and will open its season Sunday at 6 p.m. at Malden Catholic High School against New York Cosmos B team.
The league they play in is different from the similarly-named Premier Development League, which is mostly college kids playing summer ball.
Boston City players tend to be older and many of them came up through academies abroad rather than American schools.
The NPSL has both amateur and semi-pro teams.
Boston City is a hybrid. The players are unpaid, but owner Renato Valentim has put together a staff that is professional and highly experienced.
Managing director Craig Tornberg is the former general manager of the New England Revolution. Publicist Michael Preston is the former communications director for the defunct NASL. Fitness coach Jean-Michel Carlone is a product of the Monaco FC youth system.
And the team has a decidedly international flavor.
Goalkeeper Wouter Dronkers was the property of Vitesse Arnheim in the top Dutch league before coming to Boston to attend medical school.
Top scorer Isaac Addai is from Liberia.
Several of the players have Latin and Brazilian roots.
Games take on a festive quality with Brazilian music pumping over the loud system.
The team says it has ambitions to move up to a higher level and was talking about joining the professional NASL in the 2nd Division before that league stopped operations.
Homero Morais, a former star at UMass Lowell, said the players have ambitions to move up the ladder too.
A Somerville native, Morais, 26, said he has played soccer all his life and cannot image giving it up.
Working a job, training with the team three nights a week with games on weekends is a grind, he said, especially with a baby on the way, but it is what he loves.
“This is a local team and they try to do things the right way,” he said.
Tornberg, the managing director, said Boston City aims to “change the culture of sports.”
Rather than a corporation dropping a team on a town from the outside, Boston City is trying to grow “organically” as part of the community so people feel part of the club, he said.
“We’re not trying to be Manchester United. We’re trying to Millwall,” he said.