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Former Western Mass Pioneer helping grow soccer in the South

College football is king, but soccer is trending up south of the Mason-Dixon.

Midfielder Bruno Resende with Western Mass in 2007
Photo courtesy of Bruno Resende

Bruno Resende has a dream. The former midfielder, who plied his trade with then USL Pro-side (now PDL) Western Mass Pioneers in 2007, sees in his mind’s eye young boys and girls making the pre-game walk onto the pitch, hand-in-hand with professional soccer players from a club based in his adopted hometown of Montgomery, Alabama.

Soccer is no longer an afterthought in the South. In 2012, former LA Galaxy forward Chandler Hoffman became the first player from the state of Alabama to be selected in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft. On a broader scale, MLS has recently started and awarded franchises in Orlando, Atlanta, Nashville, and Miami. Even a step below in the USL, Birmingham Legion FC (which recently tapped former New England Revolution coach and player Jay Heaps to be its general manager) is set to begin play in 2019. Further down the totem pole, former staffer of The Bent Musket, Abram Chamberlain, led a grassroots effort to bring semi-pro soccer to southern Alabama, as AFC Mobile kicked off its inaugural season in 2017 as part of the 15-team, elite amateur Gulf Coast Premier League.

Resende, or “Coach Bruno” as he’s known to his players, came to the United States from Brazil in search of the American Dream. Years of college and professional soccer with the Atlanta Silverbacks as well as the Pioneers were followed by club, high school and college coaching stints. Along the way, he recognized technical skills development in young American soccer players lagged that of their South American and even European counterparts.

To chip away at this shortcoming, Resende started a Brazilian Futsal school seven years ago inside a converted warehouse in Montgomery. Futsal is small-sided, fast-paced “street” soccer played with a weighted ball on lined, indoor areas smaller than half a basketball court. It’s designed to enhance technical ability with quickness and far more touches than in outdoor soccer. Pele, Messi, Neymar, and Cristiano Ronaldo, among others, grew up playing Futsal.

Coach Bruno gave private and group lessons, ran clinics and summer/winter camps, and conducted leagues after school and on weekends, serving a region of over 200,000 people. His school grew in popularity and eventually morphed into FC Montgomery (FCM). He partnered with local NAIA-side Faulkner University's soccer program to expand the club and continue to grow its coaching staff and the multiple youth age groups.

His school eventually outgrew the warehouse. While working as an assistant coach at Faulkner years earlier, Resende would regularly take his players to work on fitness at a nearby neighborhood park. One day the local neighborhood association offered to donate the whole facility to Faulkner, as they saw its value to the soccer players. The old park was subsequently renovated into a full-blown soccer complex and became the new home of FC Montgomery. Existing tennis courts at the park were also turned into an outdoor futsal court for use by both university students and FCM players.

Just last fall, FC Montgomery introduced competitive, outdoor US Club Soccer to the region’s youth, only the third travel team in the area. Resende fielded teams from U8 through U19, including girls-only teams. Their first-ever season was hugely successful, resulting in a US ranking in the top 10 for the state of Alabama. In the recent Emerald Coast Cup in northwest Florida sponsored by FC Dallas — which included more than 150 squads from Louisiana to Georgia — two of his seven teams won gold and a third earned silver in their respective age category. In fact, his U10 boys' team is currently ranked #2 in Alabama and #60 nationally, and his U9 boys' squad is ranked #4 in the state.

Over the years, several of the program’s participants have received Division 1 (Trey Nelson, Alabama-Birmingham; Aliya Seebrat, West Alabama; and Mary Mooneyham, Alabama State) or NAIA (Joshua Adetunji and Julius Kurth, Faulkner) college soccer scholarships or have joined the US youth national team (Jamie Dunning and Kobey Stoup).

Coach Bruno and his staff’s plan is to see FC Montgomery continue to grow into a multi-level club, with a professional squad at the top tier. A recently-formed adult team won the city's indoor soccer league this past winter and plays a preseason friendly — FCM's first-ever non-youth 11v11 match — later in May against PDL-side Birmingham Hammers FC. In the meantime, Resende and his team are networking and partnering with like-minded benefactors to further push the ball downfield.

College football is undoubtedly the driving sports force in the South, but the beautiful game of soccer continues to gain a foothold in the Heart of Dixie, thanks to visionaries like former Western Mass Pioneer Bruno Resende and his dream for Montgomery, Alabama.