Family values on the pitch
Team blends players from many nations
Upon his arrival from Greater Boston League rival Medford High four years ago, George Scarpelli greeted the boys’ soccer squad at Somerville High with a necessary ingredient: tough love.
With the help of assistant coach Tiago Moreira, Scarpelli has guided the Highlanders to a pair of GBL titles, including this season, and two trips to the Division 1 North sectional semifinals.
More importantly, he has turned a team full of diversity into an unlikely family.
“When I first got there, I walked into the gym and it looked like a rainbow and sounded like the United Nations,’’ recalled Scarpelli, who was the head coach at his alma mater, Medford, for 11 seasons.
From Brazilians and Portuguese to Haitians and Salvadorans, the Somerville team was a patchwork of talent that was struggling to see past their differences and blend together.
“One of the things we talked about was making them one,’’ said Scarpelli, whose team was 11-1-4 (5-1-2 GBL) before Friday night’s regular-season finale against Madison Park. “Before, the Brazilian kids only passed to the Brazilians. We told them that it doesn’t matter who you were, you were sitting next to a Highlander.’’
Richard Rodrigues, a senior keeper and captain from Portugal, said Scarpelli was straightforward from the start.
“He told us that he was going to bring us together as a family and make sure we have the things necessary to succeed and maybe go on to the next level,’’ said Rodrigues. “At first I wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to, but he did. He kept his word.’’
Moreira, a Cambridge Rindge & Latin graduate who went on to play collegiately at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is a valuable asset.
He moved to the United States from Brazil at 13, so he believes he has a lot in common with the Highlander players.
“I feel like I’m very close to them, because I was there before,’’ said Moreira. “We used soccer as our common language and our common goals. I think that’s what drives these kids. They’re able to put everything into [soccer] and they do really well together.’’
Moreira is also fluent in four languages: English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Creole.
“He speaks Portuguese with me on the field and off the field,’’ said Matheus Reis, a junior captain and defender from Brazil. “It really helps on set pieces because he tells me what to run in Portuguese, so it’s like an advantage.’’
“Sometimes we’ll play a team that has Haitian players on the other team and they’re all looking at coach Tiago because he will be speaking Creole with Junior [Pierre-Louis],’’ said junior captain Andre Rolim, a defender from Brazil.
It took time for the players to adjust to Scarpelli’s philosophy. He was implementing rules and regulations on a team that was used to being praised for their individual skills.
“We teach them that there is a certain discipline you have to follow,’’ said Scarpelli. “Getting to practice on time, going to school on time, how they act on the field and also understanding the consequences. They really didn’t have that type of mentality here.’’
“We live by three codes of conduct,’’ said Rodrigues. “First you’re a gentlemen, so we want to carry ourselves well. Second, you want to be a scholar. And third, you are a soccer player.’’
Scarpelli and Moreira keep a close eye on their players’ schoolwork and behavior in class. They want to see them succeed and ultimately go on to play in college.
Homero Morais, a 2011 graduate, now plays at University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“Here’s a Brazilian kid who didn’t know what he was going to do after high school and they see him getting a scholarship, not having to pay a dollar to go to UMass Lowell,’’ said Moreira. “The kids see what [he] went through and where he is now and they want to make sure to do the same thing.’’
“They have such passion for it,’’ added Scarpelli. “A kid in Somerville gets out of school and will play all day long, every day. They never stop.’’
There is no place in the world the Highlander players would rather be than on a soccer field with a ball at their feet. Scarpelli even had to put restrictions on playing over the weekends during the season so his players would have time to recover.
“Sometimes we come [to practice] and we only do fitness, but then if I didn’t touch a soccer ball I want to go play,’’ said Reis. “But then I’m like, ‘No, I’d better go home and relax so I won’t get hurt so I won’t hurt the team.’ ’’
The Highlanders hope to make it through to the state tournament this year by continuing to play as one fluid unit. Sophomore Thayrone Miranda leads the squad with 12 goals.
“When they play into the system it makes their jobs a lot easier,’’ said Scarpelli, who adding that he thinks the competitiveness of the GBL will help them in the postseason, which kicks off on Saturday.
“Any team in our league will be truly helpful,’’ he said. “We play them with such an edge, there is so much of an intense atmosphere playing the neighboring community.’’
But win or lose, the Somerville players know that they have something special.
“He brought us together like a family. We all come from different countries but we’re all the same,’’ said Rolim.
Cat Calsolaro can be reached at email@example.com.