Pato never stops smiling. It's quite intoxicating, really. We may just be talking via zoom -- as almost everyone does these days -- but his energy is palpable. And why shouldn't he be feeling like this? After all, he's entering MLS with a promising team, a talented manager and a squad who quite honestly, could make a lot of noise this year.
But we begin, as expected, with the obvious question. Why Orlando? Why MLS?
"This is the time for my career. For my life," says the 31-year-old Brazilian, looking sharp wearing Orlando's quintessentially purple kit. "When I accepted this challenge I talked to Ricardo [Kaka - Orlando's first ever Designated Player] and my family...so I decided to come here because I think I can come here and play...like when I was a kid. There are amazing players here, amazing background staff...so I accepted this challenge. I am so happy and I can't wait to start the real games."
For more from Pato listen below and follow ¡Qué Golazo! A Daily CBS Soccer Podcast where we take you around the globe for previews, recaps and more. And make sure to check out the ¡Qué Golazo! Youtube channel for the complete interview.
Talking to Kaka must have been an obvious route, not just because of their Brazilian connection but their somewhat similar paths into Europe. Kaka's first experience in Europe was a transfer to AC Milan from Sao Paulo, where he won almost every trophy. Pato similarly made AC Milan his first European destination, but he came from Internacional, where he made his professional debut at 16. Consequently, the year he arrived in Milan (2007) was the same as when Kaka won the Ballon d'Or.
Now, he finds himself in Orlando, just like his compatriot, ready to do something Kaka couldn't do, win the MLS Cup. Granted, when Kaka arrived, the team had just entered MLS, with somewhat of an untested squad. But Pato has tremendous talent around him. From Nani to Peruvian stopper Pedro Gallese, this is a very good team that can most definitely make a deep run in the playoffs. "This team competes," says Pato. "They know the goals we need to achieve. This preseason, we are very focused on making something special this year."
Anyone who has followed his career knows this about him, he's an optimist, deeply spiritual and most importantly, he loves to play. You only have to look at his resume to see that where he plays is important, but he just wants to be part of a squad, of a vision and an objective.
Here in Orlando, he now feels the same way when he was a teen star. Full of energy and vigor. "It was my decision to come here. When you have it inside your heart, it was my decision. When I decided to come to AC MIlan, I decided by myself. Here? It's exactly the same feeling...and I feel that if I work hard, I can do something great this year."
It's a known sentiment that Brazilians see the game differently. From Pele to Marta, Ronaldinho and my personal hero, Ronaldo Fenomeno, they play the game with a smile, treating it not just as a profession, but a gift, given by God. Pato vehemently believes this sentiment and now with Orlando, he sees this opportunity as a way to thank God. Yes, naturally, it will be a chance for him to win silverware and compete, but after everything he has gone through -- injuries and early childhood trauma (when he was 11, doctors found a tumor in his arm and were worried at first, the arm would have to be amputated. In the end, surgery was successful and no amputation was required, but it was still a lot for an 11-year-old to take in) -- he wants to enjoy the game once again.
"God gave me this talent so I need to enjoy it. I want to put my name in history here in MLS. I will do my best for my teammates."
Orlando City face Atlanta United this Saturday at 3pm ET in their home opener at Exploria Stadium as MLS 2021 kicks off.