Brazilian star Pato: Gut, God led to signing with Orlando City, ‘best choice of my life’

For the last six months, Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva — known to most by his nickname, Pato — has been trying to trust his gut.

The Brazilian star took a leap of faith when he terminated his contract with São Paulo in August because he was unhappy and no longer enjoying the sport. He spent months searching for a new home and for a sense of clarity about his own place on and off the pitch.

By the time Orlando City scouting director Ricardo Moreira reached out, Pato had received offers from teams across Europe, Asia and Brazil. But Pato said something about the call felt right to him.

That initial conversation lasted close to an hour. Within 10 minutes, Pato says, he was sold.

“I believe in God,” Pato said. “I tried to have my decision be what, in that moment, I feel in my body. I felt something speak in my head, ‘Go there and try to go get back your happiness.’”

The moment the striker came onto the market, Orlando City’s front office was interested.

The team knew a loan for young striker Daryl Dike was imminent. Although the Lions still plan on Dike returning in May, they needed a striker to fill the position in his absence.

Moreira had tracked Pato’s career since they were both young.

“I was still a kid when he started,” Moreira said.

He remembers watching Pato’s breakout moment as a fan — his debut for Brazil’s Internacional in 2006, when he scored in the very first minute of his professional career.

Before that match, Moreira heard rumors that Internacional had done its best to hide Pato from foreign scouts and press. Once his talent was visible, Pato’s rise was meteoric — breaking Pelé’s record as youngest player to ever score at the FIFA Club World Cup on the way to winning the tournament and signing with AC Milan by the time he turned 18.

Pato’s career began at such a young age that Moreira said it’s easy to forget he’s only 31.

“He’s been a pro for 16 years,” Moreira said. “It’s crazy to think. There’s only a few players, like Kaká, who can be a professional player for 16 years, playing every day, training, traveling. And Pato is still doing that with such a big smile.”

On the surface, Pato knows there wasn’t an obvious reason for him to leave São Paulo.

He started matches regularly. He wasn’t scoring as prolifically as he had in China — where he netted 36 goals in 60 games for Tianjin Quanjian — but he was beloved by São Paulo fans, many of whom had followed his entire career.

Still, something was missing.

“I think people outside of soccer, they just see the goals,” Pato said. “They think if your team wins you are happy, you are the best. But behind it, you have to work so hard. It’s not always the truth.”

After several months of research, Moreira reached out with his pitch. Pato said he wanted to speak with Moreira directly, rather than working through an agent.

That first call lasted 50 minutes as the pair pored over every detail of the potential signing: where Pato would fit tactically and technically, how to structure his contract and his future in Orlando on and off the pitch.

As a scouting director, Moreira said the key to winning over a player is doing homework. Before speaking to Pato, he reached out to each of his former teams — Tianjin Quanjian, São Paulo, Corinthians, even Chelsea, where he’d played only two matches — to make sure his personality was the proper fit.

Pato did his homework as well. The striker was intrigued by the Lions’ success under coach Oscar Pareja. He’d known Nani throughout their respective careers, and they spoke for several weeks ahead of his signing.

Ultimately, Moreira said the move was a no-brainer for both parties.

For the Lions, signing Pato was low-risk and inexpensive. The striker didn’t come with a transfer fee and the team didn’t tap into any Targeted Allocation Money or General Allocation Money for his salary, meaning his baseline paycheck is below the $612,500 league maximum for 2021.

Despite Pato’s recent market valuation — long-deflated by consistent injuries during his years in Europe — both Moreira and Pareja feel that low price is a steal.

“People can say his stocks are low at the moment,” Moreira said. “But no, we believe that we’re bringing a unique player here.”

Pato can’t remember ever taking six months off from soccer before.

Eventually, the grind of 16 years wore on him. His time away from the sport offered something new — time to spend with his wife and his family, to focus on himself. It also reignited his desire to get onto the pitch.

Now, Pato says he feels fresh. He played half of the Lions’ preseason match against New York City FC and a little over an hour against Philadelphia, scoring a goal in both outings.

He’s still working to regain match fitness, but the striker said his body feels younger, the way it felt at the height of his career. Pareja said Pato’s enthusiasm was visible from his first training session.

“What I have found in these two weeks is desire, generosity with his teammates,” Pareja said. “I have seen a professional player coming in and adjusting to our team, which is not easy. I see a player who is willing still to put his capacity, that technical ability and experience that he has into the club.

“He loves the game. The way he is adapting, it just creates more optimism.”

Although he’s only had two weeks with his new team, Pato said the transition has been effortless.

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Besides knowing Nani, Pato had played with Antonio Carlos at Corinthians and met Urso when they both played in Brazil. It helps that Pato is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and English, allowing him to communicate with every player on the team the moment he arrived.

“When I arrived here, all of the players is like a family,” Pato said. “We don’t have any fighting; we don’t have any little problems. Everyone tries to push and tries to help anyone.

“Here, I can have two families — a family at home and a family at work.”

Both Pato and Pareja acknowledged there’s plenty of work to mold him into the striker the Lions need this season.

But when Orlando City takes the pitch for its MLS season opener April 17, Pato hopes to show a new version of himself — happier, healthier and ready for a restart.

“I feel here is like home,” Pato said. “I think it’s the best choice of my life.”

This article first appeared on Email Julia Poe at

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