Blast's Cabral reaches stardom

Franchise's top scorer bolsters defense, now called complete player

Soccer

April 13, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Scoring the goals always has been the easy part for Blast midfielder Denison Cabral.

Growing up in soccer-rich Brazil, he was told by his father over and over that scoring was what the game was all about.

"He always told us, you have to step on the field thinking you're going to get the first one and then, after that, the next one," said Cabral. "I love it - that's my job. I got to do it, and I know how to do it."

With 436 points in four seasons in Baltimore, Cabral, 27, became the franchise's all-time leading scorer in his 126th game in the middle of February.

But this isn't a story about just scoring goals; it's also about reaching them. It's about adapting to a new country, learning a new language, as well as a different version of soccer, leaning on others, working hard, and believing.

"He came over not knowing the language and has established himself in this country. He's a great story," said Blast coach Kevin Healey.

Cabral's plan in 1994 was to come to Florida to train for a couple of months and then return overseas, likely to play outdoor soccer. But that all quickly changed.

"It was funny," he said, "because I watched [indoor soccer] for the first time on television, and I thought, `Oh, man, look at these boards and all these crazy things - what is that?' "

He got a tryout with the Washington Warthogs in the now-defunct Continental Indoor Soccer League and played four seasons there before playing his first season for Baltimore in the National Professional Soccer League in the 1997-98 season.

The early days were a constant challenge, more so off the field than on.

"No English - I really didn't know what to expect," he said. "It was tough for me. I didn't like the food, I didn't like the idea of trying to express myself and people looking and saying, `Yeah, right.' But, thank God, I had so much support."

He met his future wife, Michelle, a Marylander, in 1996 while still battling for command of the English language.

"It was very, very difficult in the beginning. We would talk on the phone for hours, and I would have my dictionary and a translator calculator," said Michelle. "I look back and still can't believe we were actually having a conversation, sometimes."

The early times came with plenty of stories, and the first one that always comes to Michelle's mind was a dinner date.

"He was looking at the menu, asking me what lamb was, and I'm looking around, trying to describe lamb," she said. "I was like, `baaaaahhh,' saying, `white, curly hair.' The waitress walked by, and I said, `He doesn't speak English very well, and I'm trying to explain to him what lamb is. You don't speak Portuguese, do you?' "

Cabral's turning point on the field came in his second season in Baltimore, when Ed Hale bought the team and brought in coach Kevin Healey, who was well aware of what Cabral was capable of doing.

Quick with the ball, needing the slightest opening to finish, the 5-foot-4 Cabral has led the Blast in scoring the past two seasons, finishing with 134 points this time, and has steadily improved defensively.

"When I played with him with the Warthogs, he didn't play much defense, and we joked with him - that his passport hadn't yet arrived, to get back over the halfway line," said Blast assistant coach Billy Ronson. "From where he was then to now is outstanding, and it all comes down to his attitude. I think somebody in Baltimore said he couldn't play in the NPSL, which is ridiculous. The kid is one of the best players in the league now."

For the Blast, he has become the complete package, celebrating timely goals with a trademark backflip to become a fan favorite, as well as giving back to the community by running youth soccer camps during the summer.

"Not only is he a great player," said Healey, "but he's a great person out in the community, a great marketing piece with the flip - he's showing true enthusiasm when he scores a goal."

It doesn't get much better for Cabral these days, and you get a clue why when - 25 minutes after practice the other day - Cabral was still out there, working to get better.

The Blast is looking to advance to the second round of the playoffs with a win at Baltimore Arena over Buffalo tonight; Michelle is expecting the couple's first child in September; and Cabral's parents are visiting from Brazil to enjoy the special time with him.

Last year, he had a house built for his parents in Brazil - a special thanks.

"I said, `Mom, Dad here's the key - it's your house,' " he said. "For me, that was the best thing that ever happened, being able to help my parents. They went through all kind of crazy things for me to be here."

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