Felipe bucks the trend of stereotypes, the New York Red Bull is far from the moody, enigmatic and mercurial Brazilian midfielder that usually comes to MLS.
In fact when Felipe first made the move to Europe seven years ago before he came to MLS, his teammates questioned if he was Brazilian at all. He is hard-working, a far cry from many Brazilians who have a reputation on (and off) the soccer field as divas. There is his incredible work-rate and willingness to play tough, rugged soccer – again traits that break the mold for many of his countrymen.
Felipe loves to be a pest, throw his body around and do the tough work so that his teammates can succeed. He doesn’t seek the spotlight and in fact revels in being able to credit his teammates for success.
There is also that sheepish grin given to a referee after being whistled for a foul, followed by a shrug as if to say “What? Me?”
He is the antidote to the Brazilian playmakers who have come over to MLS over the years, the prima donnas who eschew running, looking rather to make highlight reel plays and collect a paycheck. Felipe is one of the hardest runners in MLS, logging among the most meters per match of any midfielder.
‘When I was in Europe, they would say I’m not Brazilian. I like to work hard every day. I like to be the first in training every day,” Felipe told Metro.
“I’m not the usual Brazilian. You might be surprised to know I am Brazilian; I am the opposite of many Brazilians. Since I was young, I knew that if I wanted to go where I wanted to get, to be a soccer player, it would require a lot of hard work. More than anyone else. I always think in my mind, whenever I am training, when someone is relaxing or not working as hard, every moment is extra minutes to run more than everyone else, to do the extra things.’
This season has been his best since coming to MLS in 2012, his five goals already tying for his best scoring mark in what is now his fifth year in the league. He’s been influential in the final-third but always, of course, still being a pit bull in the middle of the field.
It was a hot summer morning three weeks ago, smack dab in the middle of that stretch of days where people were frying eggs on the sidewalk. The Red Bulls were getting ready for a training session and the first player out the door and onto the grass field was Felipe, the rest of the group still filtering on out from a video session.
He immediately went to the closest ball and started to dribble. Up and down the field.
His teammates followed a few minutes later, casually passing the ball and juggling with each other to get warmed up. Not Felipe who was by now doing full sprints with the ball up and down the field.
There wasn’t even perspiration on his brow when the team was called together to being a warm-up jog.
Routinely, the 25-year old Felipe grades out among the most-fit players on the roster and rarely looks winded. It is quite an accomplishment given the taxing nature of head coach Jesse Marsch’s training sessions.
“He’s got a real edge to him,” Marsch told Metro.
“People underestimate why Brazil is good, it’s not just because they’re talented. They are smart – tactically smart. They are competitive and they are physical and competitors. That part Brazilians can’t be left out. Obviously there is flash but there is competitive will and physicality of what they bring.
“Felipe is that; he is one of our most competitive guys if not our most competitive guys.”
He is asked about why he works so hard, what drives him to this almost manic quest to be the best, to have an incredible level of fitness and to throw himself around on the field, even if it is just practice. Felipe smirks, that same smile he gives to a referee after a foul.
His eyes dance almost a little as he hesitates for a moment. Then they turn stone-cold.
“I want to help the team whatever way I can, whatever I can do,” Felipe said. “I want to be ready every day for myself, for my team, so that we can win. No matter what.”