There's just something about Diego - The Province

Brazilian's fancy feet draw praise (and mild concern) from coaching staff

By Marc Weber,

It doesn't take long to notice there's something different about the Whitecaps' latest goalkeeper signing.

Just wait for a 50/50 ball in the box, watch him charge out, and right when you expect him to go to the ground, watch him deftly dribble around the onrushing player.

"Dangerously confident," is how Caps' head coach Teitur Thordarson describes that move, though Diego's fancy feet are one of the first things that caught his eye.

Thordarson spotted the 22-year-old Brazilian in September when Brazilian first-division club AC Corinthians were on a B.C. tour organized by the Soccer Paper, taking on a local all-star team at Swangard Stadium.

Diego was given a two-day trial with the Caps back then and his signing was announced on Jan. 30. He and residency goalie Simon Thomas will back up incumbent No. 1 Jay Nolly this season.

"What impressed me was that he was good at coming out on crosses, but also good on the line with his reaction," said Thordarson. "And he was very good with his feet. Usually when you see big goalkeepers, [Diego is 6-foot-5] they're not good with their feet." Diego left his home in Curvelo at age 13 to join the Santa Cruz Soccer Club and played for several youth teams before signing his first pro contract with Vila Nova in 2006. He said he knew the trip north was a chance to showcase his talents.

"I knew there was a team here and maybe they were going to look at me and give me a chance," he said through Whitecaps' forward-turned-interpreter Charles Gbeke.

"I'm happy and excited. The team is doing well, and is probably going to go to MLS, so it's a big opportunity. The biggest obstacle for me here is the language." Diego speaks no English, so he's made fast friends with Gbeke, who learned Portuguese while playing in Brazil almost 10 years ago. Diego went as far as to say "Charles is like my brother," though Caps' captain Martin Nash called into question the validity of that particular translation.

The language barrier has made life tough for both Diego and goalie coach Mike Salmon in training, with the latter resorting to gestures and demonstrations as a means of communication.

"That's the most frustrating thing at the moment for me and for him," Salmon said. "There are things he's used to doing in Brazil I don't want him doing here, and I can't explain it right now. But he's got good character. He always seems happy and a willing worker and it can only get better." Dribbling around opponents, said Salmon, isn't a Brazilian trait he's looking to weed out of Diego's game completely.

"Very rarely do you get keepers that are that comfortable on the ball with both feet," said the former Charlton Athletic man. "It's my job to fix any technical issues, but without stifling someone's natural ability.

"Sometimes in a game you might have to do that. But you wouldn't want to do that every week." mweber@theprovince.com
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