After a strong four year career with the Albany Great Danes and two summers with FC Tucson in the Premier Development League, Afonso Pinheiro is preparing for the moment of a lifetime ahead of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft.
Prior to coming to the U.S. for college from Brazil, Pinheiro wasn’t sure what to expect from his soccer career stateside. Featuring for Albany in the up-and-coming America East conference, Pinheiro rapidly found himself rising to stardom. His 90 career points and 38 career goals are both the best in Great Danes history, and he broke double-digit goals twice over his four-year career.
“My career at Albany was great,” Pinheiro said. “Before coming to the U.S. I had no idea of what was waiting for me, but I had one thing in mind and that was to be here four years after my decision. Now, I’m here and it worked out. So my career was amazing, I’m thankful for all the people there and my great teammates. It was amazing for me.”
In between his consistently strong seasons with Albany, Pinheiro spent the summer prior to his junior and senior years with FC Tucson in the PDL. There he thrived, appearing in 24 matches while recording 12 goals and six assists, getting valuable playing time that ultimately helped him develop into a top SuperDraft prospect.
“Playing for FC Tucson the past two summers has been great,” Pinheiro told USLPDL.com. “A lot of people get to go home during the summer, but I think it’s really important to stay there. FC Tucson has great facilities, the PDL is very competitive and I feel like the athletes that stay here during the summer are the ones that want to get better going into the college season. Tucson has helped me to improve my game and I think that has ultimately helped me to be here today.”
Despite his fantastic success in college and the PDL, Pinheiro has discovered that talent can sometimes be overlooked because of its source. The America East is less revered than its ACC and Big Ten compatriots, but Pinheiro has been able to battle through that factor to elevate himself among the nation’s elite forwards. Still, he’s the only America East presence at the Combine, something he believes should change.
“Throughout my four years here, I started to learn a bit of that,” said Pinheiro. “When I came here, like I said, I wasn’t aware of that, but I feel like it should start to change soon. Our conference has proven it, last year we were the third best conference in the country in winning percentage. All of those things have started to change. I’ve met some great players in our conference. We’ve got Brian Wright, who went to MLS last year and signed a pro contract. We’ve got my teammates at Albany, including Daniel Krutzen next year who I’m thinking will be here [at the Combine], along with many other players who could be here, and I think it’s starting to change because we’ve got a really, really competitive conference. It’s just a matter of other people realizing that more and more.”
With trailblazers like Pinheiro leading the way, future America East talents could have an easier path into serious draft consideration. In order to achieve that goal, Pinheiro believes strongly that the PDL offers a great developmental platform for collegiate talents to grow.
“I think the PDL is great because players finish the season in November and don’t start again until August, so that’s eight or nine months,” Pinheiro said. “If you don’t play for that long, it can put you down sometimes. But the PDL helps you get playing time and training with great players. There’s a lot of good teams in PDL I’ve played against, and especially FC Tucson as well. It allows players to go into the season with game-time and getting on the ball, which is very different from training by yourself. So it’s amazing how it helps you prepare for the season.”