We are excited to share this article from The New England Soccer Journal featuring Valeo's very own Patrick and Matthew Leal. The Leal Twins reflect on their experience transition from playing here in the U.S. to now playing in Europe, with Portugal's OS Belenenses.
Please read below:
In 2016, Matthew and Patrick Leal, 14-year-old twins from Newton, Mass., competed in the IberCup, an international tournament featuring top club sides from throughout the world.
“We watched Sevilla and PSG, and the level of play those kids had was amazing,” said Matthew, a holding midfielder. “Everyone had a great understanding of the game the speed was fast, because the training they receive is the best.”
That experience gave them a taste of European soccer, where many of the world’s top academies are situated. So when July 2017 rolled around, the Leal twins had a tryout organized with C.F. Os Belenenses, a club that plays in the Primeira Liga, Portugal’s top division.
They ultimately made the top U-15 Os Belenenses academy side, where they now train during the afternoon. In the mornings, they train with Valeo International Academy, a venture set up by Emelio Williams, director of Valeo FC, the Boston-area club they grew up playing for.
For Patrick, an attacking midfielder, such an opportunity in Europe was too good to pass up.
“Everyone wants to play in Europe, well at least a lot of people do,” Patrick said. “They want the opportunities we have, so when we’re in Portugal playing in the tournament, we were amazed to see how well the European teams played. When we had the opportunity, it was no brainer.”
Before joining on with Os Belenenses, the Leal twins played for the New England Revolution’s U-13 side in 2016-17, appearing in a combined 47 matches. Notably, Patrick scored seven goals and earned a call-up in February 2017 to the U.S. U-14 national team.
Patrick noted that playing with the Revs was a “very good experience,” while his brother said the overall environment gave them an idea of what the next level requires.
“At the Revs, it was my first experience with a professional club,” Matthew said. “It was good to get into that professional environment and get acclimated to it. It made the transition to Portugal a lot easier.”
As of early January, the Leal brothers were not yet cleared to play in matches with Os Belenenses due to FIFA paperwork not yet clearing. They remain hopeful that they get approval soon, as the winter approval window runs from Jan. 3 to Feb. 2 in Portugal.
In the interim, they’re living overseas with their mom and follow an American curriculum with private teachers that come to their home. They also grew up speaking Portuguese, since their father has roots in New Bedford, Mass., easing the cultural adjustment to life overseas.
Patrick and Matthew, however, have big dreams of becoming professional soccer players. At 14, they’re a long ways from that physically and tactically, but are committed to making their hopes reality.
Further, the Leals agreed they might move outside the Os Belenenses system at some point.
“I look at it like one year at a time to see where I’m at with how I’m progressing,” Patrick said. “The end goal is to be a professional, but I always try to build up from that. It was club, then academy in America, then academy in Europe.”
Added Matthew: “I just take it year by year and try to progress to the next level.”
Article was written by Jonathan Sigal from US Soccer Journal.