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By Paul Lonardo
“I started working really hard,” says Tyler Freitas. “I really, really wanted it, so that’s when I put my mind to it that I wanted to be a pro. This is what I wanted to do for a living because I loved it.”
There is no doubt that soccer, the top sport in the world, is growing in popularity in the Unites States, but for Tyler Freitas, a local student athlete with ties to Smithfield, soccer is everything. He dreams of one day playing professional soccer and becoming an elite athlete in the game like one of his idols, Cristiano Ronaldo. Tyler, who just turned 16, has already achieved a lot in the sport, but he knows that he has a long way to go.
Tyler is a defender/midfielder for the New England Revolution Academy team and was selected to join the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team Under-17 Residency Program for the 2016 spring semester at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Tyler was one of 32 players to live, train and study with the Under-17 National Team at this private athletic institute, and earlier this year he competed in the 2016 Aegean Cup soccer tournament held in Turkey.
Tyler has been kicking a soccer ball since he could walk, joining his first team at the age of 6, but he says it wasn’t until he was around 12 that he developed a true passion for the game. That also happened to be when he saw all the attention his older brother Justin was getting for his play on the field.
“I would hear grandpa saying he wanted to go to Justin’s games all the time,” Tyler says, “and I wanted that to happen to me.”
A sibling rivalry quickly developed among the competitive brothers, which helped push Tyler to another level of play. When Justin made the New England Revolution Academy team, it gave Tyler even more of an incentive to improve his game so he could be the equal or surpass his brother’s accomplishments.
“Absolutely, the rivalry pushed him,” his father, Fernando Freitas says. “When Justin made the Revolution Academy, that’s what kicked everything in for Tyler.”
Early on, Tyler would practice with his teams for a couple hours two nights a week, but it wasn’t enough for him. He would stay late whenever he could, but he also had his older brother at home, and the two of them were always in the backyard with a soccer ball, developing their skills and doing what brothers do, competing and trying to beat one another. For a long time, Justin got the best of Tyler, but that would soon change.
“We always played together in the backyard,” Tyler says. “It didn’t matter if it was raining, snowing, we didn’t care. We never stopped. I hated playing against Justin. He always beat me. He did everything to me. One day I just wanted to beat him, that’s all I wanted. And when I started beating him and beating, I wanted to keep doing it, and I just wanted to keep getting better and better.”
By this point, soccer basically consumed Tyler’s life. He didn’t participate in school activities. He didn’t go to any dances. Every weekend he was away playing soccer. He seemed to live by the mantra; eat, sleep, soccer, repeat.
Tyler’s parents fully supported his passion for soccer and his dream to become a professional soccer player, though they always put education above all else.
“School is very important,” his mother, Candida, says. “I tell him that school comes first. As long as he keeps his dream and stays focused, the soccer will happen.”
In acknowledging a personal role model and hero, Tyler looks no further than to his father.
“I look up to my dad a lot,” Tyler says. “He is alwaty telling me to be hard-working, and when you have something on your mind, achieve it. Never bring yourself down. He always tells me that he believes in me and that I can do whatever I want as long as I put my mind to it and focus all my effort.”
As far as advice for young people who want to follow in his footsteps and who dream of pursuing a career in professional soccer, Tyler believes it’s the little things, and putting the time in. “I urge kids to keep at it if they want to get better. It’s a goal, a dream that anyone can have. If you work hard, anything can happen.”
Tyler says it’s been a great experience for him so far and he has met some great people. For Tyler Freitas, his family and friends, and everyone watching and cheering for him, the best is yet to come.