From Brazil to the Blast, Vini Dantas and Jonatas Melo build a bond

For The Baltimore Sun
Two Blast players from Brazil realized they knew each other long ago and have reconnected this season.

When Vini Dantas and Jonatas Melo met on the Baltimore Blast's practice field, it was comforting for each of the first-year indoor soccer players to see a fellow Brazilian almost 5,000 miles away from home.

As the two got better acquainted, they realized their connection ran deeper than just being new teammates. They had actually known one another growing up in Sao Paulo before traveling abroad to begin their professional careers at age 17.

Dantas' father, Vandeir Dantas, is a close friend of Melo's uncle, Carlos Soldi, and the two players actually had met when they were children. Even though they had not seen each other in many years, a bond quickly formed.

"When I came for a tryout in early November, the very first day we were training, [Melo] comes up to me and says, 'Dude, I think we know each other,' " Dantas said. "He said you definitely know my Uncle Carlos. When we were 6 or 7 years old, Carlos threw a barbeque and he invited the family and closest friends. So, we were there, playing soccer."

Both players have made an immediate impact for the Blast, who opened the season with 13 straight wins before dropping their past two road games against Las Vegas and San Diego. Now, the duo is looking to help the team get back on track Friday against Rochester.

"The first 10 games, we played very well," Melo said. "The last three games, I think we lost some intensity. Through the course of the season, you have some downs, but now we want to get back that momentum."

Before joining the Blast, Melo, a midfielder, played professional futsal in Italy for Pesaro. Dantas has played with the Ottawa Fury FC in the North American Soccer League, along with Finnish Premier League side FC Lahti, among other clubs.

Both players have been able to adapt to the intricacies of the indoor game, especially how players can use the boards to make passes and set up scoring chances.

"It's a little different because of the boards," said Melo, who has eight goals and four assists in 14 games. "Sometimes it's difficult, but I've learned so much."

The Blast have eight native Brazilians on their roster. Coach Danny Kelly said the team tries to make the players as comfortable as possible in a new environment far away from their native country. Often, players who are happy off the field perform better on it.

"With Jonatas and Vini, both of them have done very well for us," Kelly said. "Both of them have come in and really exceeded our expectations. We knew they were both really good players.

"Their skills translated into this game from futsal so well, and they have really been ahead of schedule for me as far as their development. They are two really good players who have a bright future ahead of them."

The two have bonded off the field and consider one another a "family tie." They spend time at each others' homes in the same apartment complex to play FIFA video games and eat native Brazilian dishes.

With some games under their belt, both players are focused on getting the Blast back into the win column. The team already has clinched the Major Arena Soccer League's Eastern Division title with a 13-2 record and five games left in the regular season.

The Blast is one of the most storied franchises in the history of indoor soccer. Dantas, who has nine goals and three assists in 10 games, said the players know that every team is gunning for them and his teammates know they have to play at their best every game.

"I look at this team and I see a championship-winning team, for sure," Dantas said. "We had some good talks after the weekend to get back to what makes us successful. That's what we're going to do."

Kelly is confident the entire team is ready to bounce back from the uncharacteristic two straight losses.

"We're too good of a team to let something like that slow us down," Kelly said. "There are no easy games in this league. It was a good learning experience. Maybe some of us thought it was going to be an easy trip, a vacation out West. Obviously, Vegas and San Diego were highly motivated.

"We just got to be better and learn from our mistakes. Every team is gunning for us."

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