On Jan. 15, San Jose midfielder Matheus Silva participated in an emotional charity match on the campus of the University of Central Florida to honor the victims of the Chapecoense plane crash this past November.
Silva, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, was closely affected by the tragedy. He played alongside Gabriel and Matheus Saroli at Monteverde Academy, who both lost their father, Chapecoense head coach Caio Junior, in the crash.
“I was honored to be a part of such a meaningful game,” Silva said, “Before the game, we payed tribute to the Chapecoense team and their families. The moment was something that really touched me.”
The charity doubleheader, hosted by the Florida Cup, displayed some world-renowned talent, including Brazilian legends Cafu and Emerson, as well as former U.S. international players Oguchi Onyewu and Eddie Johnson.
“Those players were awesome,” Silva said at Avaya Stadium on Friday. "They would joke with me on the field, making sure I was doing everything right because I was the youngest player out there."
Silva recalls watching Cafu hoist the 2002 World Cup trophy for Brazil at the age of six. Now, on a sunny afternoon in Florida, the 20-year-old was playing alongside him.
"Cafu gave a speech before the game,” Silva said. "The speech was actually the same speech he gave the Brazilian team before the 2002 World Cup Final. I videotaped it. It’s one of those things you’ll never forget.
“He’s competitive. Even though it was just a friendly game, he wanted to win. He is still in shape, too, so he was running around and talking to us. I played center back next to him as well so it was amazing.”
In the first match, Silva and Cafu patrolled the backline together. In the final fixture of the afternoon, Silva went head-to-head against the Brazilian icon, eventually scoring a goal against his childhood idol.
“I actually scored a nice goal against Cafu’s team,” Silva admitted. "He was messing with me after that. I scored the goal with my left foot and later there was a chance with my right foot and he said, ‘He can’t shoot with his right like he can shoot with his left.’”
Between the banter and competitive back and forth, Silva viewed this opportunity as not only a chance to honor the families and victims of the tragic Chapecoense plane crash, but to learn from some world-class, defensive-minded players.
“Cafu was always the underdog during his career,” Silva explained. "He always had to work hard and go to a bunch of tryouts when he was younger. He just told me to keep working hard and don’t let anything get in my way.
“Guch [Oguchi Onyewu] is a funny guy. I’ve gotten to know him pretty well over the years. He just told me to keep working hard and good things will happen.”
Entering his third season with the Quakes, Silva saw the match as the perfect ending to what was a long offseason of training.
“This offseason was hard but it was good for me. I chose not to go back home to Brazil. I chose to go back to my old school in Florida and use their facilities. I made sure I was running everyday and eating well. I’m excited. I’m positive and mentally ready for this season.”