By Scott Radley
The Hamilton Spectator (Aug 28, 2017)
Soccer is not a big man's game.
Sure there are some large players who have done very nicely over the years, but you don't have to be a giant to be good. Quickness, skill, technique, passion, endurance and 15 or 20 other attributes can trump pure size in this sport.
Still, when he takes his five-foot-seven, 135-pound body onto the field to play against men, even he notices the other guys have a clear advantage in the physique department.
"I'm always the smallest guy on the field," Ryan Raposo says.
Just last week, he spent a game going head-to-head with an athletic 200-pound centre back. A guy who wasn't afraid to get physical with him. So naturally, his size was going to be at least a bit of an issue.
Actually, no, not really.
Despite his diminutive stature, the Hamilton native is a rising star who might already be the best player in this city. The 18-year-old was repeatedly named the top player on his St. Thomas More high school team. The other day he was named MVP of the Canada Summer Games soccer tournament where he helped Ontario win gold.
In the fall of 2018 he's going to Syracuse University on a scholarship to play with the eighth-ranked team in the States.
The son of a Portuguese father and a Chinese mother, he latched onto the game really early when his older brothers would go play with their friends at a park behind their house. In a story familiar to anyone with athletic brothers, things would get rather competitive in a hurry.
"I'd always get pushed around," he says. "You'd have to keep up with them."
He made his first rep team when he was eight, switched to a more-competitive Burlington squad when he was 12 and by 14 he'd been selected to join the provincial program.
Raposo says he was the worst player on that team at the start of that season, but by the end of the campaign he was selected to play on the under-15 national team. That gave him a seat on the plane to a tournament in Costa Rica where he came off the bench to score the tying goal in a huge game.
That was the moment he started to think soccer could take him somewhere.
This summer, the winger was playing in Vaughan for one of the province's top under-18 teams until a few weeks ago when he got called up to the organization's League 1 team.
The semi-pro loop is one of the top leagues in Canada. Since arriving, he's hardly been overmatched, scoring twice in five games.
The goal is to ultimately get drafted and play pro somewhere. That's what he's dreamed of since he started playing. He knows there's work to do, though. Starting with his size. At least as much as is within his control.
"Every day I'll step on the scale and say, 'I've got to put on 10 pounds if I want to play at the next level.'"
He's probably right. Some extra pounds might indeed help. As for his height, there's not really much he can do about it. Then again, Lionel Messi is only five-foot-seven, Pele was only five-foot-eight and at five-foot-five, Diego Maradona would barely reach the line allowing him on most of the rides at Canada's Wonderland.
Raposo says he compensates for being smaller by amping up his aggression. You can be nice after the game, he says. During the action, it's about never backing down. At his size, every practice and match is about showing he's physically capable of holding his own and proving he won't be intimidated or pushed around.
As he explains this, he points to a spot just below his knee.
In each of the past few years he's spent several months training in Germany with elite academy teams. When he ran onto the pitch for his first workout over there, nobody was wearing shin guards so he figured he wouldn't either. The first time he touched the ball, a guy came in for a hard slide tackle, studs up.
"This guy cracked me so hard," Raposo says. "I was gushing blood down my shin."
Did he get him back later in the practice?
"Yes," he smiles. "Of course."firstname.lastname@example.org
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