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Small Name, Big Game

fred - d.c. united
Finally comfortable on and off the field, Fred has become increasingly expressive with his teammates, his perpetual smile and playful jabs lighting up the locker room. (Toni L. Sandys - The Post)

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Fred grew up in Belo Horizonte, Brazil's third most-populous city with a rich soccer history that includes having been the site for one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history, a 1-0 U.S. victory over England in 1950. The oldest of four sons, he grew up in a middle-class family in the UniĆ¢o neighborhood and learned the game like most young Brazilians by playing in the streets. When he was a teenager, he refined his skills by playing both outdoor and indoor, where quick feet and quick thinking are vital to success.

"In Brazil, we like to play the beautiful game," he said. "That is every kid's dream. We are born with it. It is something that is natural, like the way basketball is here in the U.S."

At age 13, Fred joined one of his hometown clubs, America-MG, and signed his first contract six years later. Among his early teammates were midfielder Gilberto Silva, now with English club Arsenal and the Brazilian national team, and another player named Fred, who plays at Lyon in France and scored in the World Cup last summer. "I was Fred Silva, he was just Fred," United's Fred said.

After playing for two other Brazilian clubs, Fred was presented with an offer to join Melbourne. Though he became a star, he struggled with the language and culture. "The first day, I told my wife that we have to go back to Brazil," he recalled. Fred stayed, had four assists in the championship game, and was honored as one of the league's top players.

The fans adored his playing style and personality -- he starred in an underwear commercial -- but with his contract up, his agent presented him with an opportunity to play in the United States. Fred's contract guarantees him $222,000, third most on United's payroll.

Besides the on-field modifications, Fred has adjusted to a new city. He and his wife, Debora, live in the same Arlington complex as Emilio, another Brazilian in his first year with United. They, as well as Emilio and his wife, are taking English lessons four days a week for 2 1/2 hours each session. They found a Baptist church in Wheaton frequented by Brazilians and discovered Washington's ethnic enclaves and shopping malls.

Comfortable on and off the field, Fred has become increasingly expressive with his teammates, his perpetual smile and playful jabs lighting up the locker room.

"Fred is a clown," midfielder Ben Olsen said. "He just has so much energy and is just a real happy guy, a jovial dude. I like Fred -- he's Fred! How can you not like a guy whose name is just Fred?"

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