An Emotional Fred Rejoins D.C. United After His Father's Sudden Death

D.C. United midfielder Fred was playing in New Zealand when he learned his father had been killed in a car accident in Brazil.
D.C. United midfielder Fred was playing in New Zealand when he learned his father had been killed in a car accident in Brazil. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On each leg of the 8,400-mile journey home to Brazil -- from Wellington to Auckland in New Zealand, then to Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and finally to Belo Horizonte -- memories of his father swelled.

The outings to Estádio Mineirão for Cruzeiro matches. The family gatherings around a TV to watch World Cup games. His father using clever footwork to set up a goal in an amateur game and then gesturing proudly to his 9-year-old son on the wooden bleachers.

"My dad taught me how to play soccer, but not only that, he taught me how to be a good man and to always be good in life," D.C. United midfielder Fred said through an interpreter at his Falls Church apartment recently. "Those are the things I will always have with me."

On Dec. 9, while Fred was spending United's offseason playing for the Wellington Phoenix, his father Ilson was making a routine delivery for a household products company owned by the extended family in Belo Horizonte. He was driving through a familiar intersection when another driver ignored a stop sign and rammed into the side of his car, causing it to flip.

Ilson, who was not wearing his seat belt, suffered head injuries and died. He was 54.

After abruptly leaving New Zealand to spend six sorrowful weeks with his mother and three brothers in Brazil, Fred brought a heavy heart and vivid memories of his father back to Washington on Jan. 26 for the start of training camp.

Until his wife, Debora, and infant daughter, Eduarda, rejoin him here in late March, Fred is, for the most part, alone with his thoughts, balancing emotional pain with the physical demands of a new MLS season.

The jovial personality that brightened the United clubhouse during a substandard 2008 campaign is beginning to resurface. A spiky mohawk now rises from his tightly cropped black hair, and in an interview, he mocked himself for using a shoe to clear his car of snow and ice two weeks ago -- the first frosty accumulation he had encountered in his 29 1/2 years. "I'm not friends with cold weather," Fred said before laughing.

United forward Luciano Emilio, a fellow Brazilian, called Fred in Brazil several times after the accident. "It was obviously very difficult for him," Emilio said. "It takes time, but now he is better. He is happy."

Fred's full name is Helbert Frederico Carreiro da Silva, but like many Brazilians, especially athletes, he goes by one name. His father lived by a single moniker as well. So does the youngest of Fred's brothers, 17-year-old Junior, who is with the Recife-based soccer club Nautico. Junior's given name is the same as their father's. The other brothers, Eduardo, 28, and Heldev, 25, work for the telephone company and Fiat, respectively.

Fred's mother, Ester, 52, visited Washington when Eduarda was born last summer, but her husband's fear of flying kept him home. When in New Zealand, Fred would hold Eduarda in front of a Web camera for his father to admire. Ilson was eager to meet his granddaughter for the first time at Christmas.

Fred arrived in Wellington in November at the end of United's season, which, for the first time in six years, did not include playoffs. His plan was to play six games for the Wellington Phoenix, which competes in the Australian league, a circuit Fred knew well after starring for the Melbourne Victory in 2006. He scored once in three Phoenix matches, but on the morning of Dec. 9, a call from his brother-in-law, Lucas, shook his life.

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