Mario Pinto: NPSL level is “really, really high”

There have been a lot of success stories coming out following the 2016 NPSL Combine, but one of the biggest stories involves a former NPSL player who did not take part in the combine. That player is Joplin Demize standout Mario Pinto, who recently signed a contract with Brazilian side Esporte Clube Noroeste of Sao Paulo State’s second division.

Before he played in the NPSL, Pinto made his name at the collegiate level with Lincoln Memorial University (LMU).  “My coach was Brazilian so he recruits a lot of Brazilians, so it was better for me to get used to [American] soccer and how to play in the U.S.,” says Pinto. “I was coming from Brazil [where] it’s a whole different school – soccer school.”

Pinto, who grew up in a Brazilian city called Uberlandia, came to the U.S. in 2010 on a scholarship to play for LMU. There he became the school’s all-time leading scorer with 49 goals in just three years, all while wearing the famed number ‘10’ on the back of his jersey.

Pinto also had plenty of accolades to go along with his goals, including being named the SAC Freshman of the year in 2011, the SAC Player of the Year in 2012, and making the NSCAA All-America Second Team in 2012, to name just a few. Following a three-year stint with LMU, Pinto played with the Atlanta Silverbacks reserve side and then the Joplin Demize.

“After I graduated a couple of friends went to Joplin, so I started to talk to the head coaches and the coaching staff, and I ended up playing for them last year,” says Pinto.

Not surprisingly, he also found success with the Demize and was named the NPSL Player of the Week during the tenth week of the 2015 season. Overall, Pinto thinks his time in the NPSL was great and considers the league to be more competitive than people realize.

“It was actually a great experience; it’s a really good league. The levels they say are semi-pro, but there are a couple of teams that are pro teams playing in the NPSL so the level is really, really high,” he says.

Although Pinto had to return home, he had planned to come back to the U.S. to attend a couple of tryouts as well as to attend the NPSL Combine, to which he was invited. But life had other things in store for him, and Pinto got two trials in Brazil, one of them with EC Noroeste. “I stayed with them for a couple of weeks and they liked me, so they offered me a contract,” he tells us.

Pinto says that although it was hard at first with EC Noroeste because of the difference in styles, the other players received him well and eventually he was able to adapt. According to him, in the U.S. it is more about “strength and skill” whereas in Brazil soccer is more “technical”. Despite this, Pinto believes that his time playing in the NPSL helped him become a more complete player.

“The whole experience that I had in the U.S. helped me develop into a better player because I learned a completely different game. When I left Brazil and got to the U.S. I had to improve some skills like strength and speed and all that stuff that I needed to be a better player,” he says. “I learned how to adapt my game in the U.S. and when I got here [Brazil] it was not easy for me, but I can get out of some situations that I couldn’t before [playing in the U.S.].”

Because of his own experience, Pinto believes the NPSL would a great option to other players back home, particularly because of the opportunity that it provides.  He says that because soccer in Brazil is so big, there is more competition when it comes to soccer, making it harder for players to make it at the top level.

“Everyone here plays soccer and not everyone gets a chance to sign a professional contract because there’s so much talent that it’s really hard for you to get [in] a position to play professional soccer. We don’t have a league like NPSL that if you play during the summer and play really well you might get a shot at a professional team,” Pinto tells us.

With this in mind, Pinto has begun to encourage fellow Brazilian players to give the NPSL a try, essentially serving as the league’s ambassador for South America. “I always try to motivate people to go to the U.S. and try to sign for the NPSL, even for the summer, because it’s really high level and all the players want to play in higher levels,” he says. “I consider myself an ambassador.”

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