The English Lion chats with Orlando City's head of scouting and recruitment, Ricardo Moreira
If there's one thing that Orlando City have done well over the last two years, it's recruit well. Aside from Luis Nani we are not a team blessed with global stars, and household names. Under Oscar Pareja this team has the feeling of being much better than the sum of it's parts. And there is one man, who perhaps doesn't always get the credit he deserves. And that man is Ricardo Moreira.
Ricardo checked in from Columbus Crew a couple of years ago. Responsible for the findings of players such as the influential Artur for the Crew, Moreira's eye for talent cannot be underestimated. He is meticulous in his approach, and his part in Orlando City's recent resurgence during MLS Is Back should not be understated.
As such it was our pleasure to catch up with Ricardo and talk about the importance of recruiting well.
@ricomoreira09 on Twitter.
First of all, thank you for speaking with us Ricardo. It’s great to speak to you. MLS Is Back has been a fun watch overall for all MLS and Orlando City fans. How has it been for you, and how impressed have you been with the team’s performance overall?
RM: It’s been not only fun to watch the tournament but also, we feel it’s a relief. Although we understand the difficult moment we’re all living in and care about the losses, soccer is our life and we were eager to get back at it. Regarding our performances, we were confident since day one in preseason that we were on the right track. It’s a process of changing the culture, making the players feel at home and we knew good results would come sooner rather than later.
You certainly have an impressive record when it comes to finding high quality players in markets that are perhaps not that well known to the average soccer fan. Ruan being one such example; coming from the Brazilian lower leagues. How difficult is it to judge if a player can come into a new league and hit the ground running as Ruan did?
RM: It is not easy to make such judgment, but our job is to avoid the risks involved in any recruitment of player to prevent flops. I was personally following Ruan for over two years before we brought him and when I knew we needed speed in that position I knew right away where to look for it.
Major League Soccer has a unique set of rules and obstacles when it comes to player recruitment. How difficult is it to negotiate with clubs from other leagues outside of the United States when working within these confines? Particularly for a club like Orlando City who doesn’t have the biggest budget in the league?
RM: It is challenging but I believe that the combination of good recruitment plus a great coaching staff can put ourselves in a position to compete even if our investments are not as high as other teams. If we recruit well, we will compete. During my time in Columbus and Luiz’s in Dallas we got used to not investing millions and millions and still somehow succeed. The league has its rules, but for me basically the only impact is that you need time to change what you need to change. In other clubs around the world you can hire a bunch of new guys right away for whatever money and it seems easier to make things happen.
The American collegiate system has been kind to Orlando City in the past, bringing us the likes of Chris Mueller and Benji Michel. How does your own experience of playing in the NCAA help you identify players who have what it takes to make the step up from the collegiate level to the professional game?
RM: To be honest, my journey in the NCAA was short because of injuries. We have very good scouts with deep knowledge of the college system in the US and good (and trained) eyes. I will give the credit to them. But Benji is a homegrown.
In your opinion, what are the most important attributes for a potential target? What do you look for when scouting players for Orlando City?
RM: We have a set of requirements for each position, the profiles me and my team put together with Oscar and Josema to each position. As well as predetermined filters such as age, injury history. It varies honestly depending on the moment of the team. But what we really don’t let go is: eagerness to win. A new player will be part of a changing (to win) culture and they must be fit.
As director of scouting and recruitment you are heavily involved in the player recruitment process. For those readers who aren’t familiar with exactly how the process works, what does a typical transfer look like?
RM: It is pretty intense, it never stops and we’re always trying to be a step ahead. Basically, myself, Luiz and Oscar are already planning 2021, so we know what we will need, who do we want to renew with, which positions we will need to improve. With Luiz we will make the financial planning (cap, MLS rules etc). Of course things can change due to many soccer and non soccer related factors. But the process, basically: after we plan, I set the tasks to the scouts, they watch games, individual players (10/15 games for each targeted player), give their ratings, we discuss and after a decision I will sit down with the technical staff and show our reports (that basically compiles technical, tactical, physical, behavioural), we will gather as much information as we can. If we have a green light, me and Luiz will start negotiations with the club, the agents.
You’ve worked with two head coaches at Orlando City now, James O’Connor and Oscar Pareja. Generally speaking, how difficult (or easy) is it to adapt to the needs and wants of a new head coach? And how do you go about finding out what they are? For example, might one coach prefer to place more emphasis on the technical or physical side of the game than the other?
RM: The job of the scouting team is to serve the coaching staff, basically. We need to understand them and provide the best players that fit in what they are trying to do. we have to adapt to circumstances and to coaches. With Oscar was different because I was involved in the entire hiring process of him and his staff, so it was not a matter of adapting to his ideas. I knew we were on the same page since day one and I was looking forward to work with him.
You played at collegiate level and studied for a degree in law before practising with a law firm in Brazil. You then ended up making the move into professional soccer with Grêmio Audax in 2013. How did the career change come about, and how do you feel the skills you developed in law have helped you in your soccer career?
RM: I tried to be a professional soccer player in Brazil and I got close to, but specially in Brazil it is pretty difficult. In college in Brazil it was different, the success happened right away, we won many things and I had a full scholarship to play. It was funny cause while I was working as a sports lawyer, I wasn’t happy with my career knowing that working for clubs and players that would be the closest I could get to the field. And I was working for big clients in big deals (for instance, I represented the Brazilian Soccer Association – CBF, in its FIFA courts legal disputes). I finished an MBA in Sports Management in 2012 and while working for Audax as a lawyer I was invited to be a sporting director and help build their team for the 1st division of the São Paulo State Tournament. Never put on a suit and a tie again (lol).
I'm with you on the suit and tie thing. Are there any particular areas of the world have you noticed becoming hotspots for talent scouting? And how do you go about identifying these areas?
RM: I always say: there is talent everywhere. It is impossible for our team of scouts to cover every league so as much as we cover the leagues we identified as the most important to us (South American Leagues, Mexico, etc), we use data, our database and knowledge to approach other leagues and countries. We brought a Swedish player, a Peruvian who was in Mexico, a Uruguayan who was in Russia....
Major League Soccer becomes an increasingly attractive destination for young players every year. We’ve seen young players like Jack Harrison move to big European teams and achieve a certain level of success. In your opinion, how far off is MLS from becoming one of the world’s top leagues? And how do you think the success of players, such as Harrison, helps to increase the league’s global reputation?
RM: I have lots of friends in the business and I see that more and more clubs are setting the MLS as a target to their scouts. They are watching the MLS Is Back Tournament and it is very common to me to receive as guests in Exploria Stadium scouts and sporting directors from foreign clubs. I think MLS is not far off of becoming an even greater league.
A lot is made of recruiting players with the correct mentality in soccer these days. Is it fair to say Major League Soccer faces unique challenges in that regard? For example, do you find some players want to join the league because of the lifestyle on offer in the United States? And how do you go about deciphering who wants to compete and who wants a holiday?
RM: It is definitely a challenge and especially in Florida, especially in Orlando. An issue that was minor during my period in Columbus. We do our homework to not only speak with the player but former teammates, coaches. We try as much as possible to understand their mentality. Sometimes agents start conversations with “he would really love to live in Orlando”….and my polite answer is always something like “ok, I will send you a contact of a realtor then cause we need guys here to compete and perform and our standards are high”.
Lastly, it’s well known around the league how fantastic our supporters are. Both domestically and internationally, with groups such as Ruckus, ILF, Orlando City UK helping to grow the club’s brand in central Florida and beyond. How important are the supporters to this club, and how big a role, if at all, do they play in the recruitment of players?
RM: I can say I knew our supporters since I first came here when I was with the Crew. It makes a difference in recruiting because players don’t want to play where supporters are cold and don’t mind their business. FYI, when were are meeting and interviewing players we show them a presentation and hand them a type of Virtual Reality Glasses where they are right next to Jansson celebrating a victory in front of a packed Wall. That tells you a lot.
Huge thanks go out to Ricardo Moreira for taking the time out to speak with us. It's hugely appreciated. Vamos Orlando!