Coming off toe injury, Dantas is ‘hungry’ to get into game
In his third season, team’s top offensive threat hopes to leave lasting impression
Good first impressions have come easy for Blast forward Vini Dantas.
During his first training session playing outdoors for the North American Soccer League’s Ottawa Fury in 2014, Blast veteran Tony Donatelli, also with Ottawa at the time, immediately noticed the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Dantas during a 5-on-5 game.
Dantas showed quickness to go with his dominant size, nifty footwork and imposing shot.
“I just knew he would translate quickly into the indoor game,” Donatelli said.
When Donatelli put a call in to Blast management on his potential find, there was immediate interest. Once again, it didn’t take long for Dantas to stand out.
“One of the first days in training, Vini took a ball off his chest, killed it and laid off a pass, and [ Blast assistant coach David] Bascome and I just looked at each other,” Blast coach Danny Kelly said. “You recognize the players that are special pretty quickly and just see different things that’s not taught. It’s just natural and when you see it, it’s obviously a good thing.”
Now in his third season, Dantas, 27, is working on leaving a lasting impression as one of the Major Arena Soccer League’s most dominant target forwards.
After establishing himself as the Blast’s top offensive threat at the start of last season, with 20 goals and 10 assists in the team’s first 12 games, Dantas suffered a season-ending toe injury that required surgery.
He was proud to see the Blast claim the MASLchampionship. But tonight — when the team opens its 2016-17 regular season in Harrisburg, Pa., to take on the Heat — can’t come soon enough.
“The injury came in January and then surgery in the middle of February, so pretty much since then it’s been a lot of rehabbing and training [instead] of playing. So I’m very hungry to get out there and play,” he said.
It showed at a practice session last week. He was going full speed with an intensity level most players reserve for games. It’s the only way he knows how to play, and his teammates — new and old — feed off it.
“Every year is its own,” Dantas said. “Whatever is going to happen this year I have to earn. I have to work every day and be as intense as I can be because whatever I do [at practice] is going to translate into the games. So hopefully by what I do here, people can see the reason why I was getting so many goals last year was because I did it in here, ran hard in here.”
His teammates, many of them newcomers as he’s taken on a leadership role, have taken note.
“He’s a guy that doesn’t take days off. He works 100 percent every day, so going to training with him is a great challenge,” Season opener Tonight, 7:05 Blast goalie William Vanzela said. “He trains so hard and is definitely a guy that everybody looks up to. He applies the game situations in training every day and then it goes to the game and he’s a beast out there.”
A native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who grew up playing futsal, Dantas came to the United States when he was 18, accepting a scholarship to play soccer at Azusa Pacific in California. He played professionally outdoors, in the United States and abroad, before committing to the indoor game with the Blast.
Learning the nuances of the indoor game and the Blast’s detailed system of play took some time for Dantas, but not much. By the middle of his rookie season, he was quickly processing what he had learned and able to play instinctively.
He finished his first season with 20 goals and five assists — including the playoffs — and was named to the MASL All-Rookie Team.
Before the start of last season, he shared two goals he made for himself with a couple of close teammates. The first was to get more points than he had the year before. The second was to win a championship.
He needed a little more than half a season to reach the first and needed some help from his teammates to reach the second.
“The moment I found out I couldn’t play the rest of the season, I relied on my teammates. I told them ‘Guys, I still have an objective for the season, which is to win the championship, and you’ve got to do it for me.’ And they came through and it was awesome,” he said.
A healthy and hungry Dantas this season is good news for the Blast and bad news for the rest of the MASL. With several new players and opposing teams making it a priority to contain him, the challenge for Kelly is making sure Dantas has an opportunity to play his game.
“Teams are going to double- and triple-team him, and we got to bring the other guys along who are playing in the midfield and second forward spot. [We need to] get them to do the right things to take that pressure off him,” Kelly said. “So that’s going to be on us: Can I get the rest of the team where they need to be so Vini can be himself and productive?”
Dantas has no doubt, welcoming every the challenge the season will bring.
“It’s great — what I play for,” he said. “Defenders have their job and I have mine as a forward, which is to score goals and try to get my teammates to score. When I’m doing those things consistently and helping the team win, there’s no better feeling.”