Joe Dodson, Staff Writer
Sophomore midfielder Célio Pompeu competes with the joy he had as a kid playing with his friends in Fortaleza, Brazil.
“Soccer for me? It’s everything,” Pompeu said. “I remember as a kid I always had a soccer ball with me. My first gift was a soccer ball.”
Pompeu started playing organized soccer at Brazilian first-division team Ceará’s Sporting Club School when he was nine years old. As his soccer notoriety grew, his family supported him, Pompeu said.
“They asked, ‘so you want to be a soccer player?’ And I said, ‘yeah, it’s my dream,’” Pompeu said. “They always helped me.”
Pompeu was competing in a showcase tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when he was recruited by St. Benedict’s Prep coach Jimmie Wandling.
When he moved to Newark, New Jersey at 16 to play for St. Benedict’s, Pompeu struggled to communicate with others while he learned English, he said.
“In Brazil, I was always the first guy to talk,” Pompeu said. “When I got here, I learned how to listen more because I couldn’t talk.”
Along with learning a new language and culture, Pompeu had to learn a different style of play from the offensive-minded style of Brazilian soccer.
“In Brazil, we always want to attack, dribble, score goals, have fun, laugh and give the fans a show,” Pompeu said. “If you wanna succeed here in the U.S., you also need fitness, and you need to defend.”
Although Pompeu was not expressive with his words, his personality shined through on the field, Wandling said.
“I think Célio’s personality, his charisma, his enthusiasm is all reflected in the way that he plays,” Wandling said.
By the end of his three-year high school career, Pompeu had scored 41 goals and dished out 51 assists. His efforts earned him a spot on the USA Today 2018-2019 All-USA first team.
“The thing that I’m most proud of is that toward the end of his time with us, he was playing for the people around him more than he was playing for himself,” Wandling said.
Pompeu had professional contract offers from Europe after high school, but he instead committed to UCLA. The UCLA commitment ended when coach Jorge Salcedo was found to be a part of an admissions cheating scandal.
Pompeu had been on VCU head coach Dave Giffard’s short list prior to his commitment to UCLA, so once Pompeu decommitted, Giffard reached out.
Pompeu’s “team-first” mentality sets him apart from top recruits that VCU has had in the past, Giffard said.
“I think he’s the most gifted one we’ve had here,” Giffard said. “The reason is he doesn’t mind fighting for the team.”
Pompeu sustained a leg injury three minutes into his collegiate debut against St. Bonaventure in September of 2019. He was forced to miss the remainder of the regular season.
Pompeu had never suffered a serious injury before, he said. Giffard said Pompeu used the time as a learning opportunity for how to better take care of his body.
In his first game back, Pompeu scored his first collegiate goal to help VCU beat George Mason in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals.
“It was a relief,” Pompeu said. “I was waiting for this moment for so long.”
Like the rest of the men’s soccer team, Pompeu had to wait 15 months until his next competitive game. The 2020 fall season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pompeu has started every game so far this season and was named conference player of the week after completing a hat trick to give VCU a 3-2 win over Elon on March 7.
“That third goal, it was fantastic,” redshirt-junior midfielder Fiorre Mane said. “It was the 83rd minute and we were all tired. I don’t think I’ll forget that moment.”
Pompeu is known for having fun on the field, Mane said. Wandling said Pompeu’s personality and style of play are intertwined.
“Célio is a future pro,” Wandling said. “He’s got a skill set that is not very common, and he’s got a spirit and personality that goes hand-in-hand with his ability on the field.”
Pompeu knows that a professional contract is likely in his future, but he said for now he’s focused on his team at VCU.
“Before I think about going pro,” Pompeu said. “I want to win the first A-10 title.”