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HS boys soccer: Brazil's Joao Negrao overcomes language barrier to star for Boca Raton

The Palm Beach Post logo The Palm Beach Post 12/12/2019 By Chris Nelsen Special to The Post, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.
a group of people posing for the camera: Joao Negrao won boys soccer big schools at the Best of Preps banquet honoring All-Area athletes at the Palm Beach County Convention Center Friday May 24, 2019 in West Palm Beach. Now a senior striker, Negrao has helped lead the Bobcats to a 9-0 start this season. [PALM BEACH POST FILE PHOTO © PALM BEACH POST FILE PHOTO/The Palm Beach Post, Fla./TNS Joao Negrao won boys soccer big schools at the Best of Preps banquet honoring All-Area athletes at the Palm Beach County Convention Center Friday May 24, 2019 in West Palm Beach. Now a senior striker, Negrao has helped lead the Bobcats to a 9-0 start this season. [PALM BEACH POST FILE PHOTO

GREENACRES — Joao Negrao needed just seven games to make his impact felt on the field. Despite missing more than half of Boca Raton's 2018-19 boys soccer season, Negrao impressed enough to be named the county player of the year by both the Sun-Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post, and an Allstate All-American.

"Day and night," Boca Raton coach Marcelo Castillo said of his team with and without Negrao. "Anytime that you can get a player of his quality on your team, let alone in addition to the team that was really good last year, it can only help you."

Negrao played in just seven games last season but finished with 11 goals and six assists and was named the 2019 Best of Preps Boys Soccer Player of the Year.

Now a senior, Negrao has been a key part of Boca Raton's blistering 9-0 start to the season, heading into Thursday's game at Cardinal Newman.

"I had him as a freshman," Castillo said, "and he contributed on a team that I think won 23 games and lost in a regional final. So, I knew he was a great player. It took him two years and a half to get eligible as he didn't speak the language, and he struggled academically. And not because he's not a smart kid. It's just the language barrier."

Negrao moved to America from Pocos de Caldas, Brazil in July of 2016 before starting ninth grade at Boca Raton High School. Two years earlier, his mother came to America from Brazil seeking a better life. She fell in love with Boca Raton, and Negrao soon arrived knowing no English.

"There are some words that are the same thing, but still ... I don't speak [English] like 100 percent," Negrao said. "The most hard thing was the language. But now I'm starting to get better with my English. So, I think that was the hardest thing."

His grades suffered as a result, and Negrao was ineligible for the first half of his junior season last year.

"I didn't expect to have him back until this year," Castillo said.

But Negrao surprised his coach, taking online classes and working hard to regain eligibility by last spring. He joined his team for the end of the season and for playoffs, although Boca Raton lost to Park Vista in penalty kicks in Class 5A Region 3 semifinals.

"I take my hat off to him for working so hard and doing everything that he could to get eligible," Castillo said.

"I had a pretty hard job, but Coach — he always pushed me to keep working," Negrao said. "And I got the grades that I needed to come back and play."

Negrao is taller than most of the players on the field but doesn't immediately stand out. The senior striker is a presence on both sides of the field, whether it's taking a corner kick that leads to a match's only goal, or effortless steals that turn defense into offense.

He's battled injury this season, a dislocated patella in his right knee from preseason. Not that you'd be able to tell from the scoreboard. Eight of Boca Raton's nine wins have been shutout victories, something the Bobcats did just once last fall before January. They've outscored opponents 41-1 this season.

"He's still not 100 percent. When he's 100 percent, he's pretty much unstoppable."

As he continues to gain strength, and prepare for a hopeful college career, Negrao is also able to appreciate the life he's built in the United States.

"Here, they have better schools by far than in Brazil. Like, we don't have the fields, we don't have the uniforms, we don't have anything. In Brazil, it's pretty different from here. ... Here, it's pretty good to live."

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