Soccer, Sacrifice Unite Vasconcelos Family in NWSL Journey NWSL KC

The Latest | Jun 20, 2021

Soccer, Sacrifice Unite Vasconcelos Family in NWSL Journey

On this Utah summer night in 2013, Pedro Vasconcelos wasn’t looking forward to attending his BYU soccer teammates’ wedding.

It’s not that Pedro had any problems with the teammate as a person or him getting married, but simply wasn’t planning on going. However, thanks to some coercing from another teammate, Pedro decided to tag along. It was a seemingly innocuous decision at the time, but one that would eventually change his life forever.

Michele Vasconcelos (Michele Murphy at the time) was also in attendance at the wedding — her brother was a good friend of the groom. There, Michele caught Pedro’s eye, as he’d correctly recognized her from playing on the women’s soccer team. According to Pedro, he had only seen Michele in group settings, either before or after the women’s team had practiced. He took a step towards changing that during the wedding, but not directly.

“Pedro ended up going away, if I remember right, with my brother’s phone number but not my phone number,” Michele said. “That was pretty funny because my brother (like Pedro, who was born and raised in Brazil) also spoke Portuguese, so they had that in common.”

Fast forward three states, a marriage, one child and more than seven years, Pedro and Michele Vasconcelos built a strong relationship while navigating the rigors that the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) can provide. 

Despite Michele’s incredibly successful career at BYU, which saw her win the West Coast Conference Player of the Year in her senior season, she was still unsure whether she wanted to pursue professional soccer. 

“I told her... If you have this opportunity and you don’t take it, then you’re always going to look back and be like ‘Hey, what would it be like if I had actually played a few years,’” Pedro said. “I think it was before her senior year that we had a conversation. [Pedro told her] that if she wants to go, she should really push for it and set some goals for her senior season of things that she wants to accomplish.”

Following Michele’s 16-goal, 13-assist senior season, she was drafted by the Chicago Red Stars in the 2017 NWSL Draft. It was the first of two life-changing events for the Vasconcelos family that year.

Following a husband-and-wife trip to see Pedro’s family in Brazil later that year, Michele found out that she was pregnant. Both Pedro and Michele were originally shocked by the news, and Michele said she was worried that the timing of her pregnancy would hurt her chances of playing professionally. Pedro, meanwhile, felt that the timing of the pregnancy was a blessing in disguise and looked forward to the responsibility of being a father.

“I think with everything in life, when you get more responsibility it kind of pushes you to grow, forces you to do things differently,” Pedro said. “Looking back, it was also a good time for it because Michele was able to give birth and work hard to then come into the league.”

Pedro assisted in Michele’s efforts to return to form on and off the field. As someone who also grew up around the sport in soccer-rich Brazil, Pedro said he helped Michele break down film while she was pregnant to help her analyze places for improvements in her game. He said he didn’t go as far when it came to partaking in Michele’s extreme workouts — which included running (while Pedro drove) to Pedro’s brother’s house seven months pregnant — but provided crucial support throughout Michele’s pregnancy.

One of the first major tests that the Vasconcelos family faced came four months after their baby girl Scarlett was born in August 2017. Michele was invited to a U-23 US National Team camp, but she was worried about leaving Scarlett alone for an extended period and leaving Pedro alone over his birthday. However, Pedro stepped up and made sure things ran smoothly around the house, encouraging Michele to represent her country while he handled Scarlett.

“I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t go, like I can’t leave her,’ and he was like, ‘No, you have to go, we’ll take care of everything at home,’” Michele said. “And I think that just sums him up completely, because he’s always been a support no matter what it is. It’s not just support, but also pushing me to do uncomfortable things in a good way.”

Following Michele’s opportunity with the U-23 National Team, the young family made the move from Utah to Illinois for Michele to begin her NWSL career. The drastic move came with its challenges. Pedro said it was difficult to make friends because they didn’t live near any of Michele’s teammates. On top of that, the two had to navigate a completely new city where they knew nobody — with a young child in tow.

“[Pedro] really stepped up at home, especially because we didn’t have a nanny at first. He was working full-time and watching [Scarlett] and not only working full-time, but doing his best at work,” Michele said. “That was really cool for me to see him wanting to serve our family like that.”

Pedro echoed Michele, saying that their first year in Chicago was “really rough.” Things eventually took a turn for the better, though, as Michele rounded back into shape during the 2018 season and looked primed for a breakout campaign the following season.

However, a few things hindered the Vasconcelos family’s NWSL journey. The first was a serious knee injury Michele suffered in 2019, as she tore her ACL and meniscus. Michele said that Pedro helped take care of both her and Scarlett “without complaining,” something that Pedro says is simply a fundamental part of being married.

“I think that's kind of like your obligation, when you're in a family, to kind of help out, you know,” Pedro said. “I don't think that there are set rules, like the father does this, the mother does this. You have to do what you can do at the moment to help the family.”

Shortly after Michele returned from her injury, COVID-19 shut down sporting events worldwide. The pandemic was hard for Michele, Pedro and Scarlett at first, but the NWSL bubble in Utah created a new opportunity for the young family to grow. For Pedro, it was a great opportunity to stay close to home, spend more time with Scarlett, and even train with Michele and the Red Stars due to them not having enough numbers at times. 

“Honestly, [the NWSL bubble] was one of my favorite times because I was working remotely, I could have my meetings in Brazil early in the morning,” Pedro said. “And then I could take like a one- or two-hour break, and then I joined practice with [the Chicago Red Stars] like every single day.”

In September 2020, just after the bubble and before the NWSL’s Fall 2020 Series, Michele was traded from Chicago to the Utah Royals. Three months later, the Utah Royals organization ended, and the roster was moved to Kansas City. Once again, the Vasconcelos’ were on the move to a new city and an unfamiliar situation. However, at least for Michele, Kansas City feels different.

According to Michele, it “took so much stress away” that KC NWSL was able to provide a two-bedroom apartment for her family upon arriving to Kansas City. She added that it’s been a great experience living so close to her teammates, and that Scarlett is incredibly close to a good portion of the squad. In addition, Pedro is continuing to work remotely, meaning he has more time to spend with Michele and Scarlett and didn’t need to go through the stress of finding a new job in a new city.

In addition to the support provided by the team, Michele said that she’s received guidance from KC NWSL forward Amy Rodriguez, the other mom on the team. Michele said she grew up watching Rodriguez star on the field, and that it’s been “awesome” to see how she interacts with her children off the field. For Michele, following Rodriguez’s example only reinforces Pedro’s belief that Michele can excel at home and on the field.

“Pedro has always been supportive in that I can do both, I can [play professional soccer] and be a mom,” Michele said. 

While Michele noted that every family in the league is different, she said what makes her and Pedro’s family dynamic work is the strong partnership and trust the two share. And if Pedro and Michele’s story is any indication, it takes the right mindset to successfully navigate a family in the ever-changing world of the NWSL.

“I think the things it takes [to be successful] is having good support around you, being confident and having realistic expectations,” Pedro said. “Also, be able to separate things like work and home and family life so you can be 100 percent focused on the present moment.”

 

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