Growing up in Cape Verde, an island nation about 400 miles off the western tip of Africa, soccer was a part of Graciano Brito’s life — but not something he ever envisioned as part of his future.
In fact, Brito’s primary sport growing up was basketball — he even earned a spot on Cape Verde’s Under 17 national team — and he had never played a full, 11-on-11 game of soccer with referees until his freshman year at Quinnipiac in 2005, a year after he moved to the U.S.
“Most of the time, back home, we played 5-v-5,” Brito said. “When I came here, I was playing with some friends, and one of my friends had played at college. He played for Eric Da Costa, the current coach at Quinnipiac, and he told him about me. [Da Costa] came, saw me play and gave me the opportunity to go to Quinnipiac.”
Flash forward 15 years, and Brito is now in charge of a Division I men’s soccer program, having been announced Wednesday as Siena’s new head coach.
It’s a path Brito said that really started between his sophomore and junior seasons at Quinnipiac, when the Bobcats were coming off a one-win campaign and Brito vowed to redouble his dedication to the sport to avoid another disappointing season.
“I promised myself that I would never go through a season where I was that bad,” Brito said. “So, I started really, really working on my game. I started becoming a student of the game. That was the key point, and it’s what made me become a coach. I didn’t want to just be a good soccer player, I wanted to know the game.”
Brito’s newfound passion led to back-to-back NSCAA/Adidas All-American seasons in 2007 and 2008, including leading the nation in goals per game (0.95) and points per game (2.05) during his senior season.
He parlayed that into a professional career, first in the Portugese Second Division and then with FC New York and the Rochester Rhinos of USL PRO in the second tier of the American soccer pyramid. He rejoined his alma mater in 2012 as an assistant under Eric Da Costa and helped Quinnipiac earn at least a share of four regular-season conference titles in the past eight years.
The Siena job, which opened up when Cesar Markovic retired in May after posting a 47-65-22 record in seven seasons with the Saints, provided an opportunity for Brito to dive into the head coaching waters in a MAAC environment he’s already intimately familiar with.
“Knowing all the teams in the MAAC, I know the type of players that are needed to win and be successful,” he said. “I think that will make the transition much easier for me. Right now, I don’t feel like I’m doing a step up or going backwards, it’s a lateral move where I can be in a situation where I know what type of players I need to recruit to be successful.”
Brito knows he enters an atmosphere of uncertainty, hoping to get his inaugural season underway despite the spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic looming over all of college athletics.
A number of conferences have already opted to postpone or cancel fall sports season. The MAAC has yet to take that action, but did announce Friday that the league would sponsor conference play only for its fall sports, with the start of the men’s soccer season delayed to Oct. 3.
Speaking Thursday, Brito acknowledged the difficult circumstances surrounding the season.
“I think for all of us, including the players, just have some kind of season will be a good thing,” he said. “These guys, right now, they’re just wishing for something that will get them back to normal. I’m wishing, I’m hoping, too, that the season will happen. But, at the same time, I’m conscious that we’re in trying times where it can be very difficult for a university to make that decision to allow us to play.”
If and when the Saints take the field, Brito inherits a team that went 5-12-1 overall in 2019, including a 2-7-1 mark in MAAC play.
He met with the full team via a Zoom video conference Wednesday.
“It was a great conversation,” Brito said. “It’s obviously kind of a bittersweet situation, because it’s all exciting for me as a new coach getting a new job, but for them it’s a little difficult, because all of the players there — including the freshmen — they all were recruited for the prior coach [Markovic]. For the players, that’s very interesting.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.