Playing professional soccer was once a pipe dream for Walter Johnson High School 2013 graduate Gabriel Vasconcelos. As a freshman, he didn’t earn a spot on the varsity team.
But the 5-foot-10 defender and midfielder has come a long way, developing into one of the area’s top players. He said he hopes to continue progressing at Emory University and turn his once seemingly far-fetched goal into a reality.
“I’d love to play soccer for as long as I can,” said Vasconcelos, one of 48 athletes selected to the NSCAA Boys High School Scholar All-America Team. “... That’s the dream, I would love to do that.”
Vasconcelos, 18, of Bethesda, said he didn’t start playing soccer seriously until eighth grade when he joined his first competitive club team, Freestate Soccer Alliance. After playing junior varsity as a freshman, he began practicing four-to-five days a week, sometimes on his own, sometimes with teammates.
“I guess that’s where my motivation really peaked,” said Vasconcelos, who will play defense for Emory in the fall. “I spent a lot more time going out on my own and I played a lot more soccer than I ever had.”
That is when it started to click, he said. Vasconcelos made varsity as a sophomore, quickly becoming one of the Wildcats’ most consistent players and improving his game the next few seasons while also playing for the Bethesda Soccer Club and then the Olney Boys and Girls Club.
Friend and teammate Jeremy Ebobisse, a Duke recruit, said Vasconcelos’ work ethic is what sets him apart from other talented soccer players.
“He doesn’t need someone to push him. He pushes himself, and I think that’s what’s really good about him,” Ebobisse said.
Vasconcelos and teammates practiced routinely at the Bethesda school even in the offseason, pushing each other to get better, Ebobisse said.
“Players like Gabe have completely just taken matters into their own hands and continued to evolve. It’s really important to have that self-motivation. Ebobisse said. “... I’d like to say that if he works hard and plays his cards right, he could end up [playing professionally] ... I think his future is bright in soccer.”
Vasconcelos earned All-Gazette second team midfielder honors in the fall after helping lead the Wildcats to an 11-6-1 season and a trip to the Class 4A West Region title game.
“Late in the season is when I feel he had matured or grown, or maybe just accepted the responsibility of being the captain,” Walter Johnson coach Hector Morales said. “I would hear him on the field, motivating, pushing his teammates, and I feel like that little bit of growth in the season was responded to. That’s probably why we were successful this year.”
Vasconcelos recently traveled with his family to Fortaleza, Brazil, where they watched three FIFA World Cup matches. Vasconcelos, whose parents are from Brazil, said the experience was a “huge inspiration.”
“Now more than ever, I really want to do well when I go to Emory,” he said.