Last night in Stockholm, Cristiano Ronaldo captivated the soccer world with a heart-stopping hat trick, single-handedly punching Portugal's ticket to World Cup 2014 in Brazil in a 3-2 win over Sweden. While Frisco, Texas is about as far from a UEFA World Cup Qualifier as you can get, one member of the FC Dallas staff shared the field with Ronaldo long before the Portugese attacker was considered the best player in the world.
"I was doing pre-season with the Columbus Crew. I had just been traded from San Jose and I was with them for three months in pre-season," said under-18 head coach Luchi Gonzalez. "We were in Portugal for two weeks and played some exhibitions, one of which was against Sporting Lisbon in their training facility. I remember there was some hype about it, a young Portugese player who as the next big thing, Cristiano Ronaldo."
Ronaldo spent most of his formative years at the Portugese giants from Lisbon who have developed some of the biggest stars in world soccer.
"I see him warming up on their side. He’s 18 and I’m 22 and he’s got the orange [Nike] Vapors and you could tell he was very technical," said 33-year-old Gonzalez, who played for three different MLS clubs in his career. "We played the game, I don’t remember the exact score, it might have been 1-1."
Ronaldo's meteoric rise to stardom had began just months earlier as Ronaldo debuted with the Sporting first team in late 2002. In early August 2003, Ronaldo made his debut for Portugal and just over a week later would be sold to Manchester United for a reported 15 million Euro.
"I remember him taking people on the wing. I think [Columbus Crew defender] Duncan [Oughton] cracked him a few times, because he was a handful, but you could tell there was something there that was special. He did a lot of the stepovers then. He just had a change of speed, a good cross, it was clear that he was a different level and he was young and fearless. Literally a month later, I read that he got sold to Manchester United and I saw his debut and sure enough it was him and he was a beast. Still a skinny frame and nowhere near the machine he is now, but it was pretty cool."
The rest is history.