S.League sensation Geison Moura ready to conquer MLS dream
MINNEAPOLIS -- By going from one of the warmest football cities to one of the coldest, former Singapore S.League striker Geison Moura has moved a step closer to fulfilling a dream of playing Major League Soccer.
Moura was a sensation for Hougang United in their 2014 S.League campaign, banging in 21 goals in just 27 matches, to finish as the season's equal second top scorer.
But now the 29-year-old Brazilian finds himself at Minnesota United FC, who are expected to become an MLS expansion team in 2017 or 2018.
Moura played for Minnesota United in the North American Soccer League a couple of years ago before the Minneapolis-based outfit was given the green light in March to join the top tier of American club soccer -- as the league's 23rd team.
"Ironically my decision to come back here was unrelated to their acceptance into MLS," Moura told ESPN FC.
"But obviously every player wants to play at the highest level possible, and doing that in a place that I consider my home would be a dream."
The twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul top the list as the coldest major metropolitan areas in the United States, with more than 150 sub-freezing days per year. That's in contrast to Singapore's renowned heat and humidity with an average maximum daily temperature of above 30 degrees Celsius.
Moura, who's had two previous playing stints in Minneapolis, admits that he sometimes daydreams of balmy evenings spent on Singapore's Sentosa Island when the cold winds blow at Minnesota United training.
"This will be my first winter here in Minnesota and already I can tell you that I will much rather be at Tanjong Beach in December," he said.
After being one of the S.League's top imports, Geison has found himself fighting for game time in a strong Minnesota United squad that includes ex-Porto and Flamengo star Ibson and former Fortuna Dusseldorf and Sydney FC defender Tiago Calvano. He's started only one match so far this season, with six appearances off the bench -- and as a central midfielder.
But he's still happy to be part of a soccer revolution in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area that's seen crowds more than triple in size since his previous time with the club. With a strong immigrant fan base from Mexico, Ethiopia and Eritrea -- plus parts of Asia -- Minnesota United are averaging crowds of almost 9,000 per game.
"The budget for everything is bigger and things are 10 times more professional [than before]," he said. "But with all that, comes the pressure to perform better every day."
Minnesota United are second in the NASL's Fall Championship, behind Ottawa Fury, but above glamour club, New York Cosmos, ahead of next month's playoffs. Minnesota's entry into MLS for the 2017 season will depend on the completion of a soccer specific stadium in the area. Last week, they announced plans for a 20,000 capacity arena in Saint Paul.
With the NFL's Minnesota Vikings arguably the most popular local sports' team, soccer is growing steadily, with more than 75,000 registered junior players. Every year, the Midwest state hosts the USA Cup, which is the biggest youth tournament in the western hemisphere.
Minnesota United are controlled by a consortium that includes the owners of the Minnesota Twins and Timberwolves -- the state's Major League Baseball and NBA teams.
Moura hopes to be part of the club's transition to MLS and could follow in the footsteps of Canadian international Issey Nakajima-Farran who went from Albirex Niigata in the S.League to Toronto FC and Montreal Impact in North America's top tier. But he admits that he might be tempted to return to Southeast Asia -- possibly with a Malaysia Super League club -- if it meant more regular playing time.
At Hougang United last year, he lined up alongside countrymen Diego Gama and Igor Ferreira Alves and helped Hougang equal their best ever finish -- seventh -- in an S-League campaign. With an uncanny knack to make the right runs in the box and a flawless penalty taking record, the striker from Sao Paulo accounted for almost half of his team's season total of 49 goals.
"I would have to say that going to Singapore was the best decision of my life," he said.
"Singapore is a very special place for me now because I learnt a lot about new cultures and a different playing style. I understood the responsibility that foreign strikers have, so almost every day I worked on finishing after training to be ready.
"One of my happiest memories was when I scored from a volley, which was the equaliser in the 92nd minute, away to DPMM in Brunei."
Moura, who played in the Brazilian second and third divisions before moving to the U.S. in 2007, said he was proud to represent Singapore in last year's Sultan of Selangor Cup before 80,000 fans at Shah Alam Stadium.
"Singapore was an unforgettable experience for me, in so many ways," he said.
"I even miss the cheese prata and dumplings and also my afternoon coffee with a little bread from Bread Talk," he said.
It's not beyond the realms of possibility that Geison could return to Singapore and all its delights one day, especially if the city enters a team in the ASEAN Super League, tipped to begin late next year.
Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.