Bianca Cavalcanti made a dazzling first impression that will, most assuredly, stick with University of Manitoba Bisons head coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas forever.
Just a day into a new Canadian adventure, Cavalcanti was immediately thrust into the lineup of the Junior Bisons squad for the university's 2019 Spring Tournament and booted a goal Cirque du Soleil style against the Bisons alumni team, igniting the crowd at MSF North in Garden City.
"She scored one of the best goals I've ever seen from a young player," Martinez Lagunas recalled Friday. "There was a beautiful cross (pass) and she goes into the air, does a bicycle kick and scores an amazing goal. That was her presentation here, the first time anyone got to see her. That's a special way to score a goal.
"That's a hard manoeuvre… with your back to the net and you kick it over your head and land on our back. I was like, 'What did I just see happen?'"
The then-19-year-old Brazilian wasn't even officially part of the Bisons program, although locking her up was a mere formality. Martinez Lagunas had recruited the talented striker the year before, however, red tape associated with international study delayed Cavalcanti's arrival.
She worked out with the Junior Bisons high-performance camp while attending classes, eventually joining the big club just in time for the 2020 Canada West League campaign to be scrapped, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, finally in her first season with U of M, the 5-7 former member of Brazil's national U17 team is lighting it up with five goals in five Canada West Conference games, second-most in the nation behind only Montana Leonard (7) of the Calgary Dinos.
She's got a chance to beef up her stats Saturday at noon as the Bisons (2-3-0) meet the U of Winnipeg Wesmen (0-3-2) at Ralph Cantafio Soccer Complex, the second half of the annual Wesmen Classic series.
Manitoba upended Winnipeg 5-1 Thursday night. Cavalcanti sparked the winners with a pair of goals the first half.
"I'm having a great time with my teammates. All the trust they have in me makes me feel ready to perform at my best. The coaches, too, all the information they provide to us is very helpful so we can perform well. It's a great atmosphere we're surrounded by," said Cavalcanti, the youngest of seven kids, who was raised in Recife, a city of nearly 1.6 million people along the northeast coast.
"In the beginning it was hard to be away from my home and from my parents (Eliane and Ernando), but I have a really good (host) family — the Kehler family — and I've lived with them for two years now and they make me feel like part of their family."
Martinez Lagunas was lecturing at a coach's clinic in Uruguay during the U17 Women's World Cup when she met Cavalcanti's club coach, who raved about a young phenom who wanted to study and play in Canada.
"She's got a great background. In Brazil, they live, sleep and eat football, and that passion Bianca brings is so contagious for everyone else," she said.
In late March 2019, the Bisons bench boss finally met Cavalcanti at the airport, offered a quick tour of the Fort Garry campus and helped the teen get settled into temporary residence.
After a sound sleep, Cavalcanti was ready to strut her stuff.
"I was 19 at the time and I was in Canada (five months of high-school study in Alberta) before, so it wasn't overwhelming. I was so excited to play and felt so welcome by everyone," she said. "I was so looking forward to play that night and I was really lucky to score in my first game. It was a really nice ball that I was able to make that goal. Everyone was impressed. Nobody could believe that happened. I couldn't believe it. I never scored one like that. Only in practice, never in a game."
The engineering student made her Canada West debut two weeks ago, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over the Regina Cougars. She finished the weekend series with eight shots on goal, part of a dynamic attack with team captain Jessica Tsai and forward Jenna Kunkel
She's motivated by team goals but is plugged in enough to know that persistent individual success means keeping her national-team aspirations alive.
"I believe they are watching me," Cavalcanti said. "I would love to represent my country in the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, any big soccer competition like these. That is my point and I'm going to work really hard."
They say for every 10 kids in Brazil, 11 dream of playing pro soccer.
Cavalcanti was no different, learning to kick a ball in the hallway with her father and then graduating to pickup games with the other children in her neighbourhood until the sun went down.
"Just like they do here with hockey in wintertime, we would play soccer for fun in the streets," she said. "I played a lot in school, too. I couldn't avoid it. Soccer was in my blood."
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Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).