After playing his entire professional career in Portugal, Joao Meira was ready for something different.
The 28-year-old defender had been a professional playing in various levels of Portuguese soccer for 10 years. His most recent stint was with Belenenses from 2012-2015, helping the club earn promotion to the top league in Portugal during that time.
“I finished my contract with Belenenses and didn’t renew because I wanted other things in my career outside Portugal,” Meira said. “I had an agreement with one club in Spain, but the financial problems killed the contract.”
As a result, Meira was stuck without a club for six months, waiting until the next transfer window opened in January. While he admitted training alone with a personal trainer was difficult, he was able to stay in shape and the Chicago Fire eventually came calling.
Having gone several months without playing organized soccer, the Fire made sure to push him in their tests when evaluating him in person.
“We were aware that Joao hadn’t played competitively for a while,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said. “I think this speaks to Joao’s character; we ran him through a battery of tests on the field, and physical, and he was great about all that.”
Rodriguez spoke highly of Meira’s versatility and said the fact that Meira helped a team earn promotion in Portugal was another selling point.
“We liked that he helped a lower level team ascend,” Rodriguez said. “That leadership, that experience of making an impact against a previous weaker team is something we thought could translate well for us.”
Meira also speaks English and can speak Portuguese to Brazilian teammates Gilberto and Rodrigo Ramos. Ramos, another offseason acquisition of the Fire, doesn’t speak any English yet so Meira can act as a translator on and off the field.
Moving to MLS was something Meira insists he wanted in his career. He was unsure of when it could happen, but when the Fire approached him, it became a reality.
“Sincerely it’s a goal of mine,” Meira said. “It is a good opportunity for me, to show myself in America and MLS.”
He has played every minute of the Fire’s first three matches. He has already noticed differences in how the game is played in MLS as opposed to in Portugal.
“Here you play more with your heart,” Meira said. “The game is open. In Portugal you think the game a little bit more and more tempo in possession, the ball. It’s different. More tricks.”
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Off the field, Meira is getting used to a new apartment he just moved into in the West Loop. He had been staying in a hotel in downtown Chicago.
His answer to what his first impression was of the city may not surprise any Chicagoans.
“The life is fantastic, but the wind and the cold, it kills me,” Meira said. “It’s very different than Portugal, which has fantastic weather.”
Meira said he doesn’t miss much from Portugal yet. He is able to talk on Skype with his parents and family everyday.
However, one thing he does miss is Portuguese food, which Meira has not yet found in Chicago. He said Chicago has good restaurants, but laughs when saying they are very expensive.
“Very different restaurants, I try to know a little bit the Greektown,” Meira said. “It’s good… The Greek is similar, a little bit different.”
When talking about Portuguese food Meira lights up just a bit more.
“It’s more healthy, like Mediterranean,” he said. “You have big plate in Portugal and it’s fantastic food. The traditional food of Portugal is not the best, but in the top five best of the world.”
This is not Meira’s first time in the U.S. He has vacationed in Miami and New York on multiple occasions, which was made easier because his wife is a flight attendant.
Now, Meira is trying to make the most out of his more permanent stay, both on and off the field.
“It is good for me," he said. “I am very happy.”