Omar Bravo is a major Mexican soccer star but doesn’t want or expect star treatment from his new team, the Carolina RailHawks.
Bravo, in a press conference Wednesday at WakeMed Soccer Park, stressed that he wanted to fit into the team and its style, not have the team alter its style for him.
Bravo, the all-time leading goal-scorer for Club Deportivo Guadalajara, commonly known as “las Chivas” (the goats), was asked in what way he could best help the team and win over fans. Smiling, he said through an interpreter, “There’s a phrase that says ‘You’ll fall in love with the goals.’ ”
That brought a smile from RailHawks coach Colin Clarke, who said, “I like that phrase very much.”
While Clarke said the RailHawks will be benefit from Bravo’s depth of experience, his leadership and professionalism, it’s the striker’s offensive capability that the RailHawks need most.
“You see him as a superstar and we see him as a soccer player who is going to help us win championships,” Clarke said. “I think it’s going to be a great relationship.”
Bravo scored 132 goals for Chivas, albeit 101 between 2001 and 2008. He made 65 appearances with Mexico’s national team, including World Cup, Gold Cup and Olympic competition.
Clarke likened Bravo, who was the Guadalajara team captain, to a veteran star for the Dallas Cowboys or New York Yankees in terms of stature in his sport and his home country. Bravo is 36, but he shrugged when asked if age has lessened his skills.
“Right now, I am enjoying the moment,” Bravo said. “Physically, I’m good.”
Right now, I am enjoying the moment. Physically, I’m good.
Omar Bravo, the RailHawks’ new star
Clarke dismissed the age question, saying, “Age doesn’t come into it. He scores goals. That’s what he’s all about. He’s hungry.”
Clarke noted when Bravo arrived in North Carolina, after a cross-country flight from Los Angeles, he was asked if he wanted to play Tuesday in the friendly against West Ham United of England’s Premier League.
“He said, ‘Yes, please,’ ” White said.
And Bravo did play. Introduced by team owner Steve Malik at halftime to the sellout crowd of 10,125, Bravo was inserted in the 80th minute of the 2-2 draw.
To bring in Bravo for the fall season is a major step, a major financial commitment for the RailHawks. Team president Curt Johnson said they’re now “RailHawks 2.0” under Malik, willing to make the necessary moves to make the team a contender for a North American Soccer League championship.
While financial terms were not disclosed, Johnson said Bravo’s acquisition was a “multiyear loan,” and that the RailHawks could have other notable signings in the future.
“There’s been a lot of talk since Steve took over of how we’re going to improve the team and do A, B and C,” Clarke said. “Well, we’re doing A, B and C, and we’re doing it very well. But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. It’s a results business and we want to bring a championship here. … For that to happen you need quality players.”
Clarke said the process of acquiring Bravo began about a month ago when Bravo’s agent approached the RailHawks. Clarke said in his first conversation with Bravo he sensed the “hunger in his voice and just him wanting to come here and play and be a part of this organization.”
Bravo said he “wanted to go where somebody wants you” and his family would enjoy living. He said he told the Guadalajara coach he wanted to take on another soccer challenge.
Bravo played his last game for Chivas on Sunday, scoring a goal against Veracruz to clinch a Supercopa MX victory. He said few on the team knew he was leaving.
“That’s in the past now. I’m here and want to enjoy this new era in my career,” Bravo said. “The atmosphere here (Tuesday) was great. It was great to see so many fans in the stadium, and I expect that to continue.”
The sellout Tuesday was a first for the RailHawks, driven in part by West Ham fans eager to see the Hammers play. It was a festive night at WakeMed Soccer Park and an entertaining game, though delayed by a thunderstorm in the second half.
“Professional soccer in North Carolina has never seen a night like last night,” Johnson said. “The game, the event the introduction (of Bravo) were and are national and global stories.”
The addition of a significant Latino star should help build attendance, especially if the RailHawks are winning and Bravo is scoring.
“You never know,” Bravo said, again with a smile. “The stadium might expand. Soccer is growing and I want to help it grow.”