Photo © Jessica Stone Hendricks Photography
Oh, the places you’ll go as a soccer player. It’s the reason why a 27-year-old from Tokyo, Japan and a 21-year-old from São Paulo, Brazil both ended up in Richmond, Virginia.
Richmond Kickers midfielder Yudai Imura and forward Luiz Fernando both traveled thousands upon thousands of miles to the United States for a shot at playing soccer in America. Just a couple years later Imura and Fernando, two guys from completely different parts of the world, found themselves together because of the simple sport.
Imura first came to the United States in January of 2015 for a tryout with the Kickers after playing one season with Yokogawa Musashino in Tokyo. Meanwhile, just over a year later, Fernando made his trip to the United States in March of 2016 once Richmond signed him as a promising 18-year-old talent at the time.
Right away there were cultural nuances that both Imura and Fernando had to adjust to. For Imura, the main thing that he noticed was that sometimes people didn’t immediately take off their shoes when they enter a house as is custom in Japan. Fernando instantly remembers wondering why there weren’t kids playing soccer outside like they do in Brazil.
“The biggest difference between Brazil and United States is that children in Brazil play soccer on the street without shoes every day and here in the United States I did not see it,” Fernando said.
Despite some of these cultural differences that might have existed, both Imura and Fernando pointed to the language as the toughest adjustment. Neither one had spoken any English before coming to the United States.
“The most difficult part about the transition was the language,” Fernando said. “I never studied English before so it was the hardest part.”
It was during this time that Imura and Fernando both relied on their new Kickers teammates to learn at first the basics and then some intricacies of the English language. Instead of feeling like an outsider in a foreign country, Imura and Fernando have both been accepted and assisted on and off the field by their teammates.
“They always tried to talk to me and it made me learn the language because it forced me to try to talk,” Fernando said. “They took me to meet some places and it helped me a lot to know more about American culture. Especially Giussi [Gentile] because he loves to talk. Just being forced to listen to him all day really helps my English.”
“I think that teammates influence is huge,” Imura said.
Specifically, Conor Shanosky and Braeden Troyer have gone above and beyond in helping Imura learn the language. Imura jokes that he’s wonders if he’s learning from the right sources considering Troyer doesn’t even know what Shanosky is talking about sometimes.
“Everybody teaches me English. Everybody helps me kindly when I don’t understand something. Conor and Braeden are my good English teachers, but I’ve been doubting whether Conor is a real American or not. Braeden sometimes doesn’t even understand what he says.”
Shanosky is the guy who gets to spend the most time Imura and Fernando, as the three of them are roommates in an apartment. The Pittsburgh native sees them up close and personal in the serious moments when the trio talks about the Kickers gameplan and in the more light-hearted moments like the dance battles in the kitchen.
“I think all three of us have personalities that really mesh and really fit in terms of just being outgoing young guys,” Shanosky said. “We’re kids at heart. They always get the opportunity to express themselves and kind of pick up on the language and cultural traits that I have.”
The three of them arrive at every training session together and walk into the locker room as a pack, representing the unity that soccer can create.
“I’m so happy that we live together,” Imura said. “Luiz is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever seen. I really appreciate my roommates.”
“Yudai and Conor are two amazing people who are always willing to help me, teach me, and do everything to make me feel good,” Fernando said. “That makes us brothers, so thank God for living with them because they are my family. They are my best friends here.”
While Imura and Fernando needed to adapt to the lifestyle in the United States, soccer always stayed constant in their lives. The Richmond Kickers awarded both of them their first opportunity to play professional soccer. Imura and Fernando took the chance and never looked back.
Imura is now in his fourth season, appearing in 88 games while tallying 16 goals. The midfielder’s 11 goals and two assists in 2016 earned him a spot on the USL All-League Second Team. Fernando is in the midst of his third season, notching six goals in 66 games. The forward also added a brace in the U.S. Open Cup Third Round victory over Penn FC this year.
Soccer brought them together, but Imura and Fernando’s time with the Kickers has meant so much more.
“It’s hard to put into words I’ll say. They’re a circus I think is the best way I could describe it,” Shanosky said with a wide grin. “Two of the funniest and happiest kids you’ll ever meet in that regard. They’re a blast and it gives you a little bit of perspective off the pitch.”