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Romário is back: He's player-chairman and a big fan of a revitalized Brazilian soccer club

Sport

Romário is back: He's player-chairman and a big fan of a revitalized Brazilian soccer club
Sport

Sport

Romário is back: He's player-chairman and a big fan of a revitalized Brazilian soccer club

2024-06-18 13:48 Last Updated At:13:50

MESQUITA, Brazil (AP) — América, a once-great soccer club in northern Rio de Janeiro, was recently on the verge of folding due to years of mismanagement.

But then its most famous fan decided to come back from retirement at the age of 58. He brought sponsors, rebuilt part of the club's decrepit stadium, removed the weeds from the pitch, signed new players and came up with a plan to make it as mighty as it once was.

World Cup-winning striker Romário, now also a senator/lawmaker, became president of his boyhood club earlier this year not only to save it, but also to play a few matches for the Rio state's second division side with his 30-year-old son Romarinho.

Romário, the former Brazil, PSV and Barcelona striker, gathered a group of five top managers, including one who is not that interested in soccer. They helped to revive the club that was also one of the passions of Romario's late father, Edevair Faria de Souza.

So far, so good.

América is now among the leaders in Rio's second division and hoping to climb back to the top-flight division next year to compete with glamor teams like Flamengo and Fluminense.

Founded in 1904, America won seven Rio state titles at a time that those could be considered almost as big as winning the Brazilian championship. The club’s greatest moment was also one of its last; in 1986 it reached the semifinals of Brazil’s main national championship.

It has been mostly mediocre since, but there is now room for optimism.

“The most important thing for me now is that America wins its matches. In some matches there will be a real chance that I play, I spoke to the coach about it. But sometimes it won't be the day for that,” Romário said after his team's 2-0 win against Petropolis in front of 1,800 fans at the Giulite Coutinho Stadium.

"I want to make fans happy on the pitch too, but it is not for that yet."

Since Romário took over at América, many of the 180,000 residents of the city of Mesquita have seen a drastic change.

An uncomfortable quiet in the stands has changed into an atmosphere with playful chants like “let's get the senator in” and “Romario is your terror.” Locals are once again proudly wearing America shirts, bought in small newsstands on streets nearby.

For players, joining Romário is a bonus. André — nicknamed Nightclub André by Brazilian soccer fans — scored five goals in his first five matches for América.

A former striker at Sporting Lisbon and several Brazilian clubs, the 33-year-old André wanted to please his soccer hero and share some time with him on the pitch.

“Romário just cornered me in a conversation and I ended up shaking his hand,” André told media after an América match. “I never thought it would get this big."

Charismatic striker André is also one of the club's attractions on social media. With him and Romário, América jumped to more than 200,000 followers on Instagram after years with no more than 25,000.

América executives are now under pressure to expand the small stadium’s capacity so more fans can see former retiree Romário in a match. The arena, still dusty and filled with cracks, also hosts meetings of club executives, as part of Romário's philosophy.

Some fans approve of Romário's arrival, but others don't think that is enough to assure the club will survive.

“The hole is too deep now,” said Lauro Santos, 68, a retiree and Flamengo supporter who supports América as his second club. “I've always followed América too, and I find it hard that Romário at this age will change the club dramatically just with marketing."

But a team official has a different opinion.

“The truth is that without Romário this club would be closed by now,” said Marcio Estrella, América's legal and financial director. “This management wouldn’t be here. None of us contemplates replacing him at this job. We know that he is the plug.”

AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

Romario of America watches from the sidelines of a second division state championship soccer match against Araruama, at the Giulite Coutinho stadium in Mesquita, Brazil, Saturday, June 15, 2024. The Brazilian striker is returning to competition 15 years after his retirement from soccer. (AP Photo/Bruna Prado)

Romario of America watches from the sidelines of a second division state championship soccer match against Araruama, at the Giulite Coutinho stadium in Mesquita, Brazil, Saturday, June 15, 2024. The Brazilian striker is returning to competition 15 years after his retirement from soccer. (AP Photo/Bruna Prado)

CLEVELAND (AP) — José Ramírez's two-run single highlighted a six-run ninth inning, Tanner Bibee and three relievers combined on a four-hitter, and the American League Central-leading Cleveland Guardians beat the San Diego Padres 7-0 on Friday night.

Cleveland had five hits and a bases-loaded walk by David Fry in the ninth, but the big hit was a single up the middle by Ramírez that gave him 79 RBIs — the second-most in the majors behind Yankees slugger Aaron Judge (86).

Brayan Rocchio added a two-run single and Tyler Freeman had a sacrifice fly in the inning for the Guardians, who have the best home record in the majors at 31-11. Their 59-37 overall mark trails only Philadelphia (62-35).

Bibee (8-4) worked 5 2/3 innings, limiting San Diego to two hits and not allowing a runner past second base. Cade Smith, Hunter Gaddis and Nick Sandlin wrapped up Cleveland’s ninth shutout of the season.

The Padres, who have played an MLB-high 100 games, slipped to .500. They are 1 1/2 games out of the final NL wild-card spot.

Luis Arraez led off and served as San Diego’s designated hitter, going 2 for 4. The third-time All-Star sat out the Midsummer Classic in Texas this week to rest his jammed left thumb.

“I know he wanted to play, but being the team guy he is, Luis decided to hold himself out,” manager Mike Shildt said before the game. “I think it did his thumb a lot of good.”

The Guardians took a 1-0 lead in the fifth on Daniel Schneemann’s double off Matt Waldron (5-9). Fry scored on the play and went 3 for 3, three days after singling home a run in his All-Star Game debut.

Waldron gave up six hits, did not issue a walk and struck out six. The righty was drafted by Cleveland and traded to the Padres in a nine-player deal that included Josh Naylor.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Padres: OF Fernando Tatis Jr. (right leg stress reaction) missed his 18th straight game, but is swinging a bat and playing catch. “It’s still there -- the actual stress reaction — but the swelling and fluid is pretty well gone,” Shildt said. “That’s obviously a positive.”

Guardians: LHP Matthew Boyd (Tommy John surgery) struck out seven over three innings, allowing an unearned run, in his initial rehab appearance for the Arizona Complex League Guardians. Boyd is targeting mid-August for his return to the majors.

UP NEXT

Padres RHP Dylan Cease (8-8, 3.99 ERA) takes on Guardians RHP Gavin Williams (0-1, 3.77 ERA) in the second game of the series. Cease has thrown 1,078 breaking balls over his 20 starts, the most in the majors.

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

Cleveland Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, left, helps Guardians first-round draft pick Travis Bazzana, right, of Australia, with his jersey at a news conference before a baseball game against the San Diego Padres in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Cleveland Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, left, helps Guardians first-round draft pick Travis Bazzana, right, of Australia, with his jersey at a news conference before a baseball game against the San Diego Padres in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Cleveland Guardians' Bo Naylor reacts after striking out against San Diego Padres starting pitcher Matt Waldron during the third inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Cleveland Guardians' Bo Naylor reacts after striking out against San Diego Padres starting pitcher Matt Waldron during the third inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

San Diego Padres starting pitcher Matt Waldron delivers against the Cleveland Guardians during the first inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

San Diego Padres starting pitcher Matt Waldron delivers against the Cleveland Guardians during the first inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

San Diego Padres' Kyle Higashioka reacts after getting caught stealing second base by Cleveland Guardians' Andres Gimenez during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

San Diego Padres' Kyle Higashioka reacts after getting caught stealing second base by Cleveland Guardians' Andres Gimenez during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

San Diego Padres' Ha-Seong Kim, second from left, is late with a tag as Cleveland Guardians' Steven Kwan, right, steals second base during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

San Diego Padres' Ha-Seong Kim, second from left, is late with a tag as Cleveland Guardians' Steven Kwan, right, steals second base during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

San Diego Padres' Jackson Merrill reacts after a strike out by Cleveland Guardians starting pitcher Tanner Bibee during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

San Diego Padres' Jackson Merrill reacts after a strike out by Cleveland Guardians starting pitcher Tanner Bibee during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Cleveland Guardians' Andres Gimenez, left, tags San Diego Padres' Kyle Higashioka out at second base on a steal attempt during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Cleveland Guardians' Andres Gimenez, left, tags San Diego Padres' Kyle Higashioka out at second base on a steal attempt during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

San Diego Padres' Jake Cronenworth watches his single off Cleveland Guardians starting pitcher Tanner Bibee during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

San Diego Padres' Jake Cronenworth watches his single off Cleveland Guardians starting pitcher Tanner Bibee during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Cleveland Guardians starting pitcher Tanner Bibee delivers against the San Diego Padres during the first inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Cleveland Guardians starting pitcher Tanner Bibee delivers against the San Diego Padres during the first inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Cleveland Guardians' Daniel Schneemann watches his RBI single off San Diego Padres starting pitcher Matt Waldron as catcher Kyle Higashioka looks on during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Cleveland Guardians' Daniel Schneemann watches his RBI single off San Diego Padres starting pitcher Matt Waldron as catcher Kyle Higashioka looks on during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Friday, July 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

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