Legendary Portuguese footballer Eusébio established himself as one of the sport’s greatest players during his stellar European career – a career that saw him thrive with Benfica and A Selecção.
But the “Black Panther,” who died on Sunday at age 71 in Lisbon, also made his mark on the New England soccer scene during one fateful summer.
After 15 superlative seasons with Benfica, the Portuguese international arrived in the United States in 1975 to play for the fledgling Boston Minutemen of the NASL.
While his stay with the Beantown side proved brief (seven games), former Minutemen teammate and current New England Soccer Today contributor Rick Sewall has vivid memories of the legendary striker.
“Having him on the team was pretty exciting,” said Sewall, who played center back for the Minutemen in 1975, on Monday. “Boy, was he tricky, if lazy- he didn’t like to run laps. He was great with teammates.”
Running laps in training may not have been Eusebio’s strong suit, but the supremely talented superstar didn’t view himself above his teammates when he arrived in Boston.
“He was playing with players nowhere near his talent,” Sewall said. “(But) he was never critical of them. I never saw him being negative.”
In fact, Sewall said Eusebio was a “nice guy, totally unsnobbish and pleasant” towards him and his teammates. That attitude only served to aid the Minutemen, who secured a first-place finish in the Northern Division before they were knocked out by the Miami Toros in the NASL quarterfinals.
Although Eusebio didn’t feature as a forward in Boston, he nevertheless found ways to uncover opportunities from his spot in the central midfield. After all, a striker’s instincts never fade.
“I clearly remember him attacking the goal a couple of times,” Sewall said. “Boy, could he head and shoot the ball. He had technique like it was - and is – supposed to be.”
In his seven matches for the Minutemen, Eusebio scored two goals and added two assists. He scored his first goal for Boston in 4-0 romp of the Philadelphia Atoms on Jul. 5, 1975 at Nickerson Field. He also struck in his penultimate match – a 3-0 win over the Hartford Bicentennials on Aug. 9, 1975.
But his stay with the Minutemen was all too brief. Sewall is not entirely certain of the reasons that led to Eusebio’s departure, though signs point toward an epidemic that afflicted many NASL sides: financial distress.
Eusebio went on to star with the Toronto Metros-Croatia in 1976, and scored 16 goals in 21 games. His efforts helped guide the Canadian club to a Soccer Bowl championship that season, but he was once again on the move in 1977.
He joined the Las Vegas Quicksilver after his stay in Toronto, yet at 35, his body was starting to betray him. In 17 games, he scored only two goals, though added five assists. Three years later, he retired after a stint with the Buffalo Stallions, an indoor side in the MISL.
Around the time of his former teammate’s retirement, Sewall saw him in Boston at a World Cup viewing party. It didn’t take long for the two get reacquainted.
“He immediately recognized me,” Sewall said. “We chatted for a while about God-knows-what.”
Eusebio’s Stateside career may have paled in comparison to the one he authored overseas, but the Portuguese legend never bypassed the opportunity to impress the crowd – or his Minutemen teammates, for that matter.
“One clear memory I have of him was when, during practice, he let a ball bounce through his legs, butt-trapped it, turned and ran away,” Sewall said. “I’ve never seen that done before or since.”