Rowdies’ Steevan Dos Santos follows another injury absence with another flurry of goals
ST. PETERSBURG — The pop of his left ankle scared Steevan Dos Santos. The fact that he stayed longer than usual spooked Neill Collins, his Rowdies coach.
Dos Santos had been tackled during a training session ahead of a game in early June. This led to the rolled ankle, the pop and the instant thought that he had broken it. The striker thought of a similar injury from 2021 – but this time an ankle instead of a metatarsal, left foot instead of right – which sidelined him for three months. These concerns persisted until X-rays and MRIs diagnosed a sprain.
He dismissed Dos Santos the following month, but for the second straight season he followed up an injury absence with a flurry of goals. Last year, he closed the season with five goals in his last four games. This year, he has scored four in his last three games. To top it off, he made consecutive editions of the USL Championship Team of the Week.
At 32, Dos Santos has overcome injuries and age – two things he never worried about learning football in Cape Verde or progressing through the early stages of his professional career – by embracing recoveries, maximizing his 6-foot-4 frame and maintaining his mobility. .
“He’s tall, but he plays like a 5-foot-7 guy,” said former Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and Dos Santos Rochester Rhinos teammate Kenardo Forbes. “When it’s time for him to get big, he plays big, but he goes in and out of those spaces like a little guy.”
Dos Santos didn’t settle into a striker position until he was 18 or 19 years old. Before that, he experimented with different positions. At times it was the goalie. Another coach placed him in central defence. He slid to the right wing and right back. But when Dos Santos started with a low-level side in Cape Verde, his coach recognized the advantages his height would present as a striker.
The team did not pay a salary. In case of a victory or a tie, Dos Santos won money. If he lost, he would get nothing, he said. Dos Santos’ father got him a job selling auto parts, and during lunch breaks Dos Santos ran at a local course to stay in shape. He often couldn’t attend all practices due to his work schedule.
His strong game impressed CS Mindelense. They were one of the hottest teams in Cape Verde, Dos Santos said, but to play for them he had to quit his job and go full-time. His mother was on board. His father wasn’t, at first.
“It was a risk, and I was ready to take it,” Dos Santos said.
From there, the Mindelense president connected Dos Santos to Ullensaker/Kisa IL, a Norwegian club. He progressed to a team in Angola, although an error with a transfer document kept him out of action for more than half the season. For more than six months, Dos Santos trained but stayed behind during matches. The house he shared with other players was empty on game days, except for Dos Santos.
Prior to the 2015 season, he traveled to Rochester, New York for a trial. Then-head coach Bob Lilley was intrigued by Dos Santos’ film, but wanted to arrange an in-person evaluation. This led to a deal and Dos Santos scored eight goals as Rochester won the 2015 USL Championship. In 2017, after another season with the Rhinos, Dos Santos reunited with former Rochester teammate Onua Obasi by signing with the Fury d ‘Ottawa.
While Dos Santos was finding out about his apartment situation, he was living in Obasi’s basement. When they weren’t training, the duo played the Diablo video game on Xbox. After two seasons and 15 goals, Dos Santos joined Pittsburgh, where Forbes and Lilley became his teammate and coach respectively.
With each stoppage, Dos Santos avoided major injuries. The last four years, however, that has changed. He had a bone spur his freshman year at Pittsburgh that led to surgery. Lower body injuries with Tampa Bay followed.
During his last return, he integrated perfectly into the formation of the Rowdies. His veteran presence helped stabilize their injections of youth, and Collins – who played against Dos Santos when Collins was in Tampa Bay and Dos Santos in Ottawa – said he was an example of a player who improved with age. Over time, Dos Santos said he learned more about his body. Collins said he also avoided a pitfall attackers face: an overreliance on speed.
“He doesn’t score as much as sometimes those typical goalscorers do,” Lilley said, “but he brings so much more in so many other areas.”
After the 2020 season, Collins felt the Rowdies needed someone who could receive the ball with their back to the net. Dos Santos fit that description. As attacks develop on the pitch, he can hold balls and allow other attacking players to join the rush, Obasi said. Some strikers just want to score – what Obasi called the ‘I want the goal’ mindset – but Dos Santos also knows when to distribute the ball.
And now, around his injuries, Dos Santos has become a focal point in the Rowdies’ attack because of this growing role.
“He’s not really that post-up player we had in Rochester that first year,” Forbes said. “He’s more mobile.”
vs. Detroit City FC, 7:30 a.m. Saturday
Al Lang Stadium