When many of his friends from Father Judge High School and teammates from school and club soccer were thinking and talking about college last summer, Philadelphia native Marcelo Ibarra had his sights set on Portugal.
After a successful trial, the 19-year-old Philadelphia native moved to Portugal last summer to pursue an opportunity playing in the youth ranks of third division club Sport Clube União Torreense.
“I was on track to go to college and this just popped up and it took me in a completely different way,” Ibarra said.
A 5-11 striker, Ibarra spent last season with the U19 team, working his way into the squad after an initial learning curve adjusting to the playing style and his new environment and has returned to push himself in the club’s B team environment.
“It was a completely different style and level of soccer compared to the U.S. and college ball and club ball,” he said. “I had to adapt and it took a while. I saw 20 minutes a game the first couple games and then I started getting in 45 to the point a couple months in I won over a starting position.”
He logged nearly 1,000 minutes in his first season, scoring three goals and adding five assists.
In addition to adjusting to his new team, Ibarra began his time in his new country commuting an hour to Lisbon to take intensive Portuguese language classes.
“I did grow up in school learning Spanish and I knew it was different than Portuguese so when I got over there I signed up for a six-month class,” he said.
As his language skills improved, communicating with coaches and teammates became easier and his confidence grew. Going back for a second year after a summer break, he’s focused on the goal of ultimately getting a first team contract.
“This experience has definitely helped me mature as a young man and also as a soccer player,” he said.
Paul Ferreira, who coached Marcelo at Philadelphia SC and FC Europa and helped with is training prior to leaving for Portugal, said the desire to push himself to a higher level has been there since he was a kid.
“Since he was little he always wanted to be more than just a high school or college player,” Ferreira said. “He always talked about becoming professional.”
Ibarra’s journey dates back to early childhood when he was exposed to the game through his family, which has Chilean and German roots. He began playing organized soccer at Parkwood Soccer Club before also playing with local clubs Philadelphia Soccer Club, Danubia SC, FC Bucks and FC Europe and in the Catholic League in high school at Father Judge.
“My dad was born in South America; he moved from Chile when he was 10 and my mom’s side is German so I’ve been engulfed in different styles of soccer since I was little,” Ibarra said.
He credits the support of his parents with making his move to Portugal a possibility. Rather than question his decision to opt for the pursuit of a soccer career in Europe instead of the college route many of his peers were taking, he said his parents were on board from the beginning.
“They’re behind me 100 percent,” he said.