The day I took Pirlo's photograph

The day I took Pirlo's photograph

Ecuadorean Ricardo Andrés Verdesoto Rugel tells how chance encounter with Italian idol helped create an iconic image. 

Let's take this back a few years. In 1997 I was at the height of my love for Club Sport Emelec. I would draw the team's crest on my notebooks and my favourite goalie was Jacinto Espinoza (Ecuadorian René Higuita, because of his appearance, not so much his skill). His long hair and colourful sweatshirts made him look like a piñata at a quinceañera - ready and waiting for a strike. 

Jaime Ivan Kaviedes was the up-and-coming future star for Ecuadorian fútbol, a skinny, lanky and boyish-looking teenager who was deadly in front of goal. Those were the days. Oversized jerseys and big beer sponsorships reigned supreme in Ecuador. 

I was obsessed - Emelec was all I talked about. I wanted to wear blue all day. Sangre Azul – blue blood. It was love, genuine love for a team that brought me so much joy and who inspired me to want to play harder and pretend it was the Copa Libertadores Final in the park as the warm afternoon rain came down on the dirt on the unpaved streets of Guayaquil. 

But destiny - and my parents - brought me to New York City in 1999. Bye bye Emelec, bye bye Guayaquil, bye bye Ecuador. I was forced to become American - and I did. Nobody plays soccer in parks here. I had no friends. I took a soccer ball to the park to meet kids and make new soccer buds - but no. There was nothing.

For just over half a decade I forgot about fútbol. About how incredible the game is and how much I loved every part of it. Then the World Cup 2006 came around and seduced me again. 

Andrea Pirlo joined NYCFC in July 2015, halfway through the inaugural season to bolster my new team's chances of making it to a play-off spot and maybe even an MLS Cup final in their first season. 

When the official announcement in late December 2016 was made that NYCFC would travel to Guayaquil to play none other than my beloved childhood team Emelec, I literally could not believe it - just what in the hell are the odds of that happening. Why Emelec? Why in Guayaquil? How did this happen? I’ll never know. It was my childhood team against my new club. 

I was able to get press access to the game and it was a dream come true, an unimaginable opportunity for me to be a part of Ecuadorian history – the re-opening of the Estadio Capwell Banco del Pacifico, marking the inauguration of the country's most modern stadium. 

It may have only been a friendly, but hosting two World Cup winners and a competitive big money MLS team in a city that largely lives just above the poverty line was not meaningless by any means. This was history.

Shortly after the players came out the tunnel, I went to Emelec's side of goal by the corner flag and sat down. Less than two minutes into the game, the ball bounced off an Emelec defender and out for a corner. And here was the main man, the maestro, Andrea. He took the corner and ran back to midfield with his flawless hair and perfectly trimmed beard.

Before the second half was over, the ball was played over to the same corner and this time I really couldn't believe my luck. My phone was dying and my camera’s memory card was beginning to run out of space forcing me to delete some personal photos. 

And then Pirlo was in front of me again. 

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

Five photos… shit, at least one of them has to come out cool. And one did. I think the name on the back of his jersey was a little blurry but it was a dope angle nonetheless. I was just happy to use it for Instagram and to show my dad. I knew he'd like it. 

The game ended 2-2. 

Once home, I posted some photos, including the image of Pirlo. The following morning I was at the airport waiting to come back to New York when I decided to take a look at Pirlo's Instagram. 

My eyes couldn't believe what I was seeing. Pirlo... World Cup and Champions League winner. Legendary talisman, precision passer, free kick specialist, with his Jesus-like beard. The NYCFC player had posted my photo on his social media accounts. And it had gone viral. In fact, it’s now the fourth most liked on the maestro’s Instagram with over 175,000 likes.

To know that Pirlo posted a photo taken by me in the Estadio Capwell is incredible.

A Guayaquil native, living and working in New York City. A 28 year old aspiring artist, creative and journalist who flew down to witness history as his two teams faced off in the least likely of match-ups. There's surely been hundreds, if not thousands of pictures of Pirlo taken in Guayaquil. But it was mine that made it on to his page.

Maybe this helps open doors for me, or maybe it just becomes a story I tell my grandkids one day. Only time will tell. While this may be insignificant in the USA and Europe, kids in my country have seen that picture go around on social media. The local news talked about Pirlo's post of the stadium, and for all the fans it’s served as the image associated with the legendary Italian’s visit to Ecuador.

As the 2017 MLS Season gets underway, I made a few phone calls and had the opportunity to meet the man himself early in the season, and get a few copies of my photo signed, one of which I will donate to Emelec’s Museum later this year. 

It’s surreal to know that my name will be a part of my childhood team’s history. 

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