In a similar battle that teams across the world face, the Rapids have been challenged with breaking down language barriers on and off the pitch this year.
Upon joining the Rapids, Brazil natives Max Alves da Silva and Lucas Esteves mainly spoke their childhood language of Portuguese, while all other members of the Colorado roster speak either English or Spanish, as well as the coaching staff.
Before departing to Charlotte FC, striker Andre Shinyashiki was the only other player that could speak all three languages, facilitating conversations in the locker room and giving direction to Max and Esteves when necessary in training and games.
But in the spring, an unsuspecting helpful figure came into the Rapids organization.
Andre Hilf, born and raised in Brazil, had just moved to Colorado to live with his brother and have the full American experience. He saw a job opening for the Rapids Street Team online, applied, and within a month was already serving as a makeshift translator for Max and Lucas.
"On my resume I said that I spoke Portuguese and I think in my first or second interview they said that there are some players that probably might need translation," said Hilf. "So I was kind of aware, but didn't really expect to do it, just probably once in a while. And I think it was a month in [to working here], they said 'We're gonna need you now. So be ready for it.' I didn't even know what to do to be ready, just to try to focus."
It started out as translating texts and small messages between the players and members of the soccer operations staff down in the locker room, but quickly escalated into Hilf joining the team for every training session, game, and away trip. His contributions facilitating conversations between the players, staff and teammates became invaluable.
Although Spanish and Portuguese share common roots as Romance languages, the barrier between the two is still difficult to overcome on the field and in the locker room. Speaking slowly can sometimes manage to get the message across, but the roadblocks still exist. Hilf, Max and Esteves are taking the steps to make those road blocks dissolve, in time.
"I'm learning a bit of Spanish talking with the other players that speak Spanish and improving," said Hilf. "I know it's a skill that I have. But I never imagined to be driving my career like this and honestly, I'm liking it very much."
Max joined in the 2021-22 offseason, signing a four-year deal to occupy a U22 initiative slot. At his previous club, Flamengo, he wowed the Rapids’ scouts with his powerful left foot, quickness on the ball and dangerous presence in front of the net.
The 21-year-old midfielder scored his first goal with Colorado during Concacaf Champions League play in February. He went on to contribute an assist to Keegan Rosenberry’s game-winner against San Jose at home in September.
Max's first extended experience with the team was in preseason, a three-week-long stint in Tucson. Shinyashiki did not travel for the pre-season training and scrimmages, and the translator the Rapids employed for the journey spent a period of it sidelined with Covid.
"For me, I think in the beginning when I got here it was hard [when] we didn't have the translator, because I hadn't studied English here yet," he said. [The fact] that Lucas understands a little bit more could help me."
"Knowing the ins and outs of the game helps," says Esteves. Combined with the English classes he takes, his understanding of what his coaches and teammates are saying on the pitch is getting clearer and clearer as time goes on.
Esteves’ first full season with the club brought forth a goal and three assists in 29 games played. His contributions on the pitch earned the 22-year-old the Rapids' Young Player of the Year Award at the end of the season.
Lucas Esteves named Rapids' Young Player of the Year
Hilf is there in video sessions and pre-game rundowns to convey what's being asked of Max and Esteves, as well.
"For me, it helps a lot to be able to understand and to have somebody there for us understand what they're saying and understand the game a little bit more. So we get into the game and knowing fully what we have to do and what we have to execute –– for me it helps 100%," said Esteves.
The video sessions, media inquiries and speeches by Robin and company can be hard to keep up with and translate, Hilf admits, but he's noticed the strides he's taken as the season goes on.
"Sometimes the coaches are giving instructions three at a time, they have 20 minutes each, and I speak for a whole hour," he said. "You got to have a lot of focus, and just switching from Portuguese to English, or sometimes even Spanish, just going back and forth, it's kind of hard. But I feel like from when I started to now, it's getting way more easy. And I'm just happy to be doing this."
The rest of the Rapids' squad is doing their part, as well, to bridge the gap between them and the Brazilian players.
"Obviously the tendency is always to get better, because the other teammates that don't speak Portuguese, they try to learn, they're always there talking with us, so the communication gets better," said Esteves. "I think it improves the performance inside the pitch and outside as well and collectiveness the friendship outside the pitch."