Understandably, Daniel Pereira was a bit bashful when he arrived at Northside High School four years ago from Venezuela.
He kept a low profile at open gyms and during the team’s soccer tryouts. He played a simple game, reining in the flashiness. Part of a professional club’s youth academy in his native country, he wasn’t sure what, exactly, the U.S. scholastic hierarchy entailed.
“As a freshman, I didn’t know what varsity was,” he said with a smile. “I didn’t know there was a JV and varsity. And then at tryouts, the guys were like, ‘Danny did you make varsity or JV?’ I was like, ‘It says varsity, I don’t know what this is.’ They’re like, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing!’ ”
Amazing. It’s a word that’s been used often in the four years since to describe Pereira, whose otherworldly attacking skills have led the Vikings to their first boys soccer state tournament appearance in 11 years.
Entering Northside’s VHSL Class 3 quarterfinal against Spotswood, which kicks off at 7 p.m. Tuesday at William Byrd High School, Pereira has scored 40 goals this season. That includes 10 in three Region 3D matches, which the Vikings blitzed through with a 15-3 aggregate score.
“We’ve had really good players – PJ Allen, great hustle player, Nick St. Pierre, very technical – but Danny’s skill set is different from others,” Northside coach Lorstan Allen said. “It’s one of those things where you watch this kid, and you see it the first day. Other teams would come and watch us his freshman year, see him and go, ‘Wow. You’ve got a gem out there.’ It’s unreal.”
A Virginia Tech signee, Pereira earned first-team All-Timesland honors last season, registering 12 goals and 11 assists as a junior.
“That used to be the biggest part of my game,” Pereira said of assists. “I guess the senior year hit me and I started scoring goals.”
Bushels of them. He had a hat trick in the Blue Ridge District semis, a brace in the district tournament final, four goals in a first-round regional win over Tunstall and four more in the region semis against Magna Vista.
In last Friday’s region final, he notched both goals to lead the Vikings past Lord Botetourt, 2-0. That avenged their lone loss of the season – a 3-1 setback to LB on April 9.
“He makes stuff so easy for us,” teammate Jonas Nouchat said. “It’s like watching an artist in his place; it’s truly amazing. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime player. I don’t think I’ll ever see anyone play like him again. I’m glad I’m not facing him, because he makes people’s lives difficult.
“I’ve seen him carry us back from a 3-0 deficit in one game, just put us on his back. He helps us when we’re down, tells us what we need to do. He takes responsibility for a lot of stuff.”
Pereira’s transformation from shy newcomer to vocal leader took time, but he’s glad he’s had a chance to undergo it. His mother, a teacher, decided to move to the U.S. as conditions in their South American homeland worsened.
“It’s more secure here,” Pereira said. “The security over there is terrible. People will be robbing and doing this crazy stuff. My mom, she just wanted something better for me. Because over there, you can either study or play soccer — you can’t do both. Here, I’m going to Tech, I can do both things. She pretty much moved here because of me.”
Pereira maintains a close relationship with St. Pierre, whom he passed as Northside’s all-time points leader earlier this season. He’s been pleasantly surprised at how the team has coalesced following the departure of so much talent from last year’s squad.
“At the beginning, I thought we were going to struggle a lot, just because we lost a lot of seniors,” Pereira said. “It’s a whole new team. It’s like the JV team from last year. It’s been great.”
And if keeps getting better? You can bet Pereira will be right in the middle of it. He’s a threat to score from almost anywhere, as he proved with three goals from outside of 30 yards in the district semis.
“He’s got a lot of range that he can hit from, but the best part about him is that he’s learned,” Allen said. “The first couple years, he would take a couple shots here and there from wide, but now he’s learned that he can pass the ball a lot more. When he does that, it opens up things for the entire team.
“When he’s on his game looking to do that instead of just trying to be the lead scorer, we’re almost unstoppable.”