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Friday, April 27 News

Soccer club gains space, opportunity in move to Fairfield

FAIRFIELD -- Rodrigo Nunes was born into a soccer family.

His father was a professional soccer player in Brazil. His uncle played for the South American country in the 1976 Olympics. And his brother is now a strengthening coach for a Division I professional team there.

Soccer was so important to the family that the day Nunes was born his father was not at the hospital, but off playing a tournament final.

"They won the championship and he said I was the reward," Nunes said.

So it came as no surprise to his family when Nunes came to America and decided a decade ago to go into coaching soccer. He also established Ole Soccer, hiring other coaches to work with him.

The opportunity then arose to lease a space with both an indoor and outdoor field on Park Avenue in Bridgeport.

But now, two years later, the Bridgeport property is being purchased by Sacred Heart University and Ole Soccer is moving to a new home at 525 Tunxis Hill Cutoff, in the plaza where Chip's Family Restaurant is located.

"It's a very popular location," Nunes said Tuesday. "There's definitely more exposure, especially for the little kids program. Fairfield parents are always looking for a place for their kids to go and I think, having it in town, it'll be convenient."

As he speaks, the small group gathered on the bleachers in front of the flat-screen television begins cheering as they watch Brazil play Mexico for a chance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Nunes is rooting for both Brazil and the U.S.

"Soccer in this country has come a long way," he said. "If America does really well it'll be a big boost to the interest level."

Nunes, 36, came to the U.S. 16 years ago after having completed a degree in physical education, specializing in soccer, in his home country. Soon he was playing for Sacred Heart University on a full scholarship.

Once he graduated, he became assistant soccer coach at the university, before branching out on his own.

"I felt there was a need for a different style of youth coaching here," Nunes said. "Everything (in the U.S.) is about strength and speed. The focus wasn't on technique. If a kid is technical with a ball he feels more comfortable with the ball and he enjoys the game more."

Fairfield resident Michael Oleksy said he has taken his 4-year-old son, Mikey, to other soccer coaches but found Nunes to be the best. "We keep coming back to Rodrigo because of (the coaches') skill and their attention to detail and focus on the needs of the kids," Oleksy said. "They're very professional."

Nunes is also no stranger to Fairfield. His business has served as the coaching organization for the Fairfield United Soccer Association for the last six years.

With 26 coaches, the facility serves an average of 1,000 kids a month, according to Jaime Jorge, one of the coaches.

He estimated there are roughly 8,000 soccer players relatively close to the facility.

"We built this place for them," Jorge said. "Other facilities you go to in Connecticut do basketball, soccer, football, lacrosse. They manage a bunch of different sports. We're a soccer playing organization. That's really what separates this facility from other facilities."

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Nunes said the majority of clients here are young girls. "I'd say it's 60-40," he said.

His wife, Adriana Nunes, who joked that she knows very little about the sport, said that's very different compared to the couples' native country. "It's not a girls' sport there," she said. "I never played soccer."

While the new 14,000-square-foot facility does not have an outdoor field, it has two indoor fields, which will help increase the number of kids and parties that can use the facility in the winter months.

There is also a goalkeeper training area and jungle gym where parents can send their players' younger siblings.

"We're able to accommodate more people now," said Holly Dawson, a coach. "We really outgrew our (former) facility over the summer."

The organization is also working out an agreement to use the outdoor field at St. Theresa School in Trumbull during warm weather months.

Nunes expects the extra field and new location will help double his business' annual revenue of $400,000.

For now, though, Ole Soccer is still operating out of the Bridgeport facility. The new facility has only been opening to provide a place for people to watch the World Cup games.

"We can't wait to open and we can't wait to see the facility full of kids," he said. "And as of September, we're 100 percent here."

For more information about Ole Soccer visit www.rnunesole.com or call 203-873-0309.

ktorres@ctpost.com, 203-330-6321, http://twitter.com/ktorresbpt

Keila Torres Ocasio|Staff Writer