The typical mugginess of a summer evening in the south was made even thicker by the tension of a soon to be played USL League One matchup on August 17 between South Georgia Tormenta FC and FC Tucson. The Statesboro-based team, competing professionally for their first season, had sat near the top of the table since play began in March. Now in a dip of form, pressure from behind meant capturing all three points would be crucial for Tormenta to stay safely in a top four playoff spot. Leading the way at the 10 would be Lucas Coutinho, a Brazilian attacking midfielder fresh off a Goal of the Week award for his performance in the previous game.
The team came out with energy, trying to continue to build on the attacking chemistry that had begun to show last week. In the ninth minute, Tormenta goalkeeper Pablo Jara launched a direct attack with a punt sent in behind the Tucson defense, trying to meet Coutinho on the run. As defenders rushed to track back, Tucson keeper Carlos Merancio ran out of his 18 yard box to clear the midair ball. The two players, both with their focus directed up on the ball, collided as they attempted to win it with their head. Both immediately went to ground, and it wasn’t long before the severity of the issue became known. As teammates and training staff checked on the two injured players, others ran to assist the on-site ambulance that was now making its way past the advertising boards.
Emergency personnel went to work quickly in the silent crowd. Merancio was able to walk to the Tucson bench, and after passing a concussion test was bandaged and returned for the rest of the match. Coutinho, however, was loaded into the ambulance, and around 15 minutes after the collision was transported to a waiting Air-Evac helicopter.
When asked by GPB, Tormenta president Darin Van Tassell said that the game was “a blur” for both him and the players that had to continue playing while their teammate was dealing with such a serious injury. In the second half, Tucson would score a penalty in the 79th minute before Tormenta would respond with a penalty of their own late in stoppage time.
Coutinho, meanwhile, was flown over to Memorial Hospital in Savannah, where he was placed in a Neuro-ICU due to head trauma he might have sustained in the collision. As word spread across social media about his injury and condition, prayers and support began to flood in from fans, players, supporter’s groups, teams, and more. The hashtag #LoveForLucas began, and support for Couinho grew even more.
Support for Lucas Coutinho continues as Ian Hunt, #IanHuntGK24, GK for North Lakeland United, wears this jersey his Mom, Ellie, created for his game tonight in Hernando County, Florida. pic.twitter.com/kS3Tk4fpFS— Mary Karnstedt (@mary_wich) August 24, 2019
The USL League One front office stepped up to help, flying in Lucas’ parents from Brazil to see their son, and also sending Senior Vice President Steven Short to check on the player. The outpouring of support from the soccer community continued to grow; shirts from Florida Tropics supporters, where Coutinho played in the MASL, and a tifo from Lansing Ignite supporters group The Assembly Line were special tributes to a player whose impact stretches far greater than in just the Statesboro community.
The scope of that impact was seen as more messages of support were sent in. A video from Marcelo Cirino, who plays for Athletico Paranaense in Brazil’s Serie A, began a chain of messages that went on to reach across the Atlantic. Technical staff from La Liga’s Levante UD in Spain sent their support to Lucas, as well as Santi Cazorla, a Spanish national team midfielder and player for Villareal, whose resume includes two UEFA Euro championships, appearing in the 2014 World Cup, and playing a total of 129 games for Arsenal.
Tormenta FC would have to turn around quickly for a Wednesday game against Chattanooga Red Wolves, but already a tribute was ready for their teammate. The players walked out wearing shirts with Coutinho’s name and number, reading “Força Lucas, Estamos com Você!”, meaning “Strength, Lucas, we are with you!” Playing with Lucas in their minds, Tormenta got out to a hot start with a strong run and strike from Charlie Dennis on a 70 yard diagonal from defender Jordan Skelton. Dennis and the rest of the team ran to celebrate the goal with defender Lars Eckenrode, also suffering from a long-term injury, who was still in the special shirt. The match would end in another 1-1 draw, and Tormenta still fights to keep their playoff spot.
FC Tucson, in their next game, wore warm-up shirts of their own, complete with the hashtag #LoveForLucas. A classy gesture for sure, as they too were disappointed to not get a win in Statesboro. Regardless, they stood in support of Coutinho, even including the shirt in their pregame photo.
Saturday, an update was released by the team, saying that Lucas had been released from Memorial Hospital. He has been recovering all week, beginning to walk with assistance on Wednesday and making great improvements. He will continue his path to full recovery in Statesboro alongside his parents, teammates, and everyone at Tormenta FC.
Sat. August 24, 10:00 am- Official Update on Lucas Coutinho: pic.twitter.com/WneS5wnjt6— Tormenta FC (@Tormenta_FC) August 24, 2019
The response to Lucas from his injury and through his recovery from the soccer community has been truly special to witness. It’s easy for people to stick to their own, to not pay attention to things outside of their club. But to see fans, players, coaches, people from around the world come together and show that a player from a third division soccer team in Statesboro Georgia is truly important, someone that they care about, is something overwhelmingly powerful. No matter the scoreline of games, or standing in a table, it can all be put into perspective by the incredible sport that has the ability to unite the world.