By Kevin Kinkead
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — When the Philadelphia Union signed goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi last year, he brought his own coach with him from Bulgaria.READ MORE: 'There's A Lot Of Ghosts In Here': CBS3 Spends Evening In Believed-To-Be Haunted Neshaminy Creekside Inn
No one really knew who Paulo Grilo was. He just sort of appeared at PPL Park, seemingly out of nowhere, to work with Mbolhi and the stable of Union stoppers. Fans took pictures of the mystery man and he was later identified by the “Union Rumors” Twitter account.
Grilo was never formally introduced by the Union, but the team confirmed this week that he will coach the goalkeepers this season. B.J. Callaghan, the academy coach who worked with the goalkeepers after last year’s coaching change, will instead become an assistant to manager Jim Curtin.
CBS Philly caught up with Grilo at preseason training camp, and he spoke for the first time since his move to the United States.
CBS Philly: Tell us about yourself. How do you know Rais and how did you end up here?
Paulo Grilo: I’m Portuguese and I played professional football for 20 years. I finished my career seven years ago. Then I worked seven years on the staff of coach Toni Oliveira, who was the coach of Benfica and also the former coach of Portugal’s national team. When Toni finished his career, I went to CSKA Sofia in Bulgaria and that’s where I met Rais Mbolhi. I worked with Rais for one year, and Rais, when he came to Philadelphia, he spoke about me to the club. So Philadelphia invited me over here and I worked the final two months of last season. Now I have a contract here and I enjoy it very much. It’s a big adventure for me. It’s different, MLS is different than Europe, but I’m happy and motivated. I know the MLS is getting better, maybe it’s rising to the same level as Europe. Now I’m ready to work with my goalkeepers.
CBS Philly: Tell us about your relationship with Rais. It says a lot that he asked you to join him in America.
Grilo: When I went to CSKA, Rais was there and he was a little sad because of some problems about the money there.
*Note: players in eastern Europe routinely report that there are issues with being paid on timeREAD MORE: 16-Year-Old Ahjaon Jackson Shot, Killed While Coming Home From Work With Twin Sister, Philadelphia Police Say
So when I arrived I had some meetings with Rais, and I thought he had the capacity to be a high level goalkeeper. I told him to make a compromise with me, “ok let’s go”, if you have the confidence in me, then I can make you one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Rais worked with me for ten months. He went to the World Cup and had an amazing tournament. Every day in Bulgaria I worked with Rais two times. His family wasn’t there, and my family wasn’t there either…
CBS Philly: So you had each other?
Grilo: Yea (laughing). We worked hard and it was perfect. When Rais came to Philadelphia he had confidence in me and felt good with my work, and it’s great when a goalkeeper coach has that kind of confidence from the players. It’s amazing.
CBS Philly: Rais is finishing up the African Cup of Nations right now and then he’ll be back in Philadelphia. Do you think he’s in a good place right now? Is he settled and is he in a good mindset?
Grilo: Yes. This season is different for Rais because of what I saw last season. Every two months Rais was going to the national team and playing two games. It wasn’t good for his work here in Philadelphia. So he was here one week, then over there for three weeks. Now it’s different. When he finishes the AFCON, he’ll be working with us here every single day. He’s a high level goalkeeper with a winning mentality. He talks a lot about Philadelphia and wants to make an impact in the MLS. I want that for Rais and for Philadelphia.
CBS Philly: This league is getting better. What are people in Portugal and people in Europe saying about MLS?
Grilo: Now it’s different. Everyone talks about the soccer in America. The U.S. had a very good World Cup and now people talk about MLS. Some big players have come to MLS. The United States, in my opinion, has everything going for it. It’s a big country with big players and good facilities. Everything is possible here. It’s a dream. European players want to come here now because it’s a good league. It’s improving year after year. In Portugal, MLS games are on TV now. There’s more information about MLS and that’s a good thing.
CBS Philly: You’re also working with Andre Blake and John McCarthy. What do you make of this group of goalkeepers?MORE NEWS: Philadelphia Community Still Wants 'Real Justice' For Walter Wallace Jr. A Year After Fatal Police Shooting
Grilo: I’m very happy. When I arrived here, I had obviously never seen Andre play in person, only on tape. Now I’ve worked with him two months and I think he’s a goalkeeper with a lot of potential. He’s young. He’s 24-years-old and he’s playing on the Jamaican national team. Philadelphia has three very good goalkeepers. Rais plays for the national team of Algeria. Andre plays for the national team of Jamaica. And John is a young goalkeeper from USL Pro but he was one of the league’s best goalkeepers last season. I’ve seen a lot of potential this week, some good work and concentration. It’s very good and I’m happy to work with these three goalkeepers.