When Dennis Almeida left his New Bedford, Mass., home more than 40 years ago, he knew he was headed for Elyria and Lorain County Community College.
He didn’t know how far the journey would eventually take him — to the Ohio Soccer Hall of Fame.
Along the way, Almeida became a small-college All-American on LCCC’s nationally ranked soccer teams in 1969-70. His success earned him an Olympic tryout and a soccer scholarship to West Virginia University.
He played professionally with the old Cleveland Cobras, after being drafted by Toronto of the North American Soccer League. He turned down Toronto because the salary was inadequate.
Almeida also coached at several levels, including stints at LCCC, Lake Ridge Academy and the former Southview High, whose soccer program he founded. He also coached Cleveland United and Ohio Premier teams, conducted camps and was generally associated with the sport most of his life.
He also became a special education teacher, and is now in his 38th year with the Lorain city schools.
Perhaps his name isn’t widely known in his adopted hometown. But it’s very well known by those involved with soccer around the state. His impact on the sport has been significant, and because of his many contributions he was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Aug. 10.
Almeida, 62, and six other inductees were honored in a ceremony at Columbus Crew Stadium. More than 19,000 were on hand for the event at halftime of the Crew’s
2-0 Major League Soccer victory over New York.
“At the time I played, I didn’t make a lot of money,” he said. “But soccer has been good. It got me an education, a life. It got me a wife and a good family and here I am in Ohio.”
Almeida learned the game in Massachusetts, where he was a forward on New Bedford High School’s 1966 state championship team. It was a good place to learn.
“My name is Portuguese and there are many people of Portuguese descent in New Bedford,” he said. “A lot of them played soccer in Europe before they came to this country, and of course they were very skilled at it.
“I learned from them and they taught me very well. I was an American playing a foreign game. When I was 18, I went to Portugal and played. I was the only American there and people couldn’t believe it because I didn’t play like an American.”
With Almeida in the lineup, LCCC was in the hunt for small-college national championships twice. The team finished fourth in the country in 1969 and second the following season.
“We were in St. Louis and we lost in seven overtimes,” he said of the 1970 national final. “The game lasted like three hours.”
Later, when he played at West Virginia, the Mountaineers advanced to an NCAA regional final, where they lost to Howard University.
“That was an interesting game,” he said. “We lost 2-1 or 1-0, and they went on to win the national championship. That was a great atmosphere and a great game, because my wife went with me. It’s just a pretty cool memory.”
Almeida and his wife, Jo Anna, a native Elyrian, have three adult children — Megan, 38, of Athens; Ryan, 32, an anesthesiologist in Birmingham, Ala., and Tyler, a former Elyria High School athlete. Tyler is a recent graduate of Mount Union, where he was the kicker on two national championship football teams.