Once upon a time, Spider-Man lived on the soccer field.
The years were 2003-2005. He lived through a magical, goal-scoring forward who played for the Ecuadorian National team, a team that eventually made it out of group play in the 2006 World Cup, only to lose 1-0 to England in the round of 16 on a Beckham free kick.
Otilino Tenorio was ahead of his time.
A Soccer Superstar With ‘Pizzaz’
He was so talented as a youngster growing up that he was signed by an Ecuadorian pro club team when he was 11 years old. Years later, he was transferred to a Saudi Arabian team, and after a stay there he made his way back to a different Ecuadorian club.
His greatest talents were as a finisher, the most difficult position in the sport to become successful at. Scoring enough times to earn the reputation of a ‘finisher’ is tough to do in soccer, but this was Otilino’s job.
He had a knack for finding the net; he was a player able to figure out how to make the goal when all options appeared unavailable. He used his head, a strike from far out, a dribble and shot, or picked up the trash of a loose ball in front of the goal.
His performance had pizzazz.
He danced with a special motivation after scoring, like he was playing the game for others so they could feel better about their day.
His nicknames were the ‘joy of football’ (la alegria del futbol) and the ‘joy of the village’ (alegria del pueblo).
Soon after the Spider-Man movie came out, starring Tobey Maguire, Otilino noticed his young son was a huge fan of the movie. He decided to have some fun after he scored a goal. He pulled a Spider-Man mask from his shirt, shorts or socks, fitted it over his head and moved his hands like he was shooting his web.
This attention-grabbing act was seen as controversial by some and even indignant by others, like a slap in the face to the game. But Otilino didn’t care and he decided to make it his signature move after scoring all his goals.
He won fans over because they learned of his impoverished upbringing and that he wasn’t trying to offend anyone. Rather, he was only showing appreciation to his son who was watching him and who identified with the superhero.
Critics began to see that he was just having fun. He wasn’t a showoff or egotistical. It was more about being caught up in the moment.
Otilino’s play and style on the field and in the community were infectious, so when he died in an automobile accident at the age of 25 on May 7th, seven years ago, in the heyday of his career, it shook his country, his teammates and his family to the core.
He was the leader of the goal-scoring chart at the time and remained on the leaderboard the rest of the season.
During the World Cup, his teammate Ivan Kaviedes scored brilliantly on a cross against Costa Rica and pulled a Spider-Man mask from his shorts and donned it in honor of Otilino.
MLS could use an Otilino in its league. Originality and authenticity are not necessarily trademarks of the American game.
When it does come, American sports fans will know it and gravitate to it, like fans did in Ecuador during Otilino’s prime.
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com