Patterson-Sewell finally making waves
It is not immediately clear if Caleb Patterson-Sewell is here for a holiday or a career.
It is hardly his fault. Sitting at a cafe just meters from the sand of Lisbon's Cascais beach, the confusion is more down to Patterson-Sewell's surroundings than anything else.
Caleb Patterson-Sewell during his time with New York Red Bulls in a friendly against Barcelona in August 2008. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Sunkissed the American-Australian goalkeeper may be, but he is quick to stress the sole reason for moving to Atletico Clube de Portugal.
Patterson-Sewell, 24, is adamant football alone has led him to Portugal's second tier. His chosen land, if you will. Like a modern-day Vasco da Gama in reverse.
Stops at Liverpool, New York Red Bulls and Sheffield Wednesday make Patterson-Sewell's footballing resume an intriguing read, yet one thing has evaded Patterson-Sewell wherever he has landed: consistent first-team football.
Until now. Patterson-Sewell arrived in Lisbon without a phrase of Portuguese to his vocabulary, and only the words of others to prepare him for life in the Liga de Honra.
It seems to have mattered little. Having ended a long absence from the second division with promotion last season, Atletico were expected to find life tough this campaign.
Instead, the Alcantara-based club lead the league by a point, with Patterson-Sewell keeping seven clean sheets in 11 appearances.
"When you think about how people spoke about our club going into the year, we had no chance to win a game, let alone not concede any goals," he said.
"So for me, I take pride in that, as I'm sure the defenders do."
Just a few minutes into the interview, it is clear that Patterson-Sewell has enjoyed his first few months with Atletico.
Regular playing time has helped. Born in Tennessee to an American father and an Australian mother, his talent led to spells with the academies of English clubs Sheffield Wednesday and Liverpool before UK visa issues took him back to the US when he turned 18.
There, he bounced between the MLS and the US' lower divisions, with injury, red tape and the form of his rivals keeping him from game time in the first division.
He was on the bench for the New York Red Bulls in the 2008 MLS Cup final and describes the experience as one he will 'never forget', even despite the 3-1 loss to Columbus Crew. But after spending the first part of the 2011 NASL season with the Carolina Railhawks as their number two goalkeeper, Patterson-Sewell became jaded with the American game.
He needed little prompting when agent Felipe Dias told him of Atletico's interest, turning down a trial at Australian club Melbourne Victory in favor of the Portuguese club's concrete offer.
"I said I'd play for food, as long as I could just come here," Patterson-Sewell said.
"I didn't know anything really about the club. I knew it had a lot of history, that this was somewhat of a revival project, and they were looking to get a bright, young coach, some good young players and remain in this league.
"When I was told, I said: 'Mate, I don't care if it's a revival project or not - I'll go. Don't sell it to me any more, just tell them I'll take it'."
Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard has been one of the USA's greatest exports. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Using the likes of US number one Tim Howard and Australia shot-stopper Mark Schwarzer as examples of what it takes to forge a career abroad, Patterson-Sewell believes his own journey is just beginning.
He knows for every Howard and Schwarzer, there are scores of players like his and American teammate Tony Taylor battling away in Europe's lesser leagues. But if he does make it, he will likely regard Atletico's Estadio Tapadinha as the place it all began.
The stadium stands proud but weathered and worn, perhaps owing much of its disheveled appearance to the very same sea breezes that make taking in a game from the arena's faded concrete terraces a pleasure.
It has been many decades since both the Tapadinha and the club that calls it home have seen anything like the glory of days past, when city rivals Benfica and Sporting CP were regular visitors and top-flight finishes above the likes of Porto were possible.
The impressive stadia of the former two just a few miles away serve as a reminder of the gulf between Portuguese football's haves and have-nots. Indeed, four-figured attendances are now a rarity for Atletico, but with Joao de Deus - a debonair member of a Brat Pack of young managers in the Portuguese game - there are indications that the club's time in Portuguese football's lower depths might be behind them.
But De Deus, 35, owes much of his success to Patterson-Sewell, who has been immovable as Atletico's number one since his man-of-the-match performance in his league debut against local rivals Belenenses in August.
Patterson-Sewell signed a one-year deal upon joining the club in July, hoping to put himself in the European shop window with his performances.
It has worked. Shortly before our interview, Patterson-Sewell was told that Sporting had enquired after him. Another big club is rumored to be interested, while "one or two other clubs" have made contact with his manager or the club.
AROUND THE WORLD ...
"It's all been over a short matter of time, and I think that's the difference between playing in Europe and playing in America or maybe Australia," he said, going on to give the example of World Cup winner Luca Toni's toils in Italy's lower leagues before his persistence finally paid off.
"Up until January is my first focus. January is the first opportunity to move."
Here, Patterson-Sewell checks himself, perhaps remembering the dead-ends that had stalled his career: "The coach is always saying 'stay humble, stay calm'."
Instantly likeable and a larger-than-life figure among Atletico's young squad, Patterson-Sewell knows there is plenty of work to come in Portugal - starting with the language.
"I thought I'll learn the language (easily), but you really don't think it through until you're on the field and your whole backline speaks Portuguese and you're trying to tell them 'you've got a runner on the inside'. I can't tell them anything, so it's like I'm mute when I'm out there playing," he said.
"That was like, 'Wow, kid, you better hurry up and learn this quick-smart or you'll be struggling'."
But while Portuguese is proving tough to master, Patterson-Sewell has had little trouble picking up some of the other local habits.
He arrived apologetically late for the interview, indicating he has already grasped the locals' concept of punctuality.
"Everyone here is, like you say, on Portuguese time. People do whatever, and it's the same for football here. They'll tell you, 'Ah, we'll do this today', but they don't do it until next week," he said.
Here, finally, he allowed himself to leave football aside for a moment.
"You can't help but enjoy yourself over here," he said.
"People ask me, 'How's Portugal?'. I just tell them it's amazing. I'm sure they're thinking, 'He's only saying that because he's over there'. But no, really, it is an amazing place.
"(I've) toughed it out but everything's changing. It's just a bit of luck, and hopefully the luck is going my way. I can't keep the smile from my face over here."