Johnny Cardoso has been superb at Real Betis. Next stop: USMNT?

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One of the favorite adages in professional football is that a player needs an “adjustment period” when changing clubs. In many ways, this thinking makes sense. Each club has its own way of doing things. There may be a new country, a different style of play, and a new language to adapt to. These changes are amplified when family is involved.

But based on Johnny Cardoso’s first three and a half months with La Liga’s Real Betis, that maxim is being put to the test.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, among La Liga defensive midfielders who have played more than 500 minutes, the American international ranks in the top six in tackle percentage (52.3%), duel percentage (62.7%). ) and aerial percentage (66.0%). Among this cohort, his 15.7 defensive interventions per 90 minutes of real playing time place him second in La Liga, although he has also been precise with the ball, particularly in the attacking third, where his percentage passing percentage is third in the league among defensive midfielders at 89.6%.

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Current Betis sporting director Manu Farjado told ESPN that he was impressed by Cardoso’s “balance and defensive tactical rigor. Choosing when to press the opponent, being able to play with a few touches, without lose the ball.

Cardoso’s arrival has helped Betis stay within touching distance of qualifying for European competition. With three games remaining, Los Verdiblancos currently sit in sixth place, just one point above Real Sociedad. The two teams will face off on Sunday, with the winner likely to have the inside track for La Liga’s final Europa League spot for next season.

In speaking with the Denville, New Jersey native, it’s clear he feels he’s exceeded even his own expectations.

“I have to admit that I didn’t expect to adapt so quickly,” Cardoso told ESPN with the help of a translator. “But the welcome and help from all the players and staff made me feel very comfortable and made my adaptation easier.”

That Cardoso has performed so well at a club like Betis is even more impressive. In a league where Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid take up the vast majority of available attention – and where rival Sevilla also takes up some of it – Betis are still considered a big club. Its season ticket base of over 50,000 is generally behind that of Barcelona and Real Madrid, and only those two, plus Atletico Madrid, have stadiums bigger than the 60,720-seat Estadio Benito Villamarin . (Barcelona plays this season at the 49,472-capacity Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys while the Camp Nou is under renovation.)

Given that Real Betis was founded in 1907, it is a club with deep roots.

“Betis fans come from generations,” said former US international Tab Ramos, who spent three seasons with Betis in the mid-1990s. “And it’s passed down within the family, through what they talk about in everyday life.” Ramos recalled that when he played with Betis, the club was in the second division, but even back then, when the team came out for warm-ups, there were “38,000 fans in the stands.” It can create an incredible atmosphere, but so does the pressure. Expectations are high.

“This is how they live, and it’s not easy,” Ramos added. “You’re definitely playing for a club that people care about a lot, and the result you get every weekend has an effect on their lives. They make you feel that, and you feel it through the fans. You grow up always wanting to play at a club that makes sense and is big because Betis is a big club and at the same time it can be a bit overwhelming to come into a club that has such pressure.

Given that Cardoso was developed in the cauldron that is Brazilian football, with two-time CONMEBOL Libertadores winners Internacional, it’s an intensity and culture that is no stranger to him. Cardoso’s ability to be clean with the ball and have a good position in midfield has certainly provided a basis for a quick adaptation, which he believes fits well with La Liga’s style.

“Here the game is played a lot more with the ball at the feet, a lot more technical,” he said in a separate interview with ESPN Brazil. “And in Brazil there were also a lot of physical things. But obviously Brazil was very important to me, and I use a lot of things that I learned in Brazil here to be able to continue to evolve and enjoy it too, because It’s a very special league, a league that I’ve always dreamed of playing and well, my adaptation is incredible.”

Cardoso’s family returned to Brazil shortly after his birth and by age 11 he was in Criciúma’s youth ranks. He then moved to Avai and finally to Internacional two years later. He played as a striker up to under-17 level and has already shown his adaptability by moving into midfield. He gradually established himself in the Reds’ lineup, attracting the attention of then-manager (and former Philadelphia Union midfielder) Eduardo “El Chacho” Coudet.

“My performances on the pitch only increased and I felt very comfortable as a midfielder,” Cardoso said. “I have always been very dedicated and I adapted very quickly to this position.”

In fact, Cardoso made such an impression on Coudet – during two managerial spells with Internacional – that he felt obliged to recommend his protégé to then-Betis sporting director Ramon Planes. The two are long-time friends and although Planes was set to leave for Saudi club Al Ittihad last December, he gave Betis a parting gift, a player with immense composure on the ball.



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“I had seen him, but Coudet told me to lobby for him,” Planes said of Cardoso. “Chacho trained him in Brazil and his characteristics stood out from the first day. He always said he was ready to play in Spain. What surprises most of all is his head. He’s a boy very intelligent who knows what he wants and always acts in the right way. It’s a huge plus for Betis to have a player with this characteristic.”

Indeed. Beyond his positioning and composure on the ball, Cardoso even scored a goal on February 25 in a 3-1 win over Atletico Madrid, but he’s not going to let that go to his head. “Tactically he is an almost perfect central midfielder,” Ramos said of Cardoso. “That he was able to come into such a big club that has to win every week, and be able to do it with the calmness that he showed, it’s incredibly impressive to me. This kid, it seems like his pulse doesn’t not going to be over 55.”

However, in the American jersey, Cardoso has not yet shown his best, although the “MMA” midfield composed of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah and Tyler Adams has something to do with it. But even when one member of that trio has been injured or out of form, Cardoso has struggled to crack the lineup, especially with Gio Reyna also pushing for time in the center of midfield. Cardoso played just 65 minutes in two matches during the Concacaf Nations League last month, although he is determined to move forward.

“I always say it’s a privilege to be able to represent my country,” Cardoso said. “I don’t count on the absence of others either. I always focus a lot on my development and, as I always say, it only depends on me, on my performance in my club, which today is the Betis. And I have a very positive spirit: if I develop my football well here, I will have opportunities in the national team.”

The question arises whether Cardoso can function as a lone midfielder, as Adams often does. Fajardo, for his part, thinks he can. But as long as Cardoso maintains his consistent performances with Betis, the opportunities at international level will eventually come.

“I’ve always dreamed big, so I’ve always been dedicated to my goals,” Cardoso said. “That’s what allowed me to get here and want to develop even further.”

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