Leah Fortune is getting the world with her "Cambalhota Mortal"Brazil has a new promise women soccer raising star: a green-eyed blonde with freckled skin as bright as her smile. Her name is Leah Lynn Gabriela Fortune, and she's an American teenager raised in the Chicago 'burbs.
But Leah, or as the Brazilians call her, "Lay-uh," was practically milk-fed on "joga bonito" -- the beautiful game. She was born in San Paulo, Brazil to American parents, so it was only natural that Leah Fortune would subliminally absorb the game before she learned to walk. She has the futbol bloodline too, with a Brazilian grandmother and a father who was raised in the Amazon as a missionary child. Even if Leah hasn't learned to speak Portuguese fluently yet, she reflects a new generation of transnational soccer players in the United States. There's Tina Ellertson, who plays for the women's national team but could have played for Ghana or Nigeria; Jozy Altidore, who could have represented Haiti; and Giuseppe Rossi, who recently decided to play for Italy over the U.S. after coming of age.
"My whole family is crazy about soccer," said Fortune. "My dad introduced me to the game. He played when he was a teenager, and my mother owns a soccer complex. I was born into the game -- I just love it."
Apparently, the love is mutual. For the first time in her life, Leah finds herself signing autographs and staving off excited Brazilian fans like a regular Beckham-ess. Turns out dual citizenship is a blessing in disguise: Leah can play with one foot in each continent, straddling playing time between her club, Team Chicago, and the U-20 Brazilian national team. However, all bets are off once Leah turns 21, when she'll have to commit exclusively to USA or Brazil.
But for now, as the youngest player on the team at 17, Fortune is taking full advantage of the opportunities that come with a starting role for Brazil. That includes owning a trick the Brazilians had never seen before -- a flip throw-in in which she levitates the ball into the box with her hands. "Leah Cambalhota Mortal" was the headline streaming across Brazilian televisions and newspapers during the CONMEBOL South American U-20 championships this past March.
With a 30-goal surplus against opponents over the course of seven games, Leah and her teammates stormed through the CONMEBOL Tournament as if every game was a carnival. Following in the big footsteps of her idols, Marta and Kaká, Fortune and her teammates will travel to the U-20 World Cup in Chile, which will be staged Nov. 20 to Dec. 7.
In the meantime, the savvy junior will bring her newly acquired Brazilian samba, or jinga, to her Wheaton Academy high school team and Team Chicago crew in between training camps. Fortune recently orally committed to Clemson University, after considering Notre Dame and West Virginia, both top-notch programs. In regard to his new recruit, Tigers' Head Coach Hershey Strosberg wrote via e-mail, "I cannot imagine how tough it is for her to balance school, full-time training, living in Brazil and being away from family and friends. It speaks volumes to her courage and determination."