leo-baptistao

Get to know Espanyol: Léo Baptistão

Playing on the world's stage, almost every professional athletes has to overcome adversity. The struggle, however, is different for each athlete.

The story is no different for Brazilian striker Léo Baptistão, the man who leads the attack for FC Cincinnati’s summer friendly opponent, RCD Espanyol.

Born the son of a doctor in Santos, São Paulo, Leonardo Carrilho Baptistão came up through the Portuguesa Santista academy alongside Brazilian superstar and close friend Neymar. A standout forward, Baptistão quickly attracted the attention of clubs across Brazil and Europe. At the age of just 16, he made a dream move to join the academy of Spanish outfit Rayo Vallecano in Madrid.

It was during his time at Rayo, though, that Léo would run into his first bout with adversity. The young striker contracted hepatitis soon after arriving in the Spanish capital, and his treatment required him to return to Brazil. But while he made a full recovery, getting approval to return to Rayo from Spain’s football federation proved difficult. A year on loan back home in Brazil passed before he was finally granted permission to come back to Spain.

After a season spent in the Rayo Vallecano youth set up, Baptistão was on the verge of a breakthrough. Then just 18, he was invited to join preseason with Rayo's first team. But adversity struck again in the team’s first tune-up match when he broke his collarbone. The injury meant his first professional senior appearance came instead with the reserves a few months later.

In 2012, Baptistão finally got his chance. After an injury-free preseason, he made his first-team debut with an assist and match-winning goal against Real Betis. He soon cemented himself as a regular and logged an impressive seven-goal premier season in La Liga. Those performances caught the attention of larger clubs, and at the age of 20, he was on his way to Atlético Madrid.

After the move, finding playing time at Atlético proved difficult. Behind Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann, minutes were hard to come by and Baptistão went out on loan three times. The opportunity to lead the line for a first-division club eventually came in 2016 with a move to RCD Espanyol.

In his two seasons in Barcelona since making the permanent switch to Los Periquitos, Baptistão has locked down the starting striker role. The 2017-18 season saw the Brazilian log career highs in appearances and goals. He’s picked right back up where he left off last year, scoring the game-winner against Spanish fourth division side UE Olot in Espanyol’s preseason opener.