Francisco Calvo has a full sleeve of tattoos down the length of his left arm. But of his 16 total tattoos, one in black ink spanning the top of his left hand stands out from the rest.
On Feb. 15, 2016, Calvo’s future wife, Mariana, was three months pregnant when she suffered a miscarriage of the couple’s first children, twins. To remember, Calvo designed a rose tattoo — the “most important” tattoo to him — featuring the date, a “5’’ for his shirt number and the letters “M” and “G” for the initials of the babies’ names.
“It’s the worst thing in the world,” Calvo said of losing the two babies.
Despite the heartbreak Calvo endured last year, the Minnesota United center back can’t be anything but grateful for his life right now. Right before the starting whistle of every United match — while all the other players are standing at the ready — Calvo kneels on the pitch, raises his arms into the air, tilts his head toward the sky and prays.
At just 24 years old, Calvo is United’s captain and someone coach Adrian Heath has termed “the long-term future of the club.” He’s one of just two players to have retained his spot in the starting lineup the entire season and has played all 90 minutes each time, excluding two matches when national team duty with Costa Rica called.
This season is Calvo’s first in Major League Soccer. Heath said it won’t be long before the defender becomes a star.
“Francisco is one of the players I identified maybe two years ago, and we’ve never been in the position where we could do anything about it,” Heath said. “I watched him two or three times, thought he would develop to be the best left-sided center back in MLS. And I really believe that, and I think he’s starting to show signs of that.
“I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in the league at that position.”
Calvo is the sixth-youngest member of the Loons’ 26-man roster. When then-captain 30-year-old Vadim Demidov fell out of the lineup, Calvo was an easy choice for Heath as the next leader despite his youth.
Forward Christian Ramirez, who has become friends with Calvo off the pitch, said Calvo “talks like he’s been there before” but isn’t arrogant about it, still soaking in the wisdom from older teammates.
“He’s really family-oriented. He’s always talking about the team being a family and wanting to build that culture,” Ramirez said. “That’s been his mainstay here is making sure that everyone’s on the same page and always protecting each other on and off the field.”
Midfielder Johan Venegas first met Calvo whe they played against each other in Costa Rica before they became teammates on the national team and for United. Venegas, in Spanish through a translator, called Calvo “one of the best center backs that I’ve been playing with.”
“He likes to be the organizer on the field,” Venegas said. “He likes to think ahead in terms of when the team might lose the ball, just the spaces that you need to cover. He’s just a great leader all around, giving the teammates positive energy on the field and then in the clubhouse as well.”
Calvo started playing soccer when he was 6 years old, and playing professionally had always been his dream. At age 18, he left home to play at San Jacinto College in Texas. By age 20, he had moved across the world to play in Denmark. That experience saw him mature the most, as Calvo said he had to find his place in a foreign country — and on a reigning champion team — before returning to Costa Rica.
That was also around the time he met his future wife through a mutual friend. After dating for about four years, the two married this past January, just in time for Calvo’s new endeavor in Minnesota.
With all that he’s accomplished, Calvo said he doesn’t feel very young, even though he’s not quite a quarter of a century old yet.
“I’ve lived so much in a short time, and then I become a professional, and everything happens really, really fast to me. So I have to deal with the fame and a lot of stuff that you have to deal with in Costa Rica because we are a really small country,” Calvo said. “For me, I know that I’m young, I know that maybe I have a good career in front of me. But I don’t have to waste my time.”
Calvo’s life won’t be slowing down any time soon. His wife is pregnant again, with baby boy Gael due in about two months. Calvo calls himself “that kind of guy” who enjoys talking to his baby through his wife’s stomach.
“If we go to the mall, we don’t even buy anything for us. We want to buy, like, everything for the baby, to have everything ready for him,” Calvo said. “We are really, really happy inside.
“God took two babies, but He gave me a lot of things. That’s how we say in Costa Rica. … If God takes one thing, he’s going to give you a lot of good things. He gave me a good wife. He gave me now a child on the way. He give me this contract [with United]. He’s giving me a lot of things right now.
“I mean everything, everything is good.”