La Maquina is Spanish for "the Machine." It’s also what Alex Lima's Houston Dynamo teammates call the 28-year-old midfielder, for his tireless play on the field.
“He runs and runs and runs and never gets tired,” Mauro Manotas said of his teammate, who more commonly goes by just Alex. "He has great field vision. He marks defenders. He’s a crack. We’re lucky to have him on the team.”
Alex — along with Manotas — proved one of the few bright spots in a very forgettable 2016 season for Houston. The left-footed center mid earned the team’s MVP nod last year, after scoring five goals and two assists, and he seems to have carried that form into the current season.
In 10 games this season, Alex has six assists, making him good for second overall in MLS. He also made it to the MLS Team of the Week after his two-assist performance against Orlando City SC last week. That recognition points to the Best XI-caliber campaign he's built in the early part of the MLS season.
The Brazilian is no stranger to MLS, but many may not remember all of his tenure. He joined the league in 2012, signing with the Chicago Fire, where he had three uneventful seasons in the Windy City. In three years, Alex tallied just three goals and two assists.
Near the start of the 2015 season, the Fire traded him to the Dynamo, and that's where his transformation began. Alex says once he got to Houston, it was important for him to adapt his game.
Dynamo head coach Wilber Cabrera remembers watching Alex with the Fire.
“I think he’s adapted well,” Cabrera said. “This year he’s having a great season, putting in some stellar work no matter where we put him on the field. He works hard and is a talented player.”
Cabrera added that Alex is the kind of player that lets his game do the talking on the pitch, showing his quality game in and game out.
What is it about this season that has Alex playing at such a high level? He credits the overhaul of the team in the offseason as one of the reasons for his and the team’s hot start. The other reason: Cabrera's confidence in him.
“I’m able to roam more freely, closer to goal and to the forwards," Alex said. "That’s why I’ve been able to get assists."
Erick "Cubo" Torres, who often bunks with Alex on team trips, says his road roommate has demonstrated since last season how great a player he is. Torres calls him the team’s shield.
“He doesn’t stop running; he fights for every ball,” Torres said. “We are happy, and hopefully he can keep the momentum going because we need him. He is an important player for us.”