Fourth of July in Brazil puts U.S. Soccer in perspective

 

rio1I spent one glorious summer in Rio de Janeiro many years ago.  While still in graduate school, I was fortunate enough to have been awarded a scholarship to study Portuguese overseas.   Mine was the typical exchange program where you live with a host family and take classes at a local university.  Technically, I was there to conduct thesis research, and I did, as most of the summer was spent ‘familiarizing myself’ with Brazilian culture.

 

My timing could not have been more perfect.  The year was 1994 and the country was smack dab in the middle of World Cup fever.  As most of us know, Brazilians eat, sleep and breathe soccer.  The game is so ingrained into their culture that at certain times of the year, nothing else matters.  Not the economy, not poverty, not pollution.  Soccer unites their nation.

 

Packers, Eagles and Giants fans?  Do you think you’re religious about your team?  Guess again.  You Gator, Sooner, Buckeye and Notre Dame fans out there think you hold a candle?  Nuh uh.  The entire nation of Brazil gathers together when World Cup rolls around.  I was lucky enough to experience that first hand.

 

SPORT SOCCER WORLDOne day I accosted a group of four beautiful Brazilian women chatting energetically while drinking beers at a beachside bar.  Consider it the Brazilian version of ‘Sex and the City.’  The foursome was engaged in an in-depth conversation… about soccer.  Where in the United States would you ever see that?

 

To further put things into perspective, the Horseshoe in Columbus, OH fits 102,000 screaming fans.  Neyland Stadium in Knoxville seats 105,000.  Michigan Stadium holds 108,000.  While in Rio, I saw a regional soccer game at Estadio do Maracana.  Maximum capacity 200,000!  Brazil is scheduled to host the 2014 World Cup.  Think they’ll have a home field advantage?

 

Prior to every World Cup game that summer, I was warned to have all beer, food and party accessories ready ahead of time for everything in Rio shut down at first kick.  I didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.  During a match, there was not a storefront open or a vehicle on the street.  Good luck finding a taxi.

 

The entire country gathered in their living rooms with family and friends with ice cold Brahma and feijao aplenty, remaining glued to the set for the entire game.  These are not your fair-weather fans.  When Brazil scored a goal, the city erupted.  Shouts of pleasure echoed through the windows.  Celebration ensued with each victory.

 

The United States hosted the World Cup that year.  Ironically, Brazil played the U.S. on July 4th.  I remember that date specifically because my host family threatened to kick me out of their apartment if the U.S. pulled off the upset.  Needless to say, I was rooting for Brazil.

 

That 1994 Brazil team featured all-time greats:  Romario, Bebeto, Taffarel and an 18-year old named Ronaldo.  Taffarel, the goalie, consistently received the harshest criticism from both media and fans.  That was until he blocked Italy’s game-tying goal in penalty kicks to bring home the title.  He immediately became a national hero. 

 

When it comes to World Cup history, Brazil dominates nearly every statistic: championships won, games won, goals scored.  Every other country is a distant second.  Soccer in the U.S. can never reach the importance it garners in Brazil or in other areas of the world.  It’s ingrained and generational.  Even though we all play soccer as children, most of us switch to another sport we’re more interested in like baseball, basketball or football.

 

For whatever reason, most Americans don’t have a passion for soccer.  Not enough scoring, no viable professional league, the inability to use one’s hands, whatever the reason.  We just don’t have the appetite for it no matter how hard US Soccer tries to encourage us to pay attention.

 brandon-donovan

That was until last week when the U.S. almost pulled off an upset of international proportions.  In the final game of the FIFA Federations Cup, the US led Brazil 2-0 at halftime.  David was inconceivably about to slay Goliath.  Then the Brazilian juggernaut scored three goals in the second half to squash any hopes the US had for winning its first major international competition.

 

I found myself once again glued to the television as if it were 1994 revisited.  It was refreshing to see others interested in the match as well.  I watched the first half while exercising on an elliptical machine at my local YMCA.  When Landon Donovan scored the second goal of the game, I heard a few random shouts from within the gym over my blaring iPod.  Not bad.  Now just imagine how Brazil was rocking when they took the lead for good.

 

US Soccer put forth a valiant effort in their tune-up for next summer’s World Cup.  They turned a lot of heads and more fans will assuredly be watching.  It’s unreasonable to expect them to equal their recent success but at least now this team won’t be overlooked.

 

Late one night back in 1994, the Brazilian team announced they would host a parade. The Cariocan (those from Rio) players would be bringing the trophy around for all to see.  We stayed up all night celebrating the victory as fans played a variety of percussive instruments.  The beats were infectious.  Fans rushed the parading buses with players waving from atop as the parade route ran through Copacabana and Ipanema.

 

It’ll be a long time coming before the United States ever brings one of those home.  Do you think we’ll even notice?

32 thoughts on “Fourth of July in Brazil puts U.S. Soccer in perspective

  1. Chris ….

    That thesis research you were said to be conducting. Did it have anything to do with whether not blonde Brazilian females were better looking than their bikin-clad brunette counterparts who spent their time on Ipanema Beach ? Inquiring minds need to know that’s all ?

    As to the aspirations of the US men’s soccer team. Over time it’ll be borne out. But they’re heading in the right path under the tutelage of their coach Bob Bradley.

    The real problem however for the US team is that it doesn’t possess anywhere near enough world class talent to really take on the elite teams at the international level. Once in a while they may well pull of the surprise. But until they can perform on a consistently high basis. They’ll still be considered to be one of the minnows in an ever growing pond.

    As the Tour De France is coming up.(Sat 4th July) I’ve done a piece on Lance Armstrong and his Astana team. This’ll be Lance’s return to the event that he last won in 2005.

    Knock, Knock , Who’s There ? It’s Me Lance Armstrong And I’m Back …..

    Let me know what you think as to the merits of the piece ? As and when you’re ready I’ll look forward to reading your comments.

    Alan Parkins ……..

  2. Chris ..

    You’ve got a stunt double ? LOL,LOL,LOL !!! I hope that doesn’t also apply to your feats in the boudoir ? Less we forget that’s where all the great action tends to happen !

    Alan

  3. Tophat… re: your first comment, I’d never kiss and tell. It’d just take too long.

    And good point. If other countries are now more suspecting and thus prepared for US Soccer in the World Cup, it could be a quick out for them unless they know what they’re doing, which they unfortunately didn’t in the 2nd half of that FIFA final.

  4. Chris …..

    It’s not that they’re not prepared. I feel that US soccer is given the due respect it as such deserves. But it’s not as if the likes of Brazil , Italy or one or two other of the top tier teams are really ever going to be pushed by the US.

    Consistency as I’ve said is the one thing that the US soccer team has failed to maintain. And until they can string together consistent results over a long term. Then it’s never going to get the respect it seeks.

    I see that Landon Donovan ripped into Becks (David Beckham) ? He says that he’s not a leader as is merely about himself and the money. And also that he’s never been much of a teammate to begin with at the L A Galaxy. Why am I not surprised ? As I never felt that Beckham was all that good to begin with ! He’s a long way of from the player that he was . When he was with Man Utd and initially with Real Madrid. With him and his wife it’s been all about the hype.

    They’re for all sense and purpose Britain’s answer to Spencer ‘The Dickhead’ Pratt and his wife Heidi Montag. Talentless and just seeking out the paparazzi for all of the damn pub’ they can get.

    Alan Parkins

  5. Chris …

    Make sure to check out my piece on Lance Armstrong. It’s the link I’ve provided in the earlier comment entitled ‘Knock, Knock’.

    Alan P

  6. I actually watched this game on ESPN after work one evening while attempting to hold what little bit of dignity I still had mastering the elliptical at the gym.
    I do have to say it’s a little easier to work one of those when you see lots of good looking sweaty men running back and forth after a ball.
    Hummm… oops forgot what the question was, but the memory of the game was nice 😀

  7. Chris,

    Fantastic piece as always. What a way to put things in perspective. I’ve been in Gainesville on gameday when Tennessee or FSU are in town and everything seems to come to a halt and electricity fills the air. I can’t imagine that fervor and passion spread out over an entire country where every man, woman and child is rooting for the same team.

    In my lifetime, I’d imagine the 1980 USA Olympic Hockey team was the closest sports team I’d ever seen capture that spirit but even that was flash in the pan, quick spark nationalism. Nothing like the sustained passion for Brazilian soccer.

    Nothing comes close to the passion Brazilians have for soccer. Italy, and Argentina come close and maybe India’s national cricket club gets similar passion levels but Brazil…there’s no comparison.

    Maybe if Gainesville was expanded to 3,287,597 square miles…………….

  8. Frank Irizarry …

    If you wanna see real passion . Then check out a local soccer derby match between the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham of the EPL. Or in La Liga (Spain) Barclelona and Real Madrid. In terms of that MLS has nothing that rates on par with it. The fans there at the games are either docile or impassioned as to the events happening on the field.

    …………….

    Chris

    Here’s my latest NBA piece. As it deals with the alleged mounting speculation concerning the 76ers’ Andre Miller.

    Miller To Test The Free Agent Market ?

    As and when you’re ready I’ll look forward to reading your comments.

    Alan Parkins

  9. Al… I don’t follow enough soccer to truly understand. I took the Beckham move strictly as a publicity stunt.

    I don’t know enough of the history between Donovan and Beckham to pretend to understand the feud but I’m sure it’ll make headlines.

  10. Chris …..

    For an alleged deal said to be worth upwards of $200m we all knew it was merely about the money for Beckham. The inanity of it all the guys behind the move are the same guys behind what was the presumptive Jackson comeback tour in London.

    Phillp Anschutz’s tentacles are vast , wide and far reaching. With Walden Media, LA Galaxy ownership and serveral other MLS clubs as well AEG Entertainment. They also own the Staples Center as well as The Nokia Theater across the road from the Staples Center.

    And it’ll be either at the Staples or Nokia that in some form a memorial service they say will be held for Jackson.

    Alan Parkins.

  11. Chris …..

    I’ll kickin’ back this weekend. And I may throw up a piece on the death of Arguello. So I’ll keep you updated on that as well as any snippets that I’ll put up or that’s happening in within the sport’s world.

    I’m off today and I return to work Monday 9am sharp.

    Alan

  12. Al… that’s a lot of money to spend on a sport that nobody is interested.

    Is it safe to say more people watch poker in this country than watch soccer?

    Have a safe weekend. I’ll likely be toiling away on the website as well.

  13. Chris ….

    Much of that alleged $200m plus was based upon the earning potential based upon endorsements. So as it appears blase’ to me to begin with. Beckham while he was with Real Madrid wasn’t even the best player on the team by far.

    And with his Italian club at present it’s the same thing again.

    As for his return to the Galaxy. Oh to be a fly on the wall in that locker room. All that testosterone driven male ire will be interesting to watch.

    Beckham and Landon Donovan throwing down. Isn’t that akin to having Liberace and Siegfrid of Siegfrid and Roy fame soaping each other up in a Turkish bath ?

    Here’s my latest as it deals with the men’s and women’s singles finals at Wimbledon. I look forward to reading your comments as and when you’re ready.

    A Finale Worth Watching

    Alan Parkins

  14. “Beckham and Landon Donovan throwing down. Isn’t that akin to having Liberace and Siegfrid of Siegfrid and Roy fame soaping each other up in a Turkish bath ?”

    You didn’t actually just say that, did you?

  15. Chris

    Offcourse I said it ! I’m a person who’ll all too willingly speaks their mind and I’m not afraid to step on a few toes along the way. Hell if our politicians could be that forthright then the world wouldn’t be in such a firggin’ mess to begin with.

    As for Landon and Becks, I’m sure that the thought may well be at the back of their minds. One more Brokeback moment that they can oh so be proud of. (Click on the link within sentence to view)

    Well Serena trounced Venus mightily with an impressive win in the women’s singles final at Wimbledon. The score might’ve reflected that is somewhat close. But in actuality it never was that to begin with. Venus was soundly beaten by her younger sibling.

    What a tragedy concerning former Titans qb Steve McNair ? He was shot to death in rather unsavory circumstances.

    Here’s a link provided below.

    Former NFL star McNair found dead in Nashville

    I trust you and the immediate family had a great 4th July ? Here’s to you and them also !

    Alan Parkins

  16. Chris,

    Glad you came to my blog and sent me a link for your text. Great piece!

    I have an american friend, at my university, and he says that on US, when you describe a person, you are able to say if that person is republican or democrat. And he compares that with Brazil. He says that here, when you describe a person, you can tell which team that person supports.

    Saudações rubro-negras.

  17. Andre,

    Thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the piece.

    I rarely get to write about soccer because it doesn’t really draw that much interest here in the United States.

    But that summer spent abroad shed a new light on the sport.

    I’m looking forward to seeing if US Soccer can match their recent success in the World Cup.

  18. An oldie but a goodie indeed. What awesome experience Chris! US makes it hard to even be a futbol fan – nothing ever on TV or in print about it unless “big games”. Surprised more Amercians dont get into it esp if played as a kid – you know how tough it is to get the ball in the net AND the ball control those guys have is unbelievable. I’ll be watchin and cheering on our boys in red, white and blue!

  19. Ditto, KL.

    Let’s put it this way.

    I went out to a local sports bar to catch US-England. The place was animated but nowhere near what it would have been for a USF, FSU or Florida game.

    I guess that’s just the way we roll.

  20. Awesome piece man! I completely understand why other nations love soccer, because they weren’t force fed baseball, basketball, and football for most of their lives! If we only had one team as a country, I’m sure we’d all be talking about soccer a lot more. I guess since we suck at it, we will never have the national spotlight shining on the sport…

  21. Thanks, Chap. It was most definitely a special summer.

    The interesting thing is that, as kids in this country, we all play soccer for at least a short while. Then somehow, as you said, we move on to other sports.

    I think a successful outing this World Cup will continue to increase interest here. But it’ll still take a lot more than that before we’re competitive at the highest level internationally.

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