Philadelphia Independence keeper Val Henderson gives a behind-the-scenes take of everyday life with the WPS expansion club. In the latest installment, Val talks about the craze over FC Gold Pride striker Marta, on and off the field.Playing for the LA Sol last year, I witnessed the full force of the Marta craze on a daily basis. People constantly wanted a piece of Marta: an autograph, a picture, a smile. At every practice there were reporters and random fans wanting just a minute with Marta. At the Home Depot Center, our home field, there was a section called Marta’s Maniacs where her loyal fans could cheer her on and will her to score.
But the obsession was by no means limited to LA. In every city we went there were people screaming for Marta. Not just little girls, but men, women, boys. You may know nothing about women’s soccer, but you’ve heard of Marta. And if you do know soccer, you’re certainly excited to see the other players, to rep your local team, but your heart beats a little harder when Marta comes to town.
Especially if you’re Brazilian. Every city has a clan of Brazilians eager to see their nation’s pride: four-time FIFA World Player of the Year, name in sparkling lights: Mar-tahhh.
Playing at Harvard Stadium last year in Boston, the LA Sol felt we were at home. A huge section was filled with chanting Brazilians equipped with drums and flare, singing and dancing and cheering for Marta. Their beating seemed to set a rhythm for the game. Every time she touched the ball they beat faster. When we scored, they erupted. Forgetting their local Boston team, they cared only for Marta.
This year is no exception to the hype. Now with the FC Gold Pride, Marta draws attention everywhere she goes. Marta nights, left-footed celebrations, Brazilian frenzy. Again fans come in droves hoping to see her magic.
But fans aren’t the only ones that focus on Marta. When a team is going to play against the Pride, the first thing they think of is Marta. What should we do with Marta? She’s all over the field. She can make a 90 degree turn at full speed, go from a dead stop to 100 miles an hour before you can even blink, salsa her way through a team, rip a keeper’s soul off with a shot. How can we take care of her?
Well, last Saturday night at the home of FC Gold Pride, the Philadelphia Independence took care of her. We kept her checking back, limited her touches, didn’t allow her to turn, kept her to barely a shot. Stifled most of the game, you could see her frustration.
The problem is, unlike the WPS All-Star Game, this was not Team Marta. This was the FC Gold Pride, an entire team of talent. And it was Christine Sinclair who would remind us of this. Cheers to stopping Marta, but it doesn’t mean much when Sinclair puts two in the back of the net. A world-class player and finisher, she is quite the complement to Brazil’s best. And while the Independence performed well in the Bay Area, we’ll have to bring a little more next time we match up against the Pride.
But don’t worry Philly, we’ve got it in us. And we’re eager to see you at the field this Saturday when we take on Sky Blue FC at home. Let’s go steaks!
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