I've discussed a little bit about soccer in my 3 week update post and in my one month update post, but I have yet to dedicate an entire blog post solely to soccer. So starting from the beginning, I will talk about what has happened with soccer since I have been in Brazil.
When I got to Brazil I couldn't wait to play soccer. Three days after I arrived, I fractured my ankle. That moment was tough, because it completely threw off my schedule. Instead of training and preparing for professional trials at Fabio's sports complexes, I instead spent 3 weeks taking care of my ankle and letting it heal. That was a very frustrating process for me because even though I got to spend time experiencing Brazil and seeing new things, I was missing out on why I came to Brazil in the first place. I tried to use my time wisely; to work on the blog, learn the language, talk to my family, and soak as much of this adventure in as possible. During that time I was able to observe the major differences between soccer in the United States and soccer in Brazil.
Over the past couple years and during world cup qualifiers, it was hard to
understand how the US men's national team could keep getting beat by countries with millions less people and millions less in resources. I knew that something wasn't right because the US is full of opportunities for aspiring players. We have hundreds of clubs for all ages, along with large grass and turf fields for those clubs to play on. We have an incredible amount of soccer balls and sporting equipment. Yet many countries throughout Central and South America have superior soccer teams, with much less resources available to them. When I got to Brazil, this stood out to me even more. I have only seen 2 grass fields in Sao Carlos, both of which are far worse than the local fields in my area at home. I'm blessed to have many soccer fields to choose from within a 5 minute drive of my Florida house. All of the soccer balls here are old and tough. There are no nice Nike or Adidas balls, not even the kind you can buy at your local sporting goods store for $30 in the US. When I go to a Mult Sport facility here to train, I'm struggling to find enough balls to play with. You go to a club in the US and you have all the high quality soccer balls you could ever want. So the country with close to zero grass soccer fields, with soccer balls that are barely holding together, and with less resources and poorer facilities is far and away better at soccer than the country who has all these things in plentiful supply. How is that possible?
There are a few answers, some of which are very common. One is that it is well known that the United States has sports of all types, and nearly all are relatively popular. So you have kids playing football, basketball, baseball, tennis, hockey, and lacrosse just to name a few. In the US a kid can choose between dozens of sports or activities to play. It's true that by far the most popular sport in Brazil is soccer. Way more kids play soccer in Brazil than any other sport, there isn't even a comparison. Sure those other sports exist here, but they just aren't very popular. So though it may seem like more kids play soccer in Brazil as opposed to the US and that results in a greater selection to choose from for professional teams, that isn't necessarily the case. I've played for over 6 different clubs in the US, and I have seen how many kids are playing soccer. There's a ton. It's quickly becoming one of Americas most popular sports, with hundreds of kids of all ages playing at the local clubs in nearly any county in all states. So if that isn't the reason, then again I ask, with so many kids playing soccer, and with better soccer balls, fields, goals, equipment, and facilities, why can't we compete with these other countries at the highest levels?
Passion. The answer is passion, and I'll explain why. The other day I played soccer in a small neighborhood, barefoot, with a 5 year old soccer ball, on a field that was half dead grass and half mud. And I played with about 20 other kids for 4 hours. Because that's how strong the love for soccer is here. They don't care about their facilities, most of them have no idea that the US has anything wildly different. All they want to do is play soccer with their friends, have fun, and compete. When we were playing the game in the neighborhood, it started out with me and a couple friends. Some other kids saw us and joined, then they called their friends, and pretty soon we had a good sized group. Then a dad saw us playing, and he came in and played goalie. Pretty soon a little group of children had developed on the so called "sideline" and started watching us. Just like that, all these people came from nowhere and started playing together. A couple months ago when I was in Florida, I could barely get 3 to 5 friends out to the soccer fields to play. I think that's crazy. With the fields and the equipment we have at our disposal, and it was rare to get a group of 10 kids out to the fields. I played soccer with MFC club at lunch time 3 times a week for years, and I hardly ever saw other players out there working on their own or developing their game.
Pictured is the nicest Mult Sport facility in the area. The turf is relatively nice, but there are no real grass fields.
There's a difference between having a passion for soccer and working on your own to develop yourself, and going to your set up team or club practices. Here in Brazil it's all about disorganized playing whenever you can with whoever you can, whereas in the US it's all organized clubs. One of the most infuriating things to me was when I would be at the county owned soccer fields working by myself on my game, and some club maintenance guy or coach would come along and try to kick me off the fields. In Brazil, it would be much more likely that they would hop in and start playing alongside you. Why would you ever discourage someone from working on their own? It's rare enough to see a player with enough passion that they are out there by themselves working in the heat without someone coming along and trying to kick them off the fields. We need more encouragement for self development, definitely not less.
Another difference between the training in Brazil and the training in the US, is that basically the opposite things are encouraged. From my experience playing at "high level clubs" in the US, simple passing and not much dribbling is encouraged. Here, attempting skills and difficult passes is encouraged. Sometimes a little too much, there definitely needs to be a balance between the two. But luckily Brazilian kids grow up learning great ball control and touch, and can learn when to pass and when to dribble when they eventually join a club. It's very hard for the Americans who have grown up passing the ball backwards, to suddenly learn dribbling skills. Brazil isn't the only country with this type of play and passion, you see it all throughout Central and South America. And it's because of passion and love for the game that they are able to beat a wealthier and more resource-full nation of 320 million people.
So during my 3 week break, I was able to observe and think through this issue. Of course I already had that thought process before I came to Brazil, but after being here and seeing firsthand the facilities and style of play, I am enlightened even more. The United States is quickly advancing and soccer is becoming more and more popular, and I believe before long we can be up there with the best. But it starts in a change of culture and an appreciation for what we have at our disposal. If we could combine the Brazilians free style of skillful play and the constant encouragement to work and develop on your own, with the soccer fields, balls, cleats, and facilities that the US possesses, there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn't be winning world cups.
After I spent 3 weeks icing and strengthening my ankle, I began training again and have been playing primarily at the Mult Sport academies and with an under 20 team in the area called Gremio, Sao Carlos. The training at Mult Sport has been good for my touch and skills and helping me get back into a groove. The training with Gremio is beneficial because I get to play in a team environment and be exposed to pace of play. I also join in on pickup soccer games at the Mult Sport facilities whenever I can. Because my ankle injury set me back so many weeks, I haven't had any trials yet. I should have some coming soon, and I have been preparing for those. I'm looking forward to getting into that competitive atmosphere, and developing my technical and tactical game.
So while I unfortunately haven't played as much soccer here as I would have liked, I have still been able to survey the soccer culture and distinguish the differences. I'm pleased that I've been able to study the cultural differences, and develop what I think is an effective way to train. I am thoroughly enjoying my time here and I've loved being able to step on the field and train again. It's something I really missed during my recovery process. Though my ankle is still swollen, soon it will be fully healed and back to full strength. Expect more updates after the coming trials!
"But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." - Isaiah 40:31