True soccer fans know and love the teams that play with joy, skill and imagination. To non-soccer fans I’m sure that just sounds goofy . . . and it probably somewhat unbelievable that the best play can bring tears to a true fan’s eyes. (I am guilty as charged.)
It should come as no surprise that this thought comes during / after watching FC Barcelona play the Seattle Sounders. Seattle looked like a good MLS side (at least in the first half); Barca often looked like a collection of magicians.
Few teams have that kind of ability and style. Brazil is typically one of them, or perhaps was one of them. There were times when I watched Brazil, realizing that they simply knew how to play better, prettier and more naturally than anyone else around. Oh, how times have changed . . . let’s be clear though, Brazil is still one of the best teams that will ever step on a soccer field, as they reminded US fans by coming back from a 2-0 deficit to win the Confederations Cup at our expense. At the end of the day, quality still matters.
But today it’s different . . . the Brazilian game is now efficient, focused, even pragmatic. This Sports Illustrated piece digs into some reasons why that might be. It is an interesting read that challenges us to consider whether tactics are driving out the ‘special’ players, or the dearth of such players is forcing certain tactics. A similar conundrum exists with other clubs and countries . . . despite spending obscene amounts of money (and the stated goal of its owner), Chelsea still plays efficiently, but not beautifully. It also touches on the continued challenge for the US to find an attractive “style” of play . . .
When the US played Brazil in the Confederations Cup, I was (not surprisingly) supporting the US team . . . but cheering for Brazil when they play anyone but the USA (and maybe my adopted-by-marriage Colombia . . .) was historically never a difficult undertaking. They didn’t just earn that respect, they demanded it by embarrassing teams around them with skill, control and a complete lack of the usual predictability that most teams operate in.
However, there have been times now — the last Copa America final comes to mind — where the opposite was true, where it was Brazil playing counterattacking, largely negative soccer. In that game I supported Argentina, who played beautifully. But lost. I would hope the Argentine fans were proud of that display and I hope the Brazilian fans are demanding better.
Until a better Brazil reappears, thank you FC Barcelona for reminding me what this game can look like.