It was major news when Marta, a five-time FIFA World Player of the Year and arguably the best soccer player of her generation, decided to return to the United States to play for the Orlando Pride earlier this year.
But Marta, 31, is no mere symbol for the National Women's Soccer League, already considered the best in the world. The Brazilian is very much in her prime still, ranking near the top of the league's leaderboard in both goals and assists, and leading the Pride into playoff contention despite the absences this season by American national teamers Alex Morgan, who began the year overseas, and Ashlyn Harris, who is out with a knee injury.
Marta took the time to discuss her decision to return to the U.S. six years after a tumultuous stint in the now-defunct WPS, and to give her thoughts on the experience both on and off the field in a phone interview with a translator earlier this week.
VICE SPORTS: What enticed you to come back to the United States this time?
MARTA: The main factor that had me come back here is first, the level of play in the league. And second was the project that the Orlando Pride gave me. And in Orlando, we have a big Brazilian community, and I can feel at home over here. So I feel like I'm closer to home.
When you arrived in Orlando, what did you notice that was different or improved in the league compared to WPS?
I think the level is pretty high, as it was in WPS when I played here. But if I can mention a difference, it would be how competitive it is. When I was here at first, it was three, four teams that would be at the top. And here, in this league, it's all competitive, you never know who's going to be at the top, it keeps switching. So I think it's more competitive, it's a higher level.
Do you feel like the game has evolved technically here, as opposed to athleticism reigning supreme?
I think it's pretty balanced. All the leagues in women's soccer have increased the technical ability. But we have players who have the mix, the technical ability and the fitness. And so now I feel like we have the players who have the athletic ability, but can also be technical.
How much more stable does your American soccer experience feel this time around?
This country, it's always been known for women's soccer. And I feel like it got better off the field because of the love of women's soccer here, we always had a lot of love from the fans. And that's been increasing a lot, helped by media and social media. For example, back in the day, we didn't have as much social media. So now we finish a game, and you're already posting things, and fans are making comments, getting in touch with us. So I think that's been helping a lot. And also, they have an opportunity to see what we're doing every day, trainings and such, so we have that opportunity to communicate between us and the fans.
As the signature star in soccer of this time, what message did it send for you to join NWSL, and have other players communicated this to you?
I think for me, it was a great opportunity to renew my goals, and make a change in my career. Some people, once they've played in many places, don't necessarily want to play at a high level. But I still want to challenge myself all the time. So it was a great opportunity to come to this league. As for my teammates: I really hope that they like me! They haven't said anything about it, but they haven't complained, either, so I feel like they like having me here. As for the league, I hope I can bring even better competitiveness and technical ability to this league, and help continue to grow this league.
When you are on the field, you are Job No. 1 on every opposing team's scouting report. So how is it you are able to make plays so consistently anyway? What do you see that allows you to do so?
It's not a secret. It's not that I'm always going to make the right pass, to find a teammate in a good position. But I always look at what's going on around me before I have the ball. Usually I think about it more when I don't have the ball than when I have the ball. I look around at what I'm able to do, so once I have the ball, I know my options already.
With so many career accomplishments already, what is the biggest next goal?
I can't tell what's going to happen in my two, three years, but what I always think is to live the moment and do what I need to in the moment. So for now, what my team needs to do is win, and keep winning to get into the top four, make the playoffs and have a great season. So that's my main goal right now. And whatever happens after, I don't know, but it's going to happen after we have a good season here.
Anything else you want to highlight of your time here?
I want to talk about the Orlando community, and how they've welcomed me here. I go to the market or anywhere, and they stop me, and say congrats, and thank me for everything I do. So I think there's love from the fans, and from the Orlando community that's been great, and also surprised me. I wasn't expecting this much.