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Brazilian legend Marta fiercely competitive entering World Cup, rejects any talk of retirement

Brazilian legend Marta still has fire in her belly. She can’t take a second of training off and is dialed in to give her best effort during the Women’s World Cup.

Orlando player Marta (right) screams in celebration after scoring a goal as teammate Alanna Kennedy (left) hugs her during the Seattle Reign at Orlando Pride NWSL game at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday, April 28, 2018. The game ended in a 1-1 tie. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

With a trip to the World Cup mere months away, Brazilian legend Marta was fielding questions about why she wasn’t saving her energy.

The 33-year-old superstar started in all six of the league matches she was available for while she was with the Orlando Pride. She wasn’t subbed off in any of the matches and she left the Pride as the team’s leader in shots and shots on target.

For her, the answer was easy. It’s the same reason she’s regarding as one of the all-time greats in women’s soccer, if not the best women’s soccer player of all time: all-out is the only way she knows how to play. 

“Some people come to me and say, ‘Why are you going so hard on the 50-50 balls? You’re almost going to the World Cup,’” Marta told Pro Soccer USA. “I can’t do anything 50%. I’m either not, or all-in. I need to be all-in. Everything I do, it’s 100 percent. It’s giving my all.”

“Honestly, when I’m not excited or emotional or looking forward to playing in a specific tournament or any game in my life is when I need to stop. It’s just what I do for life, so if I’m not passionate or looking forward to it or anxious about it, it’s because something is wrong.”

The emotion is certainly still there.

Marta in September was named The Best FIFA Women’s Player 2018 during a ceremony in London. It was her sixth FIFA women’s player of the year award, and for her, it was just as special as the first.

“I cried so much,” Marta said of her reaction during the ceremony.

With tears in her eyes – and speaking in English, a rarity for Marta when doing interviews, as she’s more comfortable speaking her native Portuguese – she continued, “This is my life. When I was young, I was dreaming about that. Every time I was there, feeling the atmosphere, I think about how I worked so hard to be there. I don’t have to speak. I show it. My emotion. This means so much to me.”

The biggest stage

Brazil’s World Cup run begins with a 9:30 a.m. Eastern match against Jamaica in Group C at Stade des Alpes on June 9. For Marta, who is working to recover from a thigh injury in time for the competition, it’s a fifth trip to the World Cup.

A few international stars have mentioned the exposure this World Cup bring to issues bigger than soccer. The U.S. women’s national team is suing the U.S. Soccer Federation seeking equal pay. Marta said the fight for equality starts with FIFA.

“Who organizes the World Cup? It’s FIFA. Who organizes the men’s World Cup? FIFA,” Marta said.

“I feel like now we have a very good opportunity to show equality for everyone. [The] World Cup now has good attention on it. Many companies, the public wants to be there. They want to see the games. It’s sold out, so many games. It’s good to see this. We need to show the world a good example and then see it in many different places in the world.”

Marta said the 2019 World Cup is a special moment.

“It’s the time, another opportunity to fight for everything we’ve been fighting for – equality and everything like that,” Marta said. “With all of these people watching, it’s just showing how good we play and how good women’s soccer is. It’s just another opportunity to show everybody we should have equality now.”

Some of Marta’s club teammates – American superstar Alex Morgan, for instance – are at the front of that fight for equality. Marta is is a United Nations goodwill ambassador .

Marta said “it wasn’t the time” to talk about the World Cup while she was with the Pride because she was focused on helping Orlando’s NWSL side succeed under new head coach Marc Skinner.

She turned her focus to her national team and the World Cup only after she was officially named to the 23-player roster.

That doesn’t mean leaving the Pride was easy. Marta – and the rest of the Pride international stars – left with the team mired in a winless skid. She said she’s confident in the players and the coaching staff still in Central Florida leading the Pride.

“We didn’t want to leave our team in this situation, you know?” she said. “But we had to do it for the World Cup. I just feel like right now, we’re understanding the process a little better.”

A strong role model

Pride forward/midfielder Camila, who has credited Marta for helping her get through rough times following a bad knee injury, said Marta has been a special teammate.

“Marta is Marta,” said Camila, who also was called up to Brazil’s national team. “You can’t not be motivated or inspired playing alongside such a player. Everything she does is with love and as if it was her last day. She’s just a great example on and off the field. Not just the player that she is, but how she is as a person. That’s just an example for me.”

Skinner said he often uses Marta’s dedication as an example for the rest of the team. Skinner said Marta’s experience allows her to “slow down” a match.

“If Marta, who is the six-time greatest player, if she gives it every day in training, then there are no excuses,” Skinner said. “She brings it every day. Some people see that as, ‘Oh, she works hard.’ She works hard with the intelligence that she has.

“With her touch, her vision, there aren’t many people in the world you come across that have the vision she has. The understanding. Almost … they play the game a step ahead because they’ve already seen it. They’ve already prepared their body early, so they can see the next pass or they can see the next potential to dribble.

“The true world-class players have that, and she has that in abundance.”

Defender Toni Pressley said Marta must be accounted for at all times, and it doesn’t really matter where she’s at on the pitch. Pressley added yes, Marta is talented, but getting to where she is took sacrifices, too. 

“Just leaving home at 14 all by herself to just try and make it in the world of soccer,” Pressley said. “It was like a three-day trip from her home to Rio. Just seeing where she grew up and the kind of fields she’s played on, like, full of dirt. Things that we don’t think of. Growing up, I had everything given to me and she really had to work to be one of the greatest in the world.” 

What’s next?

Before the start of the season, Marta had already dismissed the question of when she might end her storied career.

 “I can’t keep thinking of the future and think, ‘Oh, that’s when I’m going to retire,’” Marta said.

With a laugh, she added she’s still trying to find the secret of Brazil teammate Formiga, who is 41 years old and still playing.

“Soccer is her life,” Pressley said of Marta. “She has an incredible story and I think a lot of people don’t realize the things that she has done to be successful in this sport. The sacrifices she has made. Every time she steps on the field, she wants to be the best. She wants to be the fastest. She wants to win simple competitions. She wants to be the first in fitness tests. She wants to win every single time she’s on the field.

“It’s amazing to see at her age. She has a fire under her.” 

Her career, at this point, speaks for itself, especially when it comes to the World Cup. She’s scored 15 goals to go with five assists in 18 matches. She’s a Golden Ball, Golden Boot and Silver Boot winner. In all, there’s not too much left for her to prove. 

So, the question of when Marta will call it quits – like the question of why she pushes so hard in each match – is easy to answer.

Whenever she wants.

“Next year is so far from now,” she said with a laugh.

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