USA men's coach Bob Bradley once compared defending against Brazil to being fleeced by the shell game; no matter where you think the ball is, or it's going to be, it pops up somewhere else.
After decades of Brazil producing male magicians by the dozen comes the first high priestess of devilish deception, Marta, from of a tiny town tucked away in the northeast far from structured soccer.
"When you come from a small town, it wasn't a time where people accepted that women and little girls could be professional soccer players," she says of growing up in Dois Riachos (population: 13,000) as one of four children in a fatherless home. "I always played with all the kids. It wasn't very organized but at a very young age I began to excel and began to realize maybe there was a future there for myself."
Nine years after taking a three-day bus trip to Rio de Janeiro to attend a trial at Vasco da Gama, Marta Viera da Silva is one of the most electrifying sights on any sports field, and the world's most famous female soccer player.
"People say that," stated Marta. "I can't say if I'm famous or not, but people say that. I can't talk about myself, that would be egotistical."
Not in dispute are the FIFA Women's World Player of the Year awards she won in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
To lure Marta away from Swedish club Umea IK, the Sol's ownership group, AEG, put up big money, and league officials convinced her WPS was viable. It took some time, even with compensation rumored to be more than $1 million for three seasons. The average league salary is $32,000 per year.
"It was a very prolonged process, there were several conversations, because I wanted to know if it was a really concrete thing," she says in Portuguese through a translator, though she speaks fluent Swedish and her English is improving rapidly.
"I didn't want to invest everything in something that wasn't going to last. After five years of success and living in Sweden, I really did need to be convinced this was something serious. If it wasn't going to be a true thing, I wasn't going to pack up and leave everything behind."
What she's left behind playing for club and country are frustrated, mystified opponents. She's incredibly gifted physically: strong, agile, quick, fast, blessed with delicate touch and immaculate balance, as well as uncanny vision. The audacious flick, the blind pass, the lightning turn, the powerful shot with either foot are all there.
And Marta absolutely hates to lose, as Brazil did in the finals of the 2007 Women's World Cup and 2008 Olympic Games tournament.
"In reality, in those two finals, looking back, the goal is always to score goals and we weren't able to score in either one of those, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves," she jabbers excitedly. A stunning one-handed save by Hope Solo denied her a goal in the Olympic final, and she cried bitterly after the Americans won in overtime.
Marta is one of nine Brazilian players in WPS yet she's the one the league had to have. And perhaps, vice versa.
"I'm very impressed with everything that has been going on here," she says of the Sol and WPS. "I'm happy to have the support of such a group that not only knows soccer but how to organize things."
(This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue ofSoccer Americamagazine.)