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Global Soccer, Global NYC

Soccer in NYC Reimagined Through the Rivalries, Identity, Migration, and Politics of the World's Game in the Preeminent Global City

"The physical agility and unexpected “fakes” lauded by Brazilian commentators were descended directly from manifestations within popular music and folklore, whether the sway of the hips originating in carnival, the sinuous steps samba brought into being, or the dodges and feints that came from capoeira. In this way, the legitimacy of soccer in Brazilian culture supported itself on an already established element of national identity: astuteness and improvisation. Music gave soccer what modernist intellectuals had detected in it in the 1920s: namely, the criteria and the sources of brasilidade."

Bernardo Borges Buarque de Hollanda, In Praise of Improvisation in Brazilian Soccer: Modernism, Popular Music, and a Brasilidade of Sports

Clássico dos Milhões. Flamengo 1 - Vasco de Gama 1

27 November 2012, 5:00 pm. Villa Café Brazil Grill, Rio Market, Joe’s Pizzeria, and Copacabana Steakhouse, Astoria Queens

Astoria is home to the largest concentration of Brazilians in NYC and the Brazilian community is centered along 36th Avenue and 30th street, although it also dots a few other areas within Astoria and Long Island City.

Having seen other matches at Villa Café Brazil Grill in the past over tasty churrasco and Brahma beers, we didn’t foresee the possibility of the restaurant being filled to the brim not with Brazilians watching the Clássico dos Milhões, perhaps the most important derby match in Brazil, but instead dozens of middle-aged Brazilian women glued to a popular telenovela.

Skillful improvisation was needed and we proceeded to head west to Rio Market and Travel Agency in hopes of catching the match. Despite having a popular sit down cafe and offering a bevy of imported Brazilian products, including nearly every kind of soccer accessory for all the main teams in the country, a TV and the elusive match were nowhere to be found. Apparently, the TV had been removed years ago because fans would sit all day and watch soccer matches and not buy anything. It apparently worked because, surprisingly, there were no Flamengo or Vasco fans in sight anywhere in the area.       

A customer at the market informed us that since the Campeonato Brasileiro had already been won by Fluminense, the Clássico dos Milhões between Rio de Janeiro’s two biggest teams was just not as important this year.

"Poor scheduling," he said disappointingly. Demographics of Brazilian migration to NYC are also changing as more young men are now staying in Brazil as their economy continues to grow, employment options increase, and the allure of an expanding middle class becomes more attractive than working menial jobs in Queens

As we left Rio Market disappointed and about to admit defeat, we walked by a seemingly nondescript pizza place, Joe’s, with no one inside except for two employees and a TV showing the Clássico dos Milhões. 

The match was sparsely attended in Rio but still featured the creativity, skill, improvisation, flair, and comical absence of tactical defending that often characterizes the Brazilian game. Vasco went up 1-0, but Flamengo equalized through a somewhat fortuitous Marcos Gonzales shoulder in the box in the dying minutes.

After the match ended, we drowned the sorrows of our fruitless search for Clássico dos Milhões fans in Astoria in the most delicious way possible: by-the-pound churrasco buffet and açaí juice from Copacabana Grill.

Who would have thought it would be so hard to find Brazilian soccer fans watching one of Brazilian soccer’s biggest matches in the largest Brazilian community in NYC?

International “Friendly.” Colombia 1 - Brazil 1

14 November 2012, 8 pm. MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford NJ

While not a domestic club rivalry, the recent ‘friendly’ match between the national teams of Colombia and Brazil took place at a fascinating juncture for both teams. Brazil, being Brazil, were tasked with both exercising the demons of the last time they played in the NYC area— a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to arch rivals Argentina in June— as well as building a squad of potential World Cup winners to satisfy the legendarily critical domestic audience on the road to hosting the 2014 World Cup. Colombia, on the other hand, was playing their first friendly match in NYC for years and was eager to demonstrate its soccer resurgence to the heavily Colombian crowd.

Perhaps as a result of public transportation issues still affecting the region following hurricane Sandy in addition to the freezing November temperatures, MetLife Stadium’s attendance for the night only hit 39,000. Still, the Colombian supporters section rocked with every touch, pass, and shot for 90 minutes and dwarfed the noise of the outnumbered Brazilian fans at the match. Aided with smuggled into-the-stadium vuvuzelas, drums, and guacharacas, the multi-generational Colombian fans, many of whom made the pilgrimage to the stadium from Queens, relished the opportunity to cheer on their idols Falcao, James, Yepes, Guarín, and the others that comprise South America’s hottest and the world’s currently 8th ranked team.

"Following la seleccion was one of the earliest ways I began to learn about and celebrate my Colombian identity," said journalist and Colombia fan Monika Fabian. "So attending local friendlies are—and always have been—an extension of that pride. Take my mother, for instance, she’d never say "let’s go see la seleccion." She’d say "let’s go receive la seleccion." Just like you’d receive, or host, relatives. Because that’s kind of what they are as a symbol from home. And to root for Colombia at the stadium is to push the country forward chant by chant." 

On the pitch, Fiorentina midfielder Juan Guillermo Cuadrado struck first for Colombia right before the break. This was followed by an outstanding individual effort by Neymar to tie it up for Brazil in the 64th minute. With ten minutes left, Neymar had the seemingly-assured opportunity to complete his brace and win it for a Brazilian squad playing in their landmark 1,000th match. Instead, the talented forward hit one of the very worst penalty kicks ever and sent the ball far into the upper decks much to the relief and enjoyment of the Colombian fans. In the last ten minutes Colombia pressed forward, with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos even tweeting encouragement to Los Cafeteros, to no avail. 

The glaring Neymar miss and ensuing 1-1 result left the Colombian fans energized and enjoying the party atmosphere in the parking lot following the match. Most viewed the 1-1 draw over mighty Brazil as a de facto victory. For the dejected Brazil supporters, the opposite seemed true. 

Just a week after the match, Brazilian coach Mano Menezes was sacked by the Brazilian Football Federation as they try to do everything they can to ensure a Cup win on home soil in an attempt to vanquish the longstanding ghosts of the 1950 Maracanazo. Anything less than triumphantly hoisting the World Cup at the Maracanã in 2014 would not only be a failure, but a pronounced crisis of national identity. 

Celebratory Colombian fans following Colombia’s 1-1 draw with Brazil at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ on November 14th 2012. Most Colombians viewed the result against the five-time world champions as an emphatic victory and consistent with their country’s resurgent national narrative, both on and off the pitch.

Colombian fans cheer on a Los Cafeteros corner kick at Metlife Stadium against Brazil. 

Colombian fans cheer on a Los Cafeteros corner kick at Metlife Stadium against Brazil.