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‘The greatest player’: USWNT heaps praise on Brazil star Marta

(Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports)

Marta made her return to the Brazil women’s national team at the SheBelieves Cup, and her peers from the U.S. women’s national team were quick to recognize her greatness.

“Marta’s Marta, you know?” USWNT forward Lynn Williams said Tuesday.

The 37-year-old forward tore her ACL during the NWSL preseason last March, but she has her sights set on competing in a sixth World Cup this summer.

And USWNT forward Megan Rapinoe, who has been around for the majority of the Brazilian’s career and could herself be called one of the best to play the game, pointed to Marta as just that.

“Marta’s just the greatest player, I think, that’s ever played our game,” Rapinoe said.

The owner of six Best FIFA Women’s Player awards, as well as a World Cup Golden Ball and Boot, Marta holds the overall record for the most World Cup goals scored with 17. She is also the first player ever to score at five World Cup tournaments and the first player to score in five straight Olympics.

Add in players like Debinha and Kerolin, who are just beginning their national team careers, and Brazil has a special squad headed to Australia and New Zealand in July.

“Being able to couple that old-head wisdom of Marta with players like Debinha, Kerolin, it’s just crazy. Obviously, they’ve proven it in the league and at the international level,” Rapinoe said. “They’re just really an annoying handful all the time.”

For more than 20 years now, Marta has graced crowds with her presence as a member of the Brazilian squad. But her feelings haven’t changed over the years, even as she approaches her sixth World Cup.

“I still have the passion,” Marta said. “I’m still hungry to win, doing things on the field for people to keep screaming my name. So yeah. I have the same feeling.”

She’s been on the road to recovery after tearing her ACL during an NWSL Challenge Cup match last March. And while she could have walked away from the game, Marta took her injury as a challenge.

The crowds still cheer, and Marta still has it – as evidenced by the fact that, in her first game back, she assisted on Brazil’s first goal of the SheBelieves Cup and the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win over Japan.

“It’s something that makes you feel extra motivated every day,” she said. “Because of course, I say I want to do a nice show, outside (of) the field, but most of the time on the field for these people. They deserve that, and we deserve them to be here, and to enjoy this nice moment with us.”

USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski pointed to that first game as evidence of the forward’s talent.

“She showed the first game how special she is,” he said Tuesday ahead of the USWNT’s 2-1 win against Brazil. “She comes in and makes a difference, so we expect nothing less against us. She has the quality to change the game on the spot with individual brilliance, and that’s not a secret. She has been doing that for so many years, and it’s exciting to see her back and exciting to play against her.”

But to have a career such as this, and to become known as one of the greatest of all time, doesn’t just take talent. It also takes joy.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, she is a pleasure to be around. That energy that Marta has — and she is old — that is contagious,” Brazilian manager Pia Sundhage said. “It tells me that it has nothing to do with age, it’s all about how much you love the game. And she does.”