Marta bringing star power to the L.A. Sol
CARSON, Calif. -- Marta arrived and Los Angeles rolled out the red carpet.
Marta Vieira da Silva, the three-time FIFA Player of the Year and marquee face of the new women's professional soccer team in Los Angeles, has received a warm welcome to the U.S. since arriving on Feb. 18.
"I'm just as excited as anybody here," Bryant gushed before presenting Marta with her jersey. "When they told me, that made my whole night."
On Wednesday, actor Anthony LaPaglia ushered her onto the set of "Ellen" to help give away opening day tickets to audience members.
On Friday, the Brazilian soccer star will sit courtside at the Lakers game to watch her new friend, Bryant, suit up against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"In Brazil, basketball is not played very much," Marta said through a translator. "But now that I'm here in the U.S., I'll have many opportunities to go."
She'll have plenty of opportunities to do much more.
Especially with Sol management in her corner.
Before she arrived, general manager Charlie Naimo helped pin down her future residence in Redondo Beach. She's only been in town for 15 days but she already has a car and her driver's license.
"She drives great," Naimo said.
Marta, known worldwide by her first name because of her international prowess on the soccer field, is enjoying the spotlight for now.
She better because the Sol is banking on it. Marta was brought to California to make a splash for Los Angeles and fill seats in its and the Women's Professional Soccer League's inaugural season. The seven-team WPS is hoping to succeed where the prior league, the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA), didn't.
Marta's star quality was a big part of drafting the Brazilian national team member first in the WPS draft.
"We know that teams in L.A. are built around superstars," Naimo said. "It's important for the team to have a marquee player and the league to have the best player in the world."
"It's big. It's really big. Not only to have women's soccer, but to wind up getting the best women's soccer player in her prime. This is a special moment," Bryant, who made it a point to watch Marta in Beijing, said.
At 23, Marta has already played in two Olympic games. She was selected as the best player in the world at age 20 in 2006 and was the leading scorer in the 2007 World Cup when she had seven goals to lead Brazil to the final against Germany.
Her darting speed and crafty foot skills have often left opponents befuddled.
"The style is going to be entertaining, that's for sure," Naimo said. "Abner's (Rogers) philosophy is movement off the ball, flair, creativity, it's going to be enjoyable to watch."
Marta hopes so.
"For me the most important thing is to be in a place where the best players in the world are playing and this is what they are trying to do here," Marta said.
"The American League is being considered one of the best in the world, so I had to come now."
Before being contacted by the WPS in late 2008, Marta was still playing for the Swedish club Umea IK. She played with the European team since 2004 because Brazil doesn't have a professional soccer league for women.
On Thursday, the buzz was all about Marta: kicking a ball around with Bryant for a photo op, the news conference where she was presented her jersey by the NBA superstar with her teammates looking on from the back of the room.
Marta looked a bit nervous from all the attention, though, and invited her teammates onto the field with her and Bryant within the first two minutes that both were outside.
"He's too big to score on," Marta said. "I need your help."
Eight minutes into her interviews, she pointed to her watch and said something to her translator in Portuguese.
Marta's time was up.
But just for now.
"This is a wonderful place to live and the climate is great. I hope to be here a long time."