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Brazilians In Kansas City Watch The World Cup With Divided Hearts

Sylvia Maria Gross

As the FIFA 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil, we have the first installment in a series checking in on some of Kansas City’s international communities and how they’re cheering their home teams from afar.

It’s been a rocky path to the World Cup for host country Brazil: there were questions about whether the stadiums would be ready; ongoing crime concerns; and mixed emotions from Brazilians. 

Many Brazilians in Kansas City are a little sad to be watching the championship tournament from a continent away, but some are quite ambivalent about the games.

Missing the party in Brazil

A local gathering spot for Brazilians and Brazilophiles is the Brazil Academy in Lenexa, Kan. The school offers classes in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art) as well as dance and Portuguese.

On Saturdays, some people stop by just for the food – traditional Brazilian meals like feijoada (a feast based on beans, meats and rice) and bobó de camarão (a shrimp and cassava stew).

Many plan to watch the Brazilian games in the World Cup together here, fully expecting Brazil to become the six-time world champion. But Renata Pinto says there’s nothing like watching the games back home, where the party gets crazy.

“If Brazil scores a goal, they get up and go on the streets and start screaming that Brazil is the best,” Pinto says.

In the stadiums, Brazilian fans can get a little aggressive, hurling curses and water bottles. Renata Koehn (Renata is a popular name in Brazil), has seen Sporting KC play here in Kansas City. She was surprised at how family-friendly it was.

“Here they are so nice; they just sit down and watch the game,” Koehn says. “We cannot sit down and watch a game of soccer. We’re going to be screaming and stand up and [playing] music, and whatever.”

Soccer in Brazil v. Kansas City

As for David dos Santos, the first thing he noticed when he moved here 12 years ago was the condition of the fields. They’re like big carpets, he says, while in Brazil there’s not even grass most of the time, just dirt with holes and rocks everywhere.

Dos Santos says every Brazilian boy gets a soccer ball from his father when he’s born, and he learns to kick it before he can walk. Every afternoon, after school, boys run home to watch soccer highlights on television and then go to the soccer field until dark.

“There’s no parents there, controlling you,” dos Santos says, “You learn as you do it.”

Dos Santos says that’s where Brazilians learn to be playful, creative, spontaneous — what they’re known for on the field. He played for Johnson County Community College, and now is a coaching consultant for youth teams and individual players at an Olathe company called SoccerKemistry.

Dos Santos admires how structured soccer is here; kids play mostly on organized teams and every move and strategy has a name. And he thinks the American kids, both boys and girls (who don’t play as much in Brazil), are stronger, though maybe less coordinated.

“If you can combine our style which is more relaxed … with the structure that American kids have,” dos Santos says, “you can probably form a perfect athlete.”

Watching with a divided heart

Dos Santos finds professional soccer here boring, and prefers watching Brazilian or European soccer on television. He’s pretty ambivalent, though, about the upcoming World Cup. Like a lot of Brazilians, he’s upset about the billions of dollars the country has spent preparing, and the turmoil it’s provoked.

Still, he’ll be watching.

“Part of me wanted Brazil to lose in the first three games and they’d get out and so therefore that would be one of the most shocking things for the Brazilian people and whoever runs the country. That would be bad for our nation, but it would be good for our country.”

Dos Santos is teaching his Brazilian American daughter how to play. She’s only three years old, but Ariana already knows how to juggle the ball with her knees, and has a powerful kick. Maybe one day she’ll be that perfect athlete he’s after.

Brazil kicks off the FIFA 2014World Cup at 3 p.m. Thursday in a match against Croatia.

Sylvia Maria Gross is storytelling editor at KCUR 89.3. Reach her on Twitter @pubradiosly.
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