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Debinha’s MVP performance was a vision of Brazilian soccer’s future

Debinha entered the NWSL Championship as one of the world’s hottest players, and left with a pair of trophies. Her North Carolina Courage coasted past the Chicago Red Stars, 4-0, to win back-to-back titles, and she was named the game’s MVP. It was a fitting end to an incredible four-month run that started on the heels of her country’s disappointing World Cup performance.

The Brazilian attacking midfielder delivered the opening goal on Sunday afternoon, making a 70-yard back post run to finish off a counter-attack.

More importantly, Debinha dominated the Chicago midfield with her pressing and possession game, stopping her opponent from getting any rhythm. The game was a blowout specifically because of the degree to which Debinha outplayed United States internationals Morgan Brian and Danielle Colaprico, who were both in excellent form coming into the final.

“I think you could see today how many times she came behind the ball, defended for us and closed people down,” Courage head coach Paul Riley said in his post-match press conference. “She’s the MVP, but I don’t think it’s because she scored a goal. She did all the little things today.”

Debinha has comfortably been the best player on the NWSL’s best team since she returned from the World Cup. She only recorded one goal and one assist before leaving for France, but scored in her first game back, and made a huge contribution in every game she has played since. Over the Courage’s final 15 games of the regular season, Debinha tallied seven goals and six assists. She also scored in both of the team’s playoff matches.

Scoring and assisting isn’t anything new for Debinha. She has been productive since her first NWSL game in 2017, even though she’d only played at lower levels in Brazil and China before then. Her biggest evolution has been her ability to contribute in all phases of play.

“When she came, the first couple months, she didn’t fancy playing both sides of the ball, and that wasn’t going to work for me,” Riley said. “I said to her, ‘Deb, I’m being honest, you’re brilliant when we’ve got the ball, but you’re useless to us when we don’t have the ball.’”

The Courage, more so than any other team in the NWSL, play a physical, high-pressing style. No one comes close to matching their aggression when they close down. So when she first came into the team, Debinha’s lack of intensity and awareness on defense stuck out.

“First, I’m Brazilian, everybody knows,” Debinha told reporters after the game, laughing. She was implying that “everybody knows” about her country’s love of flair and general distaste for defensive, tactical soccer.

Debinha didn’t need much convincing to adjust her attitude, however.

“She took ownership,” Riley said. “She took accountability for herself. Now, she’s a complete player. People say the Brazilians can’t defend. Well they can, if you put them in a cohesive environment where it’s demanded of you, expected of you, and you take ownership of it.”

“Of course, I would do anything to help my team,” Debinha said. “I’ve improved my fitness, it’s helped me, so I can help my team with both defense and attacking.”

Debinha thinks that Brazilian women’s soccer will undergo a similar change under new manager Pia Sundhage, who has a reputation for setting up well-organized, defensive teams. “We’ve changed our mentality now with the new coach,” she said. “It’s a different school.”

Riley believes that Debinha can apply her new skills and mentality to her national team and raise up Brazil, which badly underperformed compared its talent level in 2019, losing to Australia in the group stage and France in the Round of 16.

“She’s the best Brazilian player right now for me, by far to be honest with you,” Riley said. “But I think she has a lot to pass on to these younger Brazilian players. They have to get in an environment where it’s a tough environment, it’s a competitive environment, and you play for your place every day.”

Because of her experience with the Courage, it seems likely that Brazil will be built around Debinha for years to come. There’s no other player who combines stereotypical Brazilian flair with the defensive work rate that Sundhage demands of her players. So far, Debinha’s national team career under Sundhage is going brilliantly. Debinha had three goals and an assist during Brazil’s wins over England and Poland during the last international break.

When Brazil was knocked out of the World Cup in June, Marta looked into a camera and pleaded with the young women of her country to carry Brazilian soccer into the future. “There’s not going to be a Formiga forever,” she said. “There’s not going to be a Marta forever. There’s not going to be a Cristiane. The women’s game depends on you to survive. So, think about that. Value it more. Cry in the beginning so you can smile in the end.”

Marta was speaking, presumably, to players who are not yet old enough to play for the national team, but her speech was just as relevant to her younger teammates. It took until she was 28, but Debinha is finally ready to step into the spotlight and pick up where Marta left off. She cemented her status as one of the world’s best players on Sunday.

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