Published December 11, 2016
Whether basking in the California sun, dodging snowflakes in Buffalo or rubbing shoulders with Kobe Bryant, it makes no difference to Marta.
So long as there's a ball to be kicked and a soccer pitch to play on, the world's premier women's player can adapt to any surrounding.
"I have all the structure and all that I need," Marta said through an interpreter, in comparing suburban Buffalo to Los Angeles or her native Brazil. "So it has become my home."
Home for FIFA's five-time reigning player of the year is where the ball is, and playing for the expansion Women's Professional Soccer league Western New York Flash suits her just fine.
"I like it," she said. "I try to explore the area as much as I can when I have free time."
Yes, she's visited nearby Niagara Falls.
Just don't mistake Marta for a tourist.
As she's done in her previous WPS stops in Los Angeles — where she was introduced to Bryant — and Santa Clara, Calif., over the previous two seasons, Marta has required no introduction in Buffalo or Rochester, where the Flash play their home games.
She's quickly won over the region's soccer community with her creative catlike dribbling ability, electrifying bursts up the sideline and fearless style despite her 5-foot-2 frame, as well as her bubbly, infectious personality that transcends any language barrier.
"Oooh! Thank you!" she said in English, after a young girl presented her with a gold medal after a game.
"She's a class act on and off the field," Flash coach Aaran Lines said. "She understands her role, which is at the top of the women's game and being a leader in innovating women's professional soccer."
It's no coincidence that with Marta, the Flash are off to a 6-0-2 start to lead the six-team league.
Though late in arriving to Buffalo due to visa issues, Marta has three goals and three assists in six-plus games. That's a little off her pace last year, when she had 19 goals and five assists in 24 games in helping the now-defunct FC Gold Pride win the WPS title.
Lines isn't concerned, even though the Flash will lose Marta and several other key players for as much as a month as they travel to Germany to compete in the Women's World Cup, which opens June 26.
"We haven't seen the best out of Marta, yet, but we will see the best out of Marta, and it'll be the last nine games of the season," Lines said.
His only lament is that more western New Yorkers haven't taken the opportunity to witness the wonders of Marta Vieira da Silva, the 25-year-old who simply goes by the name of "Marta" in a soccer custom reserved for the game's premier players.
"She's the best player in the world and people can watch her train, watch her play every day," Lines said, noting the Flash rarely attract more than a handful of people to practices, which are open to the public. "She's in Buffalo for goodness sake, eh?"
Buffalo, indeed: A blue-collar town with a fan-base passionate about its Bills and Sabres and where chicken wings are king.
If the region is slow to warm at having Marta in its backyard, it's no different from much of the rest of the nation. The Flash are the latest stop in a zigzagging journey for Marta, who arrived in Buffalo to snow flurries in April.
Marta's in the final season of the WPS contract she signed three years ago that pays her about $500,000 a season. And the Flash are her third team over that stretch after the Los Angeles Sol folded in 2009 and the Gold Pride did the same in November.
Flash owner Joe Sahlen jumped at the opportunity to sign Marta this offseason in a bid to build an immediate contender, keep Marta in the WPS and help market his meatpacking company.
Marta's transition was made more comfortable with the Flash stocking their roster with numerous former Gold Pride teammates, and adding Brazilian national team player Maurine.
Marta's been mostly unaffected by a vagabond career, which previously included a five-year stint in Sweden.
"It's not good that you keep changing teams every year," she said. "But it also has a good side of it that you get to know a lot of people and a lot of places."
The Flash are averaging a modest 3,200 fans to their first five home games, and yet those who have turned out have been left impressed.
During games, chants of "Marta! Marta! Marta!" go up through the stadium. Afterward, she's mobbed by hundreds of fans — many of them young girls — who have become captivated by her play.
Following a recent 3-0 win over magicJack, Marta spent a half-hour signing her autograph on everything from programs to T-shirts, mini soccer balls and even a cell phone.
Harold Novitsky recalls how his 9-year-old daughter, attending her first game, immediately focused on Marta.
"Yeah, she just said, 'Daddy, who's that? That girl's the fastest on the field. The best player,'" Novitsky said, noting that his daughter proudly wore her Marta-autographed Flash jersey to school a few days later.
"She's a great role model," Novitsky said.
Marta doesn't shy away from the responsibility of selling the women's game, having grown up in a remote town in northern Brazil where girls playing soccer was frowned upon.
"It's very big satisfaction to have young ladies look up to me," Marta said through an interpreter. "That motivates me to always keep doing a good job."