For a variety of reasons, I ended up watching the World Cup Final on a TV tied to a tree at the soccer fields in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, where hundreds of players of all ages, almost all from Latin American countries, come to play every weekend in highly organized leagues. What drew me there today, as always, is less the football than the fantastic street food served up from a series of carts that offer the immigrant communities that come to watch the games a little taste of home — Mexican huaraches and mango drenched in salt, lime and hot sauce; Salvadoran pupusas, Guatemalan tamales and the spicy tuna soup that Ecuadorians call cebollada.
Once you’ve got your plate of food, the football is pretty decent, too — high tempo and very skillful — and at first glance, a number of these young men, most from poor immigrant families, could offer a few MLS teams something special. Even more important, though, is the fact that their kids and younger siblings, boys and girls, are turning out to watch them every week — and play for the juniors on adjacent fields. The teams that play in these leagues play in replica shirts rather than making their own. Sometimes they’re the strip of Chivas or some other Mexican pro team; once I even saw a team of young Colombians playing in an England strip. (What were they thinking??) But the most popular replica strip, by far, in these parts, belongs to Barcelona. (There’s even a pro club in Ecuador called Barcelona, that plays in the same strip.)
And as we all know, seven of the eleven players that started for Spain’s winning team play for Barcelona: Spain’s World Cup triumph was very much a victory for the club that plays in blue and red, and the attacking football philosophy it represents. As I could see all around me in Red Hook, Barca’s diaspora runs deep on these shores. While many American kids will take their inspiration from the excellent adventures of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and the boys in blue, there were many other American kids just as inspired to see their Barca heroes conquering the world. That inspiration will also translate into the grassroots of USA Soccer. The most gifted of those that pursue the dream kindled by the Spanish victory could, of course, do so in the colors of the country of their parents. But the case of Mesut Ozil — the sublimely talented German midfielder who may be the most talented German-born player of Turkish roots to choose to represent the country of his birth rather than that of his parents — suggests that the best of these young Brooklyn Barcelonistas could just as easily pursue their dreams in the blue shirts of Team USA. And that’s good news for the game in America.