The 2013 Confederations Cup Final brimmed with quality. Spain and Brazil -- two sides with flair to spare, meeting in the decider of a major(ish) tournament. Xavi vs. Paulinho. Torres vs. Dante. Neymar vs. anyone. For most neutrals, it was a dream matchup.
Few observers, though, could have been quite as neutral (or as well-connected) as the New York Cosmos' marquee signing, Marcos Senna. Senna was born and raised in Brazil, but played internationally for Spain after spending several years playing club soccer there for Villarreal.
"I felt privileged to watch a great football match where I have friends in both teams," Senna told SI.com through an interpreter this week. "The Brazilians, of course, enjoyed the game more so than the Spanish [winning 3-0], but it was still a great match. I still love my country of origin and and I have also learned to love Spain because of everything it has given me."
Senna's viewpoint, honed through years of underrated play at the game's top level, is a hard one to replicate. After becoming a Spanish citizen in 2006 and joining their national team, he became a key cog in the birth of a soccer dynasty. With the Cosmos, Senna hopes he can achieve a similar feat.
"My introduction to Spain was more or less what's happening here with the Cosmos," he said. "The Cosmos really believed in me with this project, and Spain also believed in me."
The projects are, to say the least, slightly different. Spain's victory at the 2008 European Championships -- the country's first major title in 44 years -- saw the birth of their mesmerizing, intricate passing style now known affectionately as "tiki-taka." The style seemed revolutionary at the time, and Senna was at the fulcrum of all of it. Operating behind Xavi and Iniesta in midfield, Senna's selfless defensive work and calm, level-headed passing saw him named among the best players at the tournament and enabled Spain to mature into a world power.
The Cosmos just hope to make a really strong first impression (again). Resurrected from the ashes of the '70s-era club that boasted Pele and Franz Beckenbauer on its roster, the club will be one level removed from the top flight in the United States when it starts play in August. And unlike former second-tier sides like Seattle and Vancouver that made the jump to MLS, the chances of making a similar move appear to be slim. After New York City FC begins play in 2015, the Gotham metro area will have two teams fighting for its MLS support. Adding a third seems unlikely.
Thus far the Cosmos are operating primarily at a grassroots level. The club hosts scouting combines of New York City-area players and sponsors a World Cup-style tournament among ethnically-themed teams in the city. The club mission on their web site makes no mention of winning trophies. Instead, it reads "To inspire, develop, and field world-class players ... both on and off the pitch".
Even the signing of Senna indicates an eye toward the developmental angle of a soccer club. Though the man is one of the most respected midfielders of his generation, he's hardly a household name. He is, put simply, a soccer snob's soccer player -- one with knowledge gleaned from operating in the sport's two most successful international dynasties.
But then the question is, why would such a player sign for a second-tier side?
"What I can say is that -- the train goes by only once," Senna said. "That is something I have learned in my life. I decided to hop on the train [and play for Spain], and when we won the European Championship I felt completely realized. Plus I could see that with the work and the characteristics that were being done, sooner or later Spain was going to have its winning era."
"The United States is a country that adapts very well to a good thing. They have those characteristics. I want to be a part of that."