Brazil's national team has played in the United States a number of times, most famously in winning the 1994 World Cup. That one may not have been the best Brazil team that's played here, however. The best may be one that is largely forgotten, because the event it played in is largely forgotten. That's the Brazil team that won the Bicentennial Cup in 1976. The what cup?
The Bicentennial Cup was a four-team round-robin tournament organized by the U.S. Soccer Federation in May 1976. The teams were Brazil, Italy, England and an NASL all-star team dubbed Team America. The last one is not to be confused with the Team America that played in the NASL in 1983. The 1983 team was composed of U.S. national team players, and this Team America was mostly foreign players, resulting in such strange sights as English legend Bobby Moore in a uniform that said USA on the chest.
Brazil won its first two games in the round-robin, beating England, 1-0, in Los Angeles on May 23 and Team America, 2-0, in Seattle on May 28. Italy had a win and a loss in its first two, a 4-0 rout of Team America in Washington on May 23 and a 3-2 loss to England in New York on May 28. So, the standings entering the final day, May 31, were four points for Brazil, two for Italy, two for England and none for Team America. Brazil needed only a tie against Italy to clinch the trophy. If it were to lose, then Italy and England each would have a chance of overtaking it.
Brazil left no doubt that day in New Haven, Conn., stamping itself as the early favorite to win the 1978 World Cup. Playing a good opponent, Brazil dominated this game in front of 36,096 spectators at the Yale Bowl, and looked like a changed team from the Brazil that had played very defensively in the 1974 World Cup. Still, it would be an exaggeration to claim that the Brazilian style on this day was a return to the jogo bonito of 1970 and earlier, even though the 4-1 score was the same as that of Brazil's win over Italy in the 1970 World Cup final. There were more fouls and hard tackles than in the days of Pele, Didi and Garrincha.
Italy played well for the first half-hour, after Fabio Capello gave it the lead with a goal in the second minute. The tide changed dramatically after Gil evened the score in the 28th minute, poking home a cross from Lula. Brazil took control, and kept it the rest of the way. Gil put Brazil in front shortly after halftime. He took a long pass from Roberto Rivelino on the right side, beat two defenders and shot past Dino Zoff to make the score 2-1. Goals by Zico in the 76th minute and Roberto Dinamite in the 78th completed the rout.
In the end, Brazil didn't win the 1978 World Cup. Oswaldo Brandao, who coached Brazil in this tournament, had been replaced by Claudio Coutinho, and the Brazil team's style had again become more regimented. The game in New Haven on May 31, 1976 may have been the best game that Brazil played between 1970 and 1982.
The six games of the Bicentennial Cup drew a total attendance of more than 180,000, topped by 40,650 for the England-Italy game at Yankee Stadium in New York. That one wasn't the best soccer attendance in the United States that year, however. On April 9, a game between the New York Cosmos and Seattle Sounders at the Kingdome had set an American record for soccer attendance with a crowd of 58,128. ---------- This article is partially based on one written by Kenn Tomasch last year for his own website, www.kenn.com. In 1976, Kenn was a big fan of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, whose star forward Stewart Scullion scored Team America's only goal in its three Bicentennial Cup games.