Pop quiz. What club do the best Brazilian-based players in Women's Professional Soccer go to when training in the offseason?
Hint number one: in English, their club nickname is "The Mermaids of Vila Belmiro."
Hint number two: their male counterparts are managed by somebody whose last name resembles a tiny European monarcy.
Hint number three: It's in Sao Paulo State, and it's not Corinthians, Palmeiras, Ponte Preta, Guarani, Portuguesa or Sao Paulo FC. All right, those were hints three through nine.
Hint number ten: Marta and Cristiane are on the same team. And Erika too.
Still don't know? It's Santos FC.
Yes, you heard it right. Santos FC.
This club, managed by Kleiton Lima, has made a nasty habit of making football contests anything but a football contest in the sense that it's closely contested.
Case in point: the 2009 Copa Santander Libertadores de Futbol Femenina. With Santos already qualified through their first Copa do Brasil in 2008, the faithful of the Vila Belmiro witnessed the return of Marta to Brazilian club competition.
Some in Brazil were scratching their heads as to Marta was perhaps crazy not to return instead to Umea IK and help bolster the Damallsvenskan glamour club's 2009-10 campaign on loan.
But the FIFA Women's Player of the Year had always wanted to return to her roots and make a statement. And she did it with authority at the Estadio Urbano Caldeira.
In group play, 3-1 victories over Peru's White Star and Everton of Chile were augmented by a 12-0 lashing of Bolivia's EnForma Santa Cruz and an 11-0 wipeout of Venezuela's Caracas. Cristiane earned the bulk of the goals in group play, tallying 11 goals.
In the semifinals at the Estadio do Pacaembu in Sao Paulo, Santos eased past Colombia's Formas Intimas 5-0, setting up a showdown with Universidad Autonoma for the championship on October 16. Including Marta, eight different scorers pounced on the champions from Paraguay, 9-0, before a crowd of over 14,000 at the Vila Belmiro.
Cristiane finished the tournament with 15 goals, while Marta added seven, Erika six Atlanta-bound Maurine four and Francielle three. But the Mermaids weren't satisfied.
It leads us to our econd case in point: This time, Marta and her team were intent on defending their Copa do Brasil.
Kleiton Lima's Mermaids wasted no time in flexing their muscles. In their first round match with CRESSPOM of Brasilia, Santos won 4-1. The second round match with Mixto Esporte Clube of Cuiaba was nowhere close to a contest. The Alvinegro were massacred in the first leg 12-0 and 11-0 in the second leg to win 23-0 on aggregate.
In the third round, Santos took on Novo Mundo from Parana. The Mermaids won the first leg in Parana 4-0 before blowing out Novo Mundo 7-0. In the fourth round, Santos took on Pinheirense from Para. After a slow first half that saw them lead 1-0, the Mermaids proceeded to score seven goals in the second half en route to an 8-0 victory.
That led to a final rematch with fellow Paulista side Botucatu Futebol Clube. Botucatu, established in 1996, had a successful history against Santos. In 2007, the Mermaids were eliminated 2-1 on aggregate in the first round.
But that Santos side did not have Marta, nor did they have Cristiane or any of the other big guns from the WPS that joined them. To add further misery, Santos lost again to Botucatu in the Campeonato Paulista final 2-0 on October 31.
However, it was clear that at the Estadio do Pacaembu-the home of Corinthians, Marta's favorite club-the tables were finally going to turn for sure. And they did.
In the 10th minute, Marta struck first off a through ball to make it 1-0 Santos. Cristiane joined in the scoring feast in the 37th minute to make it 2-0 off a delivery by Erika.
Marta and Cristiane would then lay down the hammer on Botucatu in the 71st minute to make the final score 3-0. At last, their Copa de Brasil defense was secure while also gaining a hard-earned redemption.
Marta finished the campaign with 18 goals while Cristiane added 14, Erika and Maurine four respectively and one from Francielle.
As soon as the final whistle blew it was etched in stone that the women of Santos FC are, once again, the female football powerhouse of South America.
You see, the Mermaids of Estadio Vila Belmiro not just good, they're SANTOS-good.
And when you are Santos-good, don't be surprised if the UEFA Women's Champions League winners are consigned to the same fate Marta and Company dealt many of their foes.