Tragedy in Brazilian Soccer

Over 11 years ago, right here at Sports Central, I penned a piece called "Remembering the Fallen in Sports." In it, I chronicled 10 plane crashes that impacted sports teams or organizations.

It's with a heavy heart today I must add another one to the list. It's not much in terms of American or European sports consciousness, but in South America, it doesn't get much bigger.

Chapecoense is the soccer team in question, and this is a highly-respected outfit. I don't mean respected the way the New England Patriots or the New York Yankees are respected, with an equal measure of hate. No one hated Chapecoense (except maybe their derby rivals). They were scrappy. They did things the right way, with a long view and looking at the long term, which is opposite of the win-now way most soccer clubs the world over operate.

Their name reflects their city, Chapeco, which is also hard to hate: according to the New York Times, they are known primarily for food processing plants. It doesn't get much more unpretentiously blue collar than that.

Their long view paid off as they rose from the fourth division to the Premier League of Brazillian soccer in just five years from 2009 to 2015. They hadn't been in the top flight before that since 1979, and were making the most of their return to the highest level of the Brazilian Soccer pyramid.

There are two pan-Latin American soccer tournaments: the more prestigious Copa Libertadores, and for those who just missed qualifying for that, the Copa Sudamericana. Chapeconse did indeed miss out on the Copa Libertadores, but not the Copa Sudamaricana, where they advanced to the championship of the 47-team tournament. Indeed, they were on their way to play the first leg of the Finals against a Colombian team Monday night when their plane crashed outside of Medellin.

And make no mistake, the Copa Sudamericana is no NIT. It is hugely popular and well-covered: 21 journalists were on the fatal flight.

For Chapecoense as a soccer team, this means starting over, one way or another. Only three players survived: two defenders and a backup goalkeeper. The trio represented just 42 caps for Chapocoense between them, if Wikipedia is to be believed.

The finals of the tournament have been indefinitely suspended, and it's way too early to tell how the tournament organizers or the Brazilian Football Confederation will respond to the tragedy, except for two things: CONMEBOL has suspended all professional South American football without giving an expiry data, and Chapecoense's opponents in the final, Atletico Nacional, has requested their opponents be named Copa Sudamericana champions.

But Chapeco as a city, I can tell you, will persevere. It's hard to break the spirit of a city, but take it from a writer from the rust belt: it's downright impossible to keep a city founded and grounded in the virtues of physical labor, for not much in the way of riches in return, down. They have too much work to do. These are God's children, and they already know from adversity.

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