When I heard that Copa America Centenario would be played in the United States, I was ecstatic. Although this month-long championship is played every four years, and it was hosted by Chile last year, the South American and North American soccer associations came together to organize a special edition that would commemorate the 100th year of the tournament.
As an Uruguayan national, it’s hard for me to stay connected to my culture sometimes. Although I have been in the United States for about 10 years now, I still go through periods where I miss home and the things that would be available to me there. Fútbol is one of them. I support the Chicago Fire, and I go to the stadium quite often, but seeing my national team among other Uruguayans is just magical.
Once I heard the news of Copa being hosted in the States, I quickly began thinking about how I was going to make it to the games. I got really excited about the idea of connecting the tournament experience with a second apprenticeship and Experience Institute. Just weeks after the announcement, I found myself working with Gilt Edge Soccer Marketing and getting involved in projects focused on the commercial aspect of the tournament. This experience saw me develop content for different brands, coordinate promotional efforts across the U.S., and connect with influencers to generate buzz around the championship.
Uruguay was scheduled to play in Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Santa Clara. All the venues were, obviously, far from my home in Chicago, making it more difficult for me to find my way into the games. But I was determined to not let that stop me. To earn the extra cash for tickets and transportation to the game I got creative – I was the DJ for a wedding, I skipped a few lunches, and I drove for Lyft and Uber.
At first, I planned to attend the group stage match-ups, leaving room for potential knock-out stage trips if Uruguay made it out of the group. Statistics were favorable, Uruguay is ranked 10th in the world, they are on top of the World Cup Qualifiers table, and they have world-class players. History shows us as one of the most successful teams in the world despite the size of the country (3.5 million inhabitants) and we hold the record of most Copa America trophies won.
Within a week, I flew to Phoenix then back to Chicago, and then drove 1,500 miles to and from Philadelphia. I slept and worked from airports and a car, participated in a mosh pit with thousands of Uruguayans, sang my national anthem at the top of my lungs and celebrated a goal among 60,000 Mexican fans. The experience will be unforgettable, but the adventure ended abruptly and it was heartbreaking.
Shockingly, Uruguay lost the first two games of the group stage and was knocked out of the tournament early. It took me four days to even talk about what happened in game two against Venezuela, a game my team was expected to win, but lost 1-0.
Although we’re talking about sports here, the connection between myself and this team is deeper than just a result. There is a sense of national identity behind this tournament, and around the world the style of play in soccer usually mirrors the way the inhabitants act, do things, and differentiate themselves from other cultures.
Uruguay’s national team fills me with pride, even when they lose. Despite what people say about their performance in this tournament, I witnessed with my own eyes that the team wanted to achieve good results.
Now that a few days have passed, I can finally say that, even though my team lost, the experience of being there was well worth it. Although it was brief, I got to spend time reconnecting with my culture, and share it with my wife, who is American. It took a few days to understand that, despite being defeated, it is imperative to find the positives, absorb the learnings, and move on to the next challenge, knowing that a defeat doesn’t erase previous wins and only gets you closer to future successes.