June 10, 2016
Uruguay went down in flames on Thursday night in front of 23,000 at Lincoln Financial Field.
The on-field performance did not match the fervor in the stands, as the heavily-skewed La Celeste crowd cheered their team in full voice for the entirety of the game. Uruguay was eliminated from the Copa America Centenario with frustrated striker Luis Suarez relegated to the bench via injury.
Venezuela pulled off a stunning 1-0 upset, but this match probably didn't mean too much to local soccer fans. The United States plays on Saturday, and that's the grand daddy of the three games taking place in Philadelphia over the next seven days.
The match did, however, have a few interesting MLS and Philadelphia Union angles.
Most notable was the presence of Christian Santos, who unfortunately did not get into the game. The Venezuela striker is a guy I was hoping to see in person, because he recently appeared on the Union's leaked "discovery list".
Santos is 28 years old and plays for NEC Nijmegen in the Netherlands. He has a fantastic goal-scoring record and would be a perfect fit in Philadelphia. It's unclear whether or not the team is interested in signing him, or if he just appeared on the discovery list as a way to siphon money from other interested parties. Santos is a rumored target of Spanish club Real Betis, and has been connected to other European teams.
After the game, Santos, who speaks a bit of English, stopped to talk with local media.
Philly media: Has anybody from the Philadelphia Union reached out to you at all?
Christian Santos: No, no. Nothing at all. No contact.
Philly media: Would you ever have any interest in coming here? Would you like to play in the United States?
Santos: Well, I think in the moment my focus is on Europe, the Spanish league or in England..
Philly media: Is there any interest from Real Betis?
Santos: I don't know, maybe. There are some clubs we are talking with, that my agent is talking with. So yea, we will see. I hope that really soon I will have an answer.
Philly media: Do you know Fernando Aristeguieta at all? He's a guy who used to play here in Philly. Did you play with him on the national team?
Santos: Yea. During the last call-ups, he was there. Yea, of course.
Philly media: We were just wondering how he's doing, how he's playing.
Santos: Yea, he's back in France now. We were (together) for the two times that I was with the national team. There was also preseason of the Copa America.
Philly media: In your mind, what type of player is he?
Santos: He has a strong, strong header (laughs). He's a good player.
Aristeguieta did not make Venezuela's roster for this tournament. After returning to Nantes last fall, he was again sent out on loan, this time to second division French club Red Star. Aristeguieta only played sparingly for the Paris-based club.
One person who knows him very well is Nantes teammate and countryman Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. He's played with Fernando for both club and country, and shared a few words about him after the game.
"Fernando is here in Philadelphia. He came for the Copa America and is staying close to our hotel," the veteran center back explained. "He's someone that I really appreciate. He's more than just a teammate. He's a friend. We've shared a lot in the game together. He has a bright future. It's a shame that his professional career is not where he wants it to be at the moment. But he's young, and soccer gives you another chance for the future. He has the desire and the energy to move forward."
• Uruguay defensive midfielder Arevalo Rios played 90 minutes on Thursday night. He had a brief loan stint with the Chicago Fire in 2013, but only made nine appearances before returning to parent club Tijuana.
• Rumored Seattle target Nicolas Lodeiro was dropped to the bench and only played 12 minutes in this one. Boca Juniors reportedly rejected a Sounders offer for the 27-year-old attacking midfielder.
• This has nothing to do with the game itself, but there are normally Venezuelan athletes playing in South Philly on a given night. The Phillies have six guys from Venezuela on their roster, including Freddy Galvis, Jeanmar Gomez, Cesar Hernandez, and Odubel Herrera. Manager Pete Mackanin played seven years in Venezuela and also coached in the country's winter league.
Salomon Rondon nets his 17th international goal for Venezuela. That initial shot, though. 👀 #URUvVEN #MyCopaColors https://t.co/YynL6eLpjQ— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 10, 2016
Before the game, I wandered around the parking lot to get a feel for the crowd.
The Linc was dominated by Uruguay fans, but there were some pockets of enthusiastic Vinotinto supporters enjoying the festivities.
I ran into a guy named Rafael, who was in town for the game with two of his friends. He was more than happy to have a quick chat about his background, and what brought him to Philadelphia.
Philly Voice: Were you born in Venezuela?
Rafael Mackenzie: I was actually born in the U.S., then moved to Venezuela when I was three-years-old. Then I moved back to the U.S. fourteen years ago.
Philly Voice: What's the U.S. connection? Were your parents living here?
Rafael: So, my parents are Venezuelan, and they were students here. They studied up at Lehigh University. My dad was getting his master's degree at Lehigh, and my brother and I were born here. When he finished that degree, we moved back to Venezuela. Then, because of the (political) situation in the country, we decided to move back to the U.S.
Philly Voice: Why did you come to this game?
Rafael: We love soccer. I've loved it since I was three years old. This is the oldest cup competition in the world, and we get the opportunity to see our national team. We're really proud of them, you know? Venezuela has been doing so much better over the last six or seven years. We almost made it to the World Cup in Brazil.
Philly Voice: Every once in awhile they play friendly games here in the States, but it's rare to be able to see a meaningful game like this in North America.
Rafael: That's the most important thing. I live in Atlanta and I flew in for this game. I only got here a couple of hours ago. I have to support the national team. I love to sing the national anthem and we're going to be able to do it at a meaningful game. It's something that's out of this world.
Philly Voice: What do you think of the tournament being played here?
Rafael: It's great because the United States has people from all over the world. You see all of the Uruguayan people in the parking lot. There are a lot of people in the U.S. from Latin America. It gives us the opportunity to go see our teams. Now soccer is getting a lot more popular here. Major League Soccer is growing. They're bringing in more players from overseas, good players, and that's going to help. There are a lot of kids who would like to play this sport, and there might not be many opportunities now, but it's growing. Bringing a tournament like this to the U.S. will help with all of that.
Philly Voice: We have a few local baseball players who are from Venezuela. Is baseball still the main sport down there?
Rafael: That's the main sport. I said at the beginning that I played soccer since I was three years old, but soccer wasn't that popular. If I had a glove or a bat in my hands, maybe I'd be playing somewhere up here (laughs).
Philly Voice: Why is baseball popular in Venezuela, but not elsewhere in South America?
Rafael: I have no idea (laughs). I have no idea. That's a good question.
Uruguay fans were awesome before and during the game.
Despite a rather dire performance from their team, they did not stop singing, they did not stop cheering, and they didn't let themselves become disheartened by the loss.
Among those tailgating pregame was a guy named Julio Sosa, who played top-level soccer in Uruguay and now works as an agent. He was there with his father and two sons.
Philly Voice: Do you live in Philadelphia?
Julio Sosa: I actually live in Florida. We drove up here.
Philly Voice: How long did that take?
Julio: It took us 22 hours.
Philly Voice: Was this the closest Uruguay game for you to attend?
Julio: Well, my parents live here, so we came to be with the family. Everybody is from New Jersey.
Philly Voice: What do you think about the Uruguay turnout?
Julio: It's beautiful. I think there will more people in the stadium too. They'll show up just before the game. But it's beautiful, you know? I think this brings all of the people together. It brings all of the Uruguayans together. We're a small country, but to be out of our country and see all of our people here, it's great.
Party on pic.twitter.com/FTihXlNjwS— Kevin Kinkead (@KevinKCBS3) June 9, 2016
Philly Voice: What can you tell us about the Uruguayan community in the United States? Are there a lot of ex-pats living here?
Julio: They're all over. There are a lot of Uruguayans in New Jersey, and a lot of Uruguayans in Miami as well. They're in Massachusetts also. There are a lot of our people out here. They're all spread out.
Philly Voice: What do you think of the Copa America taking place here in the United States?
Julio: This is the first time that CONCACAF and CONMEBOL have united. It's a special occasion, a 'birthday' if you will. I think this is a great thing to make soccer (bigger) and to generate more interest in the United States. I love it, because I live here, and it makes it a lot easier for us to come and look at it. Uruguay is a country that is very small, you know? It's three million people, 3.4 million people, but we have the most Copa America championships, with 15. Argentina is behind us with 14, then Brazil with eight. So we're a small country but we're great at soccer (laughs).