You’ve seen them on the pitch playing for Ottawa. We’ve cheered them on together in the stands. We want you to know what they’re about. Where they’re from, where they’ve been. What shapes them as a player. As a person. Everyone has a story and we want to tell theirs. I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with the players and ask them about how they got here and I’m excited to share their stories with you. This series will continue through the break and into the Fall Season. –Kendra Lee
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Toronto, Jane and Finch, not the best neighbourhood. But I was there until I was 10 and then I moved to Rexdale, another not so great neighbourhood. And then when I turned, I was 14 about to turn 15, I left to Uruguay, and I was there ever since.
When did you start playing football?
Oh…I was 3? 3 or 4. Yeah, just in my apartment, just kicking the ball around, right. And then my older cousin, he was playing for a team called Uruguay in the Spanish League [in Toronto], and I was probably like 5, around that age, I wanted to go play for his team and the coach said “no”. And I felt bad, I was 5 and I wanted to play. So my parents put me in an academy, and an Argentinean guy, he later put a team in the same Spanish league a couple years later, and every time we played the team I wanted to go to, we beat them….every time. And I ended up playing for them after.
How did football influence your life growing up? How did it affect you?
It kept me out of trouble to be honest….Jane and Finch, and Rexdale, you don’t really see people coming out stars cuz you have all this drugs, and partying, the quote “gangster life”, and stuff like that. Soccer kept me out of it cuz I never had time to do anything. After school I’d go to practice and you know, came from a working family. My parents are very hard workers so they always pushed me, always supported me in soccer so after school, go to soccer, come home, sleep. So I never really had time to do any of those extra things.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
I have two older sisters. Everyone in my family plays soccer at one point in their lives.
What teams did you grow up watching and loving?
All Uruguayan soccer…I’m Uruguayan. Peñarol. And when I actually went to Uruguay, I played for their rival team, so it was pretty weird.
How did that feel?
It was actually pretty cool. Cuz you grew up watching them and then you’re like “I wish I could live that life” and then one day or another you’re doing it and it’s pretty cool.
So did you imagine that you would play professional football when you grew up or was it just something you liked doing?
Well, I think at those ages you just do it for fun. And then once you start realizing that you’re not Messi or Ronaldo, cuz they’re born with their gifts, but you see that you’re pretty good at it and you’re actually dedicated to it, that’s when you start thinking “maybe I can take this far.”
So you went to Uruguay when you were 14, how did that come about?
Nacional, which is the rival team of Peñarol, they did a soccer academy kind of school in Toronto, and they took back three kids from that academy. So there was like I dunno 50 kids maybe, they took 3 back to Uruguay to try out, and me and another guy, an Italian guy, we made the team. The Italian guy came back a week later cuz he couldn’t handle being by himself, but since I had family, I had my grandfather and stuff like that, I coped with it and ever since, I’ve been there.
How is the football culture different from Canada and how did you fit into that?
It’s um, it took me time to fit in. Cuz I come from the roots, it comes in my family…but just seeing how they breathe soccer is totally different. Cuz, that’s their way out. I think anywhere in South America, their ticket out of poverty is playing soccer, right, so that’s like the way to save the family. So they take practice, it’s like a game for them. It’s crazy. So I learned a lot. Not only on the field. Off the field. In change rooms being in the change room with guys that have played in Spain, Italy, in big teams. Just taking their messages, you know, and the respect that has to be inside of a locker room. Respect towards coaches, respect to yourself, right, as a professional. I learned a lot that I don’t think I would’ve learned being here.
How did you see the supporter’s culture there?
Oh it’s amazing! Where I was, where I played professionally in the first division, we don’t have 15, 000, 20, 000 fans, but the ones we had were just crazy! They’re constantly singing during the game…but there’s also pressure that you know if you lose, you lose Saturday and you go out Saturday night, it’s not gonna be a fun Saturday night for you. So it’s one of those things. I guess it’s because of the way the system, the league, is set up with relegation and things. Cuz NASL, MLS, you know, you can come in last but the next year you’re in the same league, you’re playing with the same people. In Uruguay, you come in last, you go down to B, you get paid less, everything just goes down for you. You have a family to support and things so that’s an extra motivation. That’s why it’s such a different type of soccer. And I think NASL and MLS do great jobs, it’s just that the pressure isn’t the same as…me coming in last, I’m still gonna play you next year, so it’s different.
And the team you played for in the first division, Racing in Montevideo, what was your experience playing on that team?
I was 17 when I came there. It wasn’t the best. It was good but I had some ups and downs. A week before starting our season, I was on the U20 Uruguayan national team, and on a Wednesday I was supposed to practice with the Uruguayan national team, I came back to practice with my team in an exhibition game because we were setting up for the season, and I tore my ACL. And then when I came back I tore a meniscus and had another operation so it wasn’t the best. I didn’t get a lot of playing time. But everything happens for a reason. I got called into Canada after. I was able to show Canadian people what I am about.
Getting to the Canadian programs, it opened a lot of doors for me, met a lot of people. Had great experiences, beating the US in U23s, being able to stop their top player. It’s the best feeling! A lot of doors opened for me. I went to Vancouver, to the Whitecaps, as kind of like a loan, trial thing and had unfortunately an injury during a Canada cap that basically cut me out of that. But, everything happens for a reason, right? Now I’m here, I’m happy. I’m happy with the team, we have a strong team for an expansion team. I personally think we’re better than more than half of the teams. Look at our games. The points we’ve lost was not because they outplayed us, its just our own errors. We haven’t been outplayed once. The only game that I can tell you that we lost and we deserved to lose, was Atlanta. Everyone had not a good game. Personally that was probably my worst game.
What influenced you to return to play in Ottawa?
Just being closer to my family I guess. Leaving so young…you learn a lot, you get street smart I’d say. But you grow up basically, not alone, but alone in other factors like my dad wasn’t there to sit down with me and talk to me about what I’m doing right or wrong. It would have to be through Skype, which isn’t the same. And this opportunity, I spoke with Marc, he gave me a really good idea that he wanted to play possession and things and I’m just like “hallelujah, finally someone in Canada wants to play possession.” Now we have Benito Floro on the national team, wants to play possession. You see Toronto, you see Vancouver, you see Montreal all playing possession. I think Canadian soccer’s just gonna grow from now and we’re gonna be side by side with the US. And once they take that rule out where the Canadians are internationals in their league, it’ll be all different.
Can you tell me about your experience at the national team camps?
Oh, they were amazing! With the senior men’s, I’ve had unfortunate injuries. I had a broken rib in Spain and my ankle injury the first time I got called up in January. But it’s always nice cuz there’s millions of people in Canada and you’re being chosen to represent them. And it’s a nice way to pay them back for everything they’ve done for my family. That’s why every time I put on the Canadian jersey, it gives you that extra motivation that you play extra hard.
But you were involved in the Uruguayan national team too, so how does that work?
Yeah, the U20s. But it was before they played their qualifier for their World Cup
Like, the U20 World Cup?
Yeah, so after being off that list, technically I didn’t play any official games with them so I was allowed to play with Canada.
So tell me about the atmosphere you’ve experienced in Ottawa?
You know the fans are great! I mean, they’ve been coming out to all our games, showing support. We have that section of fans, the crazy ones. I love how they just sing all game! It’s actually pretty fun. It’s nice to see that ambition they have toward the team, you know, and be connected with us. It’s pretty hard to sing all game, cuz you wanna watch the game too!
Where do you see yourself in the future? What are your goals?
My goals right now, my short-term goals are to just get back to what I know I can be. I think these days that we’re gonna have off, it’s a good time just to clear the mind I guess. It sounds dramatic, but you know, this is all you do so. And we have a lot of time off so it’s a lot of time spent thinking of what’s going on and that just builds up. But these days are gonna be a good way to clear my mind, start with a fresh set of batteries. Not saying that I’m gonna come expecting to start or anything, just come expecting to help the team. If it’s from the bench or starting, everything’s to help the team. Whatever can make the team better cuz if we have success as a team, everything’s gonna go better. You have guys making the jump to MLS, so many things can happen if the group is going well. So that’s the short-term goal, just to help out the team, help out myself.
Long term it’s, you know, NASL is a great league but you know everyone wants to play MLS, make the jump to MLS or somewhere more exposed….more, not having to play on football fields. It’s not a bad thing but you know. I think this league can grow with years, but it’s always gonna be in the shadow of the MLS. Not because of the quality of players, cuz I think any NASL team could go hand to hand with an MLS team, but it’s just the exposure they have and the money they have. But it will take time. I think after our last game, everyone came out, saw the excitement soccer can bring to you. You don’t even have to be a fan and you can get into a game…half the people who go watch TFC, they don’t go watch TFC, they go have a good time. It’s reality, it happens everywhere. Even in Uruguay, 99% will go cuz they love the team but other people go just to have a good time cuz it’s an excitement that you don’t really get watching another sport…Hopefully one day Ottawa can be like this, pack TD [Place], I don’t see it as impossible. From here we can only grow.