I don't want to excuse the Uruguayan players who reacted the way they did after losing to the U.S. - I saw part of what the video showed one in particular did to Michael Bradley. Frankly, I also believe it's possible to care passionately about winning and be extremely competitive without losing the sportsmanship that makes soccer special. Yes, it may seem strange to exchange a sweaty jersey, but I think it's a great memento and tradition. When Poland got spanked by the U.S., I thought it was really classy of them to ask for the U.S. players jerseys afterwards. That was nice to see. They could have sulked off, but they didn't. Anyway, when I talked to Bryan Martinez at the Gatorade National Athlete of the Year event (the article is filed with espn.com, but it's in limbo while a bunch of Beckham arrival stuff gets priority), the game between Uruguay and the U.S. hadn't yet been played. Brayan played with a couple of the Uruguayan players, specifically one from Salto, the same city where Brayan lived until he moved to the States at 13.
"I have friends that are playing on the Uruguayan youth national team and playing professionally as well," said Brayan. "I look back on that and think about how that could have been me."
It was Uruguay's dangerous forward who Brayan knew well.
Obviously without knowing how dramatic the game would get, I asked Brayan what was different about the US approach to soccer versus Uruguay and he talked about the emotional aspect of it. "It’s not the same, obviously. Over there, soccer is in your blood, and when you lose, you cry. You feel it terribly." Yet the reason Brayan moved, though he could have stayed in Uruguay, was to be near his parents. Previously, he had lived with his grandparents.
"The biggest reason I stayed was for my family, because my parents asked me to. I think if I never lived with them, I’d have lost a great opportunity to get close to them and to my sister. I know that my grandparents cared for me all my life and I love them for that, but I wanted to experience life with my parents as well."I think Brayan was really able to enjoy the day, because I don't think he was worried he'd win the big prize. "I’m just happy to be here. I met new people and I’m glad for the experience. I love LA." It was enough, he said, to be with an unexpected special announcement some timeback that he'd won the soccer award and was in the running for the national one.
"It was a surprise. They told me to come in for something else and when I got there, everyone was waiting to celebrate and they told me. I didn’t expect anything. It was a great moment for me, especially seeing my dad there. He’s working a lot, so he doesn’t get to see many games. So to have my family there for the honor was great. I never thought I even had a chance, because it’s a big country and there are so many soccer players here. It’s a great honor. "
It 's not like the game he left behind in Uruguay, though, which he still misses.
"It was hard to leave the football there behind," Brayan.