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  • Elmer Wheeler

My Copa America Centenario 2016 Experience

I click to confirm the purchase of my Copa America Centenario 2016 tickets and instantly I enter into a state of giddiness. I watched YouTube videos of tailgate marches, learned chants so I could find my place in the crowd, and joined a sect that seemed to share the same love I had for this game and country. I even felt out of the loop when listening to the founding fathers of this faction talk to their congregation about specific players of a team I rooted for in the dark corners of our sports' world. This was a new world for me. I was now swimming in a world where the reds were brighter, the blues were deeper, and the whites were pristine. This was a world I could easily navigate and want to get lost in. I dove in head first. I started out small and began to watch games at the best home pub a chapter could want, P. Wexford's here in Modesto. I've been hooked since I first watched the 2014 FIFA World Cup. I loved the energy, whether it was high or low. I wanted more.

After a few monthly meetings and the endless flow of beer, now I’m ready for the big time. My first CAP. Mother’s Day final send-off game for the U.S. Women’s National Team at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. It was my first on many different fronts. It was my first live professional soccer match, first time watching the National team in person (Men’s or Women’s), and it was the first time I cheered on anyone representing a nation I love beyond measure. The game was everything I imagined it to be and more.

I grew up playing the beautiful game and coached in our local recreational league here in Modesto. Now my multi-decade, gripping love affair with the world’s game had found fertile ground, and I was taking root.

Game day.

I can barely contain myself. I don my usual AO Modesto jersey and help my children put on their war paint. Hit the road and arrive at the local light rail. I jump on the train and a sea of Colombian yellow fills our car. All smiling and laughing as much as us. I ask a group of them if they would mind taking a photo, and they gleefully obliged. They in turn want their own, so I dutifully return the favor. The Wheelers exit the train car and make our way to the nationally recognized pre-game tailgate party. As we get closer I start to recognize the usual suspects putting in hard work making those Central Valley tacos, selling merchandise, and cracking open the best chapter home brew in the nation. I had the opportunity to talk to American Outlaw chapter members from our nation's capital, and various other states from across the country.

In the stands, the colors in the crowd were perfect. From Uncle Sam to the Rough Rider himself, Teddy Roosevelt , I knew I was right where I needed to be. I was among 67,439 paid attendees. The chants, the people, the food, the kits, the energy, and most importantly the game that brings us all together. It’s what I had been waiting for. The only thing that wasn’t soaring along with me on the wings of that bald eagle was the result. Disappointing? Yes. Regretful? Not even for a second.

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