Argentina, Uruguay

Copa America Team Preview: Uruguay

The small country of Uruguay has three million people on the east coast of South America, bordering Argentina and Brazil, and continually punches above its weight when it comes to major international tournaments. Uruguay won the very first Copa America back in 1916, and this summer’s Copa America will be the country's 45th appearance in the tournament. The team known as “La Celeste” is currently tied with Argentina for the most Copa America titles (15) in tournament history.

Similar to Argentina, Uruguay has at least one household name who everyone will be itching to see play this June. That, of course, is Luis Suarez, who comes into Copa America as Uruguay’s all-time leading goal scorer with 68 goals in 138 games. Speaking of household names, longtime Uruguay national team star Edinson Cavani, who scored 58 goals in 136 games for La Celeste, retired from international soccer in May and will miss out on what would have been his sixth Copa America.

Another household name linked to this Uruguay team is its Argentine manager, Marcelo Bielsa, who brings with him more than four decades of managerial experience. With so many household names and being placed in a manageable Group with Panama, Bolivia, and the USMNT, there will be lots of pressure on La Celeste to progress far at this year's Copa America, but without further ado, let's break down their roster by position.

Between the Sticks

Sergio Rochet, the frontrunner, will be competing with Santiago Mele and Franco Israel for the starting job, and there's really no competition. While none of these goalkeepers have extensive national team experience, Mele has only four caps to his name, while Israel has just one. Rochet will be the man between the sticks come tournament time because in 19 appearances for Uruguay, Rochet has 13 clean sheets. Case closed.

The Uruguayan Backline

When it comes to the Uruguayan backline, the key word is consistency. Central defender Jose Maria Gimenez has spent the last 11 seasons as a mainstay on Atletico Madrid’s backline, and this will be his fifth Copa America. During the team’s friendly against Mexico on June 5, Gimenez played center-back alongside Mathias Olivera, who started for Napoli during their 2022-23 Serie A title-winning season. However, this will be Olivera’s first Copa America, and how much that matters is up for debate.

The other two players who featured in La Celeste’s backline were left-back Lucas Olaza and right-back Nahitan Nandez. Olaza is a newcomer to Uruguay while this will be the third Copa America for Nandez. In addition, Uruguay’s roster also includes Barcelona fullback Ronald Araujo and Flamengo defender Matias Vina who comes in with the experience of playing in the 2021 Copa America. Overall, the Uruguayan backline has plenty of Copa America experience and it will be interesting to see how it holds up against a deep attacking team like the USMNT.

The Midfield Capitan

Uruguay's midfield will include its team captain, Federico Valverde, a 25-year-old who has seen his stock rise with Real Madrid over the last two seasons. This season, Valverde scored two goals and seven assists while playing in almost every game for Madrid. He also brings the experience of having played in two previous Copa Americas with him to this Uruguay team, but despite the form he's shown for the club, he is yet to register a goal or assist at the Copa America.

Defensive midfielders Manuel Ugarte, who plays for Paris St. Germain, and Rodrigo Betancur, who plays in the Premier League for Tottenham, each had very serviceable seasons with world-class European teams. Bentancur brings with him the experience of playing in two previous Copa Americas while this will be Ugarte’s first. Bielsa has padded his midfield group with two more experienced players, Nicolas De La Cruz, who played at the 2021 Copa America, and Giorgian De Arrascaeta, who played in the 2021, 2019, and 2015 Copa Americas. This is a smart move, as four out of the six midfielders that are going to the United States have experience playing in this tournament.

What’s Cooking for Uruguay Up Top?

Uruguay will bring a very young group of forwards with them to Copa America 2024. The oldest of the group is 37-year-old Luis Suarez, who is still playing great soccer for Inter Miami in MLS. Two players are 22 years old and those are Manchester United's Facundo Pellistri and LAFC's Cristian Olivera. The rest are either 24 or 25: Agustin Canobbio, Maximilian Araujo, Brian Rodriguez, Brian Ocampo, and Darwin Nunez. Among these players, Nunez stands out the most for the stellar year he had with Liverpool in the premier league this season.

Nunez has delivered for his club by scoring 11 goals in 22 starts and for his country in the 2026 World Cup qualifying by scoring five goals and providing three assists across six starts. It’s hard to say who will start but Nunez is the frontrunner to be Uruguay’s lone striker up top. He is six-foot-two and can be a threat in the air as well as with the ball at his feet and that package is just more than what a 37-year-old Suarez can offer at this point.

There will be plenty of pressure on Nunez to score at this tournament now that Cavani has retired, especially if he plays in place of Suarez. What separates the men from the boys is how they respond to that pressure. In an article, Suarez called Nunez "a very good kid" for giving the #9 jersey to Suarez out of respect for his seniority. Will Nunez be a very good kid or 'the man' for Uruguay at this tournament?

Uruguay Seeks to Fulfill Vow to Copa

While there are holes in this roster, namely at goalkeeper and in terms of inexperience up and down the roster, Uruguay is always in the hunt when it comes to major international tournaments. It’s been 13 years (four Copa Americas) since La Celeste last lifted the Copa America trophy, but during that span, Uruguay has remained a consistent force in world international soccer.

They have been as consistent as you can ask a nation of their size to be, qualifying for each of the last four World Cups. They have been placed in Group A, which also includes the USMNT, Bolivia, and Panama. Uruguay actually rank behind the USMNT (12th) in FIFA's rankings in 15th place. This means they aren't expected to win Group C, but it will be a major disappointment if they do not finish second and progress to the knockout stages.

Uruguay won the very first Copa America in 1916, and now, 108 years later, Uruguay will feel the need to fulfill the ‘vow’ which is a lyric in their national anthem; “it is the vow that the soul pronounces, and which, heroically, we will fulfill.”

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Anthony Paradiso
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