Postcard from Abroad: Umony plays in memorable Ugandan national team match

Timbers striker contributes journal of his trip to his native country

Ed. Note: While a number of Timbers players left earlier this month for international duty, perhaps none traveled as far as Portland Timbers striker Brian Umony (above, in yellow) who went halfway around the world to Uganda to participate in a vital match for his country in their quest to qualify for the 2012 African Cup of Nations tournament.

The Cranes were hosting archrival Kenya in a match that if they were to win, would put them into a tournament they had not been to since 1978. With politicians visiting training during the week, over 40,000 people attending the match itself at the Mandela National Stadium in Namboole, Uganda, and an entire country watching, Brian Umony took part. We asked him to keep a diary of this memorable trip.

Though the Ugandans drew 0-0 with Kenya thus ending their qualifying run, Umony’s experience was one that he will never forget.

Day 1: Monday, October 3

“Can’t wait to get back home after two years of absence, comprehending the task ahead of me as I move through various lounges of the different airports I am going through; can’t help but think about how to fit into the National Team after a long absence.”

“Big chance for us to qualify after 32 years.”

“I arrive on Tuesday, October 4, at Entebbe International Airport and go straight to camp at 11:45; go straight to bed.”

Day 2: Wednesday, October 5 (First Training)

“Woke up at 7 a.m. for breakfast at 8 a.m., still jet-lagged, but cannot afford to miss another day without practice. Board the team bus to the stadium at 9:30 a.m. for 10 a.m. training. Introduced to the team, happy to meet these boys, warm ups, three-team games, small sided passing drills and that’s it for the morning. Same drills in the afternoon session which starts at 4 p.m.”

“It is so good to kick the ball again after two days.”

Day 3: Thursday, October 6

“Have the same breakfast routine and training regimen as I had on Wednesday. I am invited to a press conference with the coach and assistant captain, so eager to get out of the conference room.”

“We have courtesy visits from team sponsors and politicians all pledging support to the team, but all I can think about is the pressure they are trying to pile onto the team to deliver a win on Saturday which I thought was good.”

Day 4: Friday, October 7

“Early training session starting at 8:30 a.m. today; trying to stay away from the press. Pressure is piling, practiced for an hour, early finish but we have to wait for a presidential visit, again we are promised Heaven on Earth if we qualify: A notable absence is our leading scorer who decided to walk away which rubs the ‘powers that be’ the wrong way. Unnecessary trouble in paradise for the first time; I am the man deemed responsible to replace him which I was glad to do.”

Day 5: Saturday, October 8

“Game day.”

“At 11 a.m., we have a team walk, one-on-one with the coach; we could make history today as reality sets in. Have lunch at 1 p.m., team meeting at 2 p.m. where the 18 is named, yours truly is a starter. I can’t wait to be part of history. Mood in camp is good; all we need is a win.”

“Game time. I see desire, passion in the boys. We huffed and puffed, but the Kenyans stand firm; had a few good chances. The mood becomes tense as the game goes on. We are wasteful, which we cannot afford to do. Time is up. It is a tie, a result that deems us unworthy to qualify. Tears and disappointment to the nation as we will have to wait another year to try our luck again.”

Day 6: Sunday, October 9 (Independence Day in Uganda)

“I leave camp, happy to see my family, sort some projects out and meet a few friends. They help me take my mind off the disappointment of not qualifying on Saturday.”

Day 7: Monday, October 10

“To the gym to do some work at 10 a.m. for one hour. Join my former teammates in the afternoon for a session, wrong timing for me as it is a fitness test for them, but either way am glad to do it with them. Have to start preparing for my journey on Tuesday.”

Day 8: Tuesday, October 11

“Woke up at 10 a.m., hit the gym one last time, my bags are packed. Say my good-byes to family and friends. Head to the airport at 4 p.m. ready and happy to join my teammates in Portland.”