Neymar or Nigro, World Cup or FFA Cup: Urena wants cup glory

After playing at two World Cups Marco Urena is hoping to lead the Mariners to FFA Cup success, writes Tom Smithies

It’s doubtful that even those who live there would classify Terrigal as an address with worldwide recognition, up there with the likes of Los Angeles, Copenhagen and San Jose.

But then that’s one of the most appealing parts of the life of a global footballer, when you chance upon an unlikely club in an unlikely location and it just feels right.

That’s why Marco Urena, a striker who has locked horns with Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Steven Gerrard and played for clubs in all those cities above, will be leading the line for the Mariners in the FFA Cup final on Saturday night.

And it’s why he’ll fly home the next day back to the Central Coast and love the fact his family is settled and his children are at school in a place he only meant to be a whistle-stop addition to a career stretching already from Costa Rica to Russia to the US and Korea.

Much like his current club, Urena has flown under the radar to a large degree since he came to the A-League in 2020, despite a pedigree that includes playing at two World Cups and winning league titles in Denmark and Costa Rica.

Urena battles with Neymar at the 2018 World Cup.

It was his masterful finish that clinched Costa Rica’s 3-1 victory over Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup, following which they beat Italy, drew with England, topped their group and only lost on penalties to Holland in the Round of 16.

Four years later they faced a mighty Brazil side featuring Neymar, Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus and held out until the 91st minute. So you can be pretty sure that the FFA Cup final won’t faze Urena; if anything, at 31, he’s on the lookout for nerves and stage fright in his younger teammates.

The irony is that Urena never meant to make a home here. But after playing in Korea for nearly a year, away from his family as the pandemic descended, Urena needed somewhere safe and family-friendly to take stock for a few months.

“Before that I never signed a contract less than two years, but I miss so much my family when I was in South Korea, without them for 11 months,” Urena tells KeepUp.

“So because of COVID and all this stuff, I have to play the whole season without them and it’s hard, especially for the age of the my kids. And I had the opportunity to come here where it was COVID free at that moment, so it was really easy to say yes.

“My agents bring me here for a club they didn’t even know before. But as soon as I arrived here in Terrigal and met the coach and all the staff, I really fell in love with the club. The people around here are really humble and make you welcome.

“The way my kids got into school and the way they treat them and the way they look after them made me feel so happy. Made me realise that we want to stay longer.

“The team has so many young players, you know, they’re really young. But we decided (last season) we really were hungry. We were really, really good last season working hard as a team, as a family.

Urena takes on Giorgio Chiellini in Costa Rica’s victory over Italy at the 2014 World Cup.

“I’m like, what about these Mariners? You know, it’s a small club but you get the feeling as soon as you arrive that you are in a special place, you know?”

That lack of knowledge of the club was arguably a godsend, given a recent history of being rather too well acquainted with the bottom of the table. But under Alen Stajcic, Urena and the Mariners took the competition by storm, only slipping from top in the final weeks and losing a home semifinal.

“There’s actually like a funny but true story about the Costa Rican embassy (in Sydney) – there’s this guy there who has lived here for four years already, he’s more Aussie than Costa Rican,” Urena says.

“Every time the national team come here to Australia he looks after them: the field, the stadium, the accommodation. As soon as he gets the news that I will come to Australia, he’s calling me and saying, ‘Marco, what are you doing, you’re a good player, man, you can play a better team!’

“So I tell him I really want to spend time with my family, they tell me it’s a good spot to be with my family. And I tell him, I always carry that good energy. So just let me land in Australia, and you will see how it’s going to turn out.

“And it was just like a miracle! We were winning for 20 rounds and top of the ladder, and it was really beautiful. So I’m really happy just to see the boys, the happiness faces, all of them, and enjoy to play with me also.”

His quick assimilation into that dressing room was probably a given once the Mariners players realised his experience, and the stories he can tell about playing at a World Cup – in particular the 2018 iteration in Russia, where previously he spent four years playing for Kuban Krasnodar.

“It was really like beautiful, a special World Cup because I was playing in Russia for four years and I hadn’t been back since,” he says. “The World Cup is different, you know, it’s really a party for everyone who loves football.

Urena will play for the Mariners in the FFA Cup on Saturday night.

“Outside the field, all the cities are full and the people you find is really nice. It’s just the best feeling you can have as a professional football player. When you are there you just feel like this is the moment you say ‘I did it’.

“You enjoy the state of the fields, the conditions are perfect, the hotel is perfect. When you go in the bus you can see so many police just trying to open the roads for, you feel like something special is going on.

“it’s not only who you’re going to play against, everything around is another level of experience as a player.”