The Coca-Cola Trophy (previously Coca-Cola Mir Iqbal Hussain Trophy) is an annual grassroots level football tournament (soccer in the United States). It is played across 75 cities reaching out to over 40,000 young footballers from 2,500 schools.

Uttam Rai is one of the prodigies that have emerged from the Coca-Cola Trophy, where he was the vice-captain for Delhi and has since gone on to represent India in the U-14 and U-16 national teams. Uttam was part of the India U-16 National team that trained at the IMG Academy in Florida as part of a sponsorship by IMG-Reliance. Coca-Cola India is now facilitating his training stint at the Colorado Rush Academy in Denver, USA.

Interest from Colorado Rush in Uttam increased after the India U-16 team’s participation in the Dallas Cup 2012 where Uttam was mentioned as one of Top 10 Players To Watch Out For, and also in having their scouts watch Uttam at the IMG Academy in Florida. Libero Sports, who exclusively represent Uttam, were instrumental in bringing all parties together for the extended invitation.

Uttam Rai

Images courtesy of All India Football Federation

Uttam famously scored five goals versus Kyrgyzstan in a AFC U-16 Championship qualifier match, while helping the team qualify for the AFC U-16 Championships in 2012.

This placement makes Uttam the first Indian to get an opportunity to train in the USA with a United States Soccer Development Academy, and in the radar of various Major League Soccer (MLS) and other international football clubs scouting for talent in the USA. Uttam wrote about his experience so far in the post below.

My Pursuit of Happiness at Colorado Rush Academy

In coming to the end of a long journey, another one started for me as I landed at Chicago where I was going to spend a few days before joining the Colorado Rush Development Academy in Colorado. Thanks to Coca-Cola and Libero Sports, my dream of playing for a top youth academy abroad was seeing the light of day.

My relationship with Coca-Cola began when I was in Delhi and played the Coca-Cola Mir Iqbal Hussain Trophy (MIHT) at the U-16 level. I was then vice-captain of the Delhi team and we were the runners-up in the competition. Last year, Coca-Cola came forward again to support me when Colorado Rush invited me to train here for six months. I remember meeting all the senior people at Coca-Cola in Delhi before I left and their kind words of encouragement. It is due to their belief that I was able to take this decision with my family to come to the U.S.

Coca-Cola Trophy

Images courtesy of All India Football Federation

The cold chill of the Chicago wind greeted me with much warmth as I was escorted by my local guardians, Mr. & Mrs. Kaushal, to their home where I would be staying before I joined the Academy in Colorado. It was a beautiful sight; the tall skyscrapers, the big cars and the people all wrapped up in their heavy woolens fighting off the cold as the snow fell around me! After reaching home, we ate food and then I slept, because I was very tired from the long plane ride.

In Chicago, I began training regularly with a club called Bridges FC to maintain my fitness. The club holds top college players, Major League Soccer players from LA Galaxy, Chicago Fire and Hamarby in Sweden, beside lower division players for training during the off-season so that everyone stayed in shape. Playing with these professional players really helped me improve my game, and very proudly I can say that I managed to stand my ground while playing with them. I made a lot of new friends and slowly acclimatized to the new surroundings. Initially, it was a little difficult being far away from my home and trying to get used to a new culture, food, etc., but as the days passed, it got easier and I began to feel like I was ready for Colorado Rush. 

Colorado Rush Academy

Images courtesy of All India Football Federation

I joined up with my new team at Colorado Rush Academy on January 3rd, where I was staying with the Technical Director of Colorado Rush, Mr. Erik Bushey. We began to train regularly and played some competitive matches. I scored a hat-trick in my first game and scored another two goals in a subsequent game. It was a good feeling when the coaches appreciated my efforts and also encouraged me to perform even better, because they believed in my potential. They showed me where I was going wrong, and how I could improve on my left foot – one of the main things I wanted to do when I went to Rush Academy.

India Football

Images courtesy of All India Football Federation

Over the last two months, I have been working hard to achieve my goals and play to my best. Now I am going for a tournament in Texas, where it will be a real test against strong and diverse opposition. I hope I will continue to play well and make my family, friends and all those who support me proud. I still have another four months left at Rush. I hope playing my style of football will encourage others to look at Indian football with more seriousness as I believe I can prove to be a good ambassador for my country, and there are others like me with similar aspirations and goals.

I hope I can enable happiness to all who love and watch football in India, just as Coca-Cola has enabled me to pursue my happiness. Thank you for your support.

Uttam Rai

Striker, U-17 India National team

Colorado Rush Development Academy, Denver USA


Brett Hall, Coach (Bridges FC): "He is very explosive like a cannon when it is in his first 2-3 steps.  That is very rare in footballers and that's something you can't teach."