The Roanoke College Men's Soccer Team traveled to Spain August 4-12, 2016.
During their time there, the Maroons trained, played four friendly matches and experienced the local culture. The team attended FC Barcelona's home opener Gamper Trophy match vs. Italian Serie A UC Sampdoria.
Thursday, August 4th
Thursday was a travel day that thankfully was pretty uneventful. We traveled from Roanoke College to Greensboro Airport where we met our North Carolina contingent of players. We then boarded a short flight to Charlotte and then we were on our way via an overnight flight to Barcelona, Spain.
Friday, August 5th
We arrived in Barcelona about 11:30 AM local time, meeting our tour director Borja at the airport. After grabbing our bags and clearing customs, we took a bus about 45 minutes along the coast to our host hotel Aqua Hotel Onabrava in the beach town of Santa Susanna.
The hotel is impressive. It's equipped with two turf fields for training right outside, a vibrant lobby area, game room, pool, multiple restaurants and it's right across the street from the beach. There are soccer games played on television at all times of the day, including a channel called Barca TV solely dedicated to local world super club FC Barcelona. This area of Santa Susanna has multiple hotels along the main street as well as an outdoor marketplace with restaurants and other shops alongside the hotels. We are fortunate to be here as it is a perfect location for an international training camp and tour.
By the time we got to Santa Susanna the players and coaches were fatigued. The long day of travel, the time change, and the overnight flight had us drained. After checking in we grabbed a quick lunch along Santa Susanna's main street and then had a quick turnaround for our first training session. Despite the travel and exhaustion, the team was business like in their approach. There was a feeling of excitement to be training back together for the first time since the summer, which brought great energy to the session. A short and sharp training session ended as players' competitiveness amplified, a good sign of things ahead for this group.
After training, we headed to a buffet dinner at the hotel's main restaurant. Here we learned quickly just how refined our accommodations were. Junior Eason Myers was denied entry into the restaurant for the tank top shirt he wore down to dinner and had to go back to the room to sleeves on before joining us reminding us to stay classy! The group was tired and retired early to catch up on sleep in anticipation of our first match the following day.
Saturday, August 6th
After a light early morning training session and a bit of downtime to explore Santa Susanna, we ate lunch and then boarded a bus for a tour of Barcelona. Though still tired and trying to catch up to the time change, the team seemed excited to see downtown Barcelona.
We met Conchi, our tour guide for downtown Barcelona. Our first stop was the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. We took a walking tour of Gaudi's masterful creation, which we saw still in the making. Conchi was impressive in her knowledge of the Basilica. It was incredible to hear of Gaudi's plans for the architecture developing long after his death.
We then boarded the bus and drove through el Exaimple (modern Barcelona) and through Passeig de Gracia, where another Gaudi creation, Casa Batllo, sits. Then we drove through Plaza Catalunya (downtown) and we went towards Plaza Espana, where the former Bullring Square has now been turned into a shopping mall. It is incredible architecture. After that, we drove to Montjuic to see the Olympic stadium and facilities where a majority of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics were held. We learned from Conchi that Barcelona had a major increase in tourism, building, and stature as one of Europe's most notable cities after hosting the 92 Games. The facilities, which sit high above Barcelona, are still heavily used to this day and the area is fantastic. We learned we had just missed Beyonce, who had performed here two days prior. Just down the road from the Olympic facilities, we stopped at the Jardins del Mirador. Much like our Roanoke Star that overlooks the city of Roanoke, this area gave an incredible view of all of Barcelona as well as the main port and beach areas. We ended up having a late lunch in Las Ramblas, the most emblematic street in Barcelona. From there it was straight on to the training facility of Unio Jabac Terrassa for our first match.
In each of the two previous Roanoke College international trips I have been involved with (as a player in Brazil in 2001 and as a coach in Argentina in 2013) the first game has proved to be a very difficult test. This match was no different. The possible list of reasons for this is long; jet lag; it's our first time together as a group after a long summer break; playing against excellent opponents who are skilled, athletic, and hungry to prove themselves in a professional environment; changing typical match day routines and preparations; among others.
As can be the case on a tour and in travel, our match preparation was not what it would have been for a typical home match in the US. Due to a later lunch and some traffic, we arrived to site about 45 minutes before kick off. Players fought fatigue with excitement, and despite a long, hot day of touring, eating close to kick off and arriving a bit too late, I heard no complaining and no excuses from the squad as we prepared for the trips first match. I was pleased with the mentality of the players.
Our opponent, Unio Jabac Terrassa was athletic, skilled, and organized. The top team in the Terrassa organizational pyramid plays in the third division of professional soccer in Spain, two below La Liga. We were matched against hungry youth academy and reserve players who seem eager to make their mark on this opportunity to show well. They possessed with a high ball speed and players 1 through 11 were extremely comfortable with the ball at their feet. They were meticulous in the build, especially with use of their #10 and # 8 players finding pockets of space to turn in or in fading wide to create overloads with their wing players. Defensively they were very organized and tough in their pressure on the ball. They pressed with a high line, and early in the match their ball pressure proved too much for us to establish a natural rhythm of possession that we are used to playing in many of our matches in the United States. Our play and decisions were a step slow, credit to Unio Jabac Terrassa. The game was very physical and competitive with every loose ball and 50/50 challenge being highly contested.
Despite an early disadvantage in time in possession of the ball, we did not concede many clear-cut chances for them to score. They were most dangerous during a barrage of corner kicks they earned midway through the first half, but our back line and goalkeeping was up to the task. Goalkeeper Nick Tadros was asked to make one excellent save in the first half, parrying a half volley curling away into the far post wide of the goal. With their high line of pressure, we were able to enter their final third primarily by way of the counter. Our most dangerous moments came in transition, as we drew fouls resulting in restarts of our own that we were unfortunately unable to capitalize on. A breakdown in our back line and a clinical finish in stoppage time of the first half was the only goal of the half for Unio Jabac Terrassa. We entered halftime disappointed to have given up a goal in the critical moments of the half, but confident we could play better than we did in the first half.
With a couple tactical adjustments, and a reassurance amongst the players that we could do better, the second half provided us a bit more time on the ball as the game opened up. While we found more time in possession, Unio Jabac Terrassa began to string together more dangerous attacking chances, especially from their talented wing players. Tadros was asked to come up with two more excellent saves, and was man of the match in my book when it was all over. A goal in the 55th minute conceded off a flank restart made the score line justly 2-0 in favor of Unio Jabac Terrassa. Under pressure but without quitting, we continued to grow in confidence in the game both technically as well as in our ability to win tackles and challenges. We were rewarded in the 70th minute when Cole Thornton intercepted a back pass from a Unio Jabac Terrassa center back to their goalkeeper and was able to beat him on a rebound of his initial shot running in at goal. The match ended 2-1.
Unio Jabac Terrassa was excellent and we will take a lot of lessons from the game into the rest of our trip and the remainder of our upcoming season.
Rising senior Aidan Nagy will be taking over the trip recap starting tomorrow so look for his posting in the next couple days.
Hasta Luego , Coach Pflugrad
Sunday August 7th
The session after our first game of the trip was very light. Today most guys were just about settled in with the time change and well adjusted to the schedule that was laid out for us. Still, a recovery session that featured some soccer tennis was very welcome to the team. The coaches set up a mini soccer tennis tournament to help us relax after a tough match, while still getting something out of our training session. I paired myself with fellow Canadian senior Jackson Goyette, as we sought to take down other teams on our quest to soccer tennis glory. Sadly, our conquest was thwarted by a few close games and questionable calls. Juniors Marshall Hodge and Kelby Zeiger finished on top, earning bragging rights for the next little while.
Not long after training, the team departed on a bus to Girona. I didn't know much about Girona beforehand, but from what I heard, it is one of the most desirable tourist locations in Europe. Upon arrival, it was easy to understand why. We were immediately greeted with a long bridge that led into the town, that provided us with a beautiful view of the large cathedral as the highlight of it all. We quickly learned that certain scenes from Game of Thrones were shot here, and as a fan of the show, knowing this was extremely exciting. During the tour, we stopped at a little restaurant/bar to cool off and relax for a bit in the shade. As we were there a Spanish man approached us and asked if we could sing Happy Birthday to a woman who was celebrating there. Of course, we obliged, and sang our best rendition of Happy Birthday. It was a fun experience, not only because we were doing something nice for someone, but for the fact that she enjoyed it so much. Although this gesture seemed small and insignificant in the grand scheme of the tour, it definitely made it more enjoyable for all of us. After a quick gelato stop, we departed from Girona back to our hotel. Words really cannot describe how beautiful the town was. It was not a place I had on my list going into the tour, but it is now definitely on my list of places to go BACK to.
Monday, August 8th
This morning we all took a walk down to the Santa Susanna beach in order to soak up some sun and relax by the water. The water was absolutely perfect, so I can safely speak for all the guys when I say that this time to horse around in the water was more than warranted. Aside from relaxing, there were also pranks pulled. Junior captain Sam Rauf baited Goalkeeper/"Team Dad" Nick Tadros into a good ol' fashioned table-topping. Thankfully Nick was not hurt, as that would leave the squad with no actual goalkeepers. Even though I didn't bring a bathing suit to the beach, it seemed not to matter much, as the wild and crazy Cole Thornton and Orestis Ilias made to the water in only their boxer briefs. Thankfully in Spain, this was completely normal and common. So, I fell victim to peer pressure and joined them, which I'm glad I did because I had an awesome time.
That night we played our second match of the tour against UE Castellbisbal. Unlike the other teams we played this squad was an actual professional team with men that played in the 6th tier of Spanish football. Like the last club, the referee was a member within the club, and it was made apparent by the three penalty shots that he gave to our opposition - one in the first half and two in the second. Overall, our performance was much better than our first game; we had numerous effective spells of possession, with only the final pass lacking in the run of play. Shortly after Nick saved the first penalty shot, I slid into a 50/50 tackle with a very stocky opponent. After the ball went out of play, he fell on top of me, and the force was strong enough to separate my shoulder from its socket. It had never happened to me before, but as soon as it did, I knew it was out. Evidently so did my opponent, as he noticed I was in pain and swiftly forced my shoulder back into place with a few strong hits on the side of my arm. Immediately after he put it back into place, the pain subsided. It caught me off guard since the whole incident happened so fast, and I was taken aback. I actually got up and asked him, "Did you do that?" He smiled, nodded and said, "Si, si." So, I guess on the bright side, the whole process ended on a high note, even though it was quite unfortunate in the first place. I soon realized that this injury would keep me out of training and playing for the rest of my trip. There's no real way of saying it politely. Explicitly, it sucks. But, there are still plenty of other experiences on this trip that I'm glad I've had, and am still looking forward to experiencing. One little injury won't dampen my spirits in one of the most beautiful countries in the world!
The rest of the game was fairly intense, as we were attempting to make up a two goal deficit. The deficit was cut short thanks to a Jackson Goyette header that was placed perfectly to the far corner, going off the post and in. It was quite frankly an amazing finish coming off a perfect cross into the box; I'm sure the coaches were very pleased to witness that in a game before preseason. The rest of the game was pretty scrappy, as we were pushing lots of guys forward trying to find an equalizer. In attempts to come back, both coaches were yelling "Penal!", the Spanish word for penalty, essentially every time there was contact in the box. If not for a hometown advantage, we may have been able to get one called our way. Unfortunately, our comeback fell short and the game finished 2-1. It was definitely a much better performance than our first game, so moods weren't too somber. We had another game the next day, so we used the rest of our night to relax and take it easy.
Tuesday, August 9th
Today we didn't have any training or sightseeing planned because of our next game being the second leg of a back to back, only against a different team. We traveled to play C.E. Jupiter, and immediately were all impressed by the facility. It was a very professional set-up, located in the middle of a calm downtown area. It was like a soccer oasis hidden in a busy city. Probably due to a combination of playing an exhausting game the day before, and the quality of our opponent, today's game was very tough. The opponent moved the ball in possession very well, switching it from side to side and moving in and out of spaces with great fluidity. They played a great brand of football that is going to be similar to that of which we will try to implement on our opponents in the NCAA/ODAC this upcoming fall. Yet again, two more penalty shots were called in this game, but one was thankfully called in our favor. Although rising Junior Tim Mahabir buried it, C.E. Jupiter came right back after to make the score 3-1. The game finished that way, which was more a testament to the quality of our opponent, rather than a poor performance.
Tomorrow we are heading to the famous Camp Nou to catch the first competitive match of FC Barcelona's season against Italian side Sampdoria. Stay tuned for updates coming in the next couple of days from junior midfielder Marshall Hodge.
Hasta la vista - Aidan Nagy
Wednesday August 10th
While touring the Camp Nou was an awesome experience, we couldn't help but imagine how much better it would be with a match-day atmosphere. Luckily we were fortunate enough to be able to go to this year's Joan Gamper Trophy game. The Joan Gamper serves as FC Barcelona's last preseason game as well as a "presentation" of the team to the fans. Since kick off wasn't until 8:30, we took the morning to enjoy our hotel and Santa Susanna until lunch time. The middle of our day consisted of three hours of free time to explore the city of Barcelona. While a couple of groups went to pursue different attractions, I can say my favorite part was the best farmers market I've ever seen. While I wasn't quite brave enough to try the various animal brains or hearts they had, everything we tried was amazing - a common theme of the week.
In terms of the match itself, I'm not quite sure where to start. As a huge Barca fan myself, the whole experience was surreal. After spending years streaming their games every week on questionable Spanish websites with commentary from Middle Eastern broadcasters, I couldn't believe I was watching my idols play live. At the surface, Barca won 3-2 against Sampdoria, a fairly good team from Italy's first division. The game featured an amazing bicycle assist from Messi, as well as two signature goals from him only a couple minutes later. The team was on fire and gave a perfect example of so many things that we try to do as a team. The number of times we exclaimed an "Oh my gosh" after a brilliant skill, pass, or tackle was too high to count, even during the warm-ups. Our seats were great and offered an awesome view of all five goals. All-in-all, the game lived up to all the expectations we had going in, and exceeded most of them. The night ended with a relaxing dinner and rest before our last match the next day.
Thursday August 11
As it was the last full day, our morning and afternoon were free to do any last minute exploring, enjoy the beach, or relax before the game. Our final match was against another solid team in Spain for Marshals. They were an older team with some skilled players, but our team put in a good performance, and I feel we were a bit unfortunate to only come out with a 0-0 tie. We took some of the lessons we learned from the Barca game and did well at possessing the ball, being creative in the attack, and staying sound defensively. All we lacked was the finishing touch, although a bicycle clearance off the line didn't help us either. After the game, we went out for one last dinner out on the town and enjoyed each other's company.
Friday August 12th
After a quick breakfast we were off to the airport to head back home. Looking back, the trip was nothing short of amazing. Many of us agree that there was the perfect mixture of soccer, tourism, and free time. A lot of that was thanks to our trip manager, Borja Malo, who was overall an awesome guy and did a great job of keeping us entertained. I wouldn't change a thing about the trip, and I'm so thankful to everyone who contributed to make this whole experience possible. Each day brought a new experience that will live in my memory forever. As a team we definitely bonded even more and I feel that we got a major head start to our season that other teams definitely won't have. We definitely missed having the guys around who weren't able to make the trip, and are excited to join them as well as the incoming freshmen on the 19th for preseason.