The Roanoke College Men's Soccer Team is on a 10 day trip to Argentina, playing some of the local clubs in the area.  This blog serves as a journal of their trip, highlighting all of the fun moments for fans of the Maroon Soccer program.  You can find more information on the team's trip to Argentina on their Twitter Page by Clicking Here.

The blog will be written in three parts:
Part 1: Days 1-3 (Head Coach Ryan Pflugrad)
Part 2: Days 4-6 (New Assistant Coach Cory Speed)
Part 3: Days 7-9 (Written by Players)

Overall Trip Recap - Patrick Bain

The Argentina trip had proven to be both an eventful soccer experience and an abundance of phenomenal views in a great part of Argentina, Buenos Aires. The trip started with a re-acquaintance between the players in the Washington Dc Airport.  The flight over seas with quick pit stop in Chile was well worth the wait when we arrived. When arriving in Buenos Aires, the city was described by various players as an “Argentinian New York” and an “urban jungle.”  After meandering around the city for awhile we all crashed relatively early being fairly tired from the flight. One of the best features of the trip was being able to play high level teams. Our first day we had a great experience playing Boca Juniors u18 team on one of their many great facilities. The playing experience continued throughout the trip has we got to play other well known Argentinian clubs such as River Plate and Chicago. With every game came another learning experience and small tour of a different area of Argentina. One of the things that made playing these teams so unique was the variety of facilities that we visited. On one end of the spectrum we toured and played on Bocas top notch facilities. We had meals and played in the exact same areas of players as high quality as Carlos Tevez and Gago. On the opposing side of the spectrum, we played at clubs where they would share almost the same facilities for their youth teams as they would with their first team. This just again shows that soccer is universal and high quality players can be found in every nook of the world.

In between our games we managed to slide to a River Plate game. Going to the game was a demonstration of what majority of the soccer lifestyle is like in Argentina. The events in the game were moments that I myself along with the other guys will never forget. We started the pregame experience by following our fearless Argentine tour guide Jerry through a barrage of red and white. We had to go through multiple security checks before we could even get relatively close to the stadium. The fan wave started with marches from what seemed from about 100 miles away from the stadium. When we finally arrived inside the stadium and it was fully filled, it was everything that it was portrayed to be. It was like something out of a movie scene. The fan base was a sea of red and white.  As far as away teams fans, they were irrelevant. Throughout the game the roars of River songs and drums could be heard ringing from countries away. The amount of fans looked like bouncing ants from a distance. The game itself ended with a finish from a cross for a River win, making it an enjoyable night for all.

The Argentina experience was more than one could ever write down on paper. The exposure that we gained from Argentinian sights, professional games, visiting world class clubs, playing in games with some of the best ranked Argentines of their age, the cuisine, and so much more was unmatched.  People typically say that when you travel overseas that it will be one of the best times of your life, the Argentina trip was certainly up to the task.  We all left the trip with gained personal and soccer experiences that will be beneficial for a life time.

Day 6, Saturday, August 10

After getting back late last night from the River Plate game, the morning, and subsequently the match against Nueva Chicago, came early than we would have liked.

The match was played with less than desirable field conditions, but, as we learn throughout life, we just have to get on with it. While Nueva Chicago had the majority of the ball, we were able to create better opportunities through our pressure and quick counters. Despite a game that could have ended with multiple goals for both teams, the result was a 1-1 draw.

The rest of the day was free for us to rest or explore various parts of the city. The coaching staff spent some time bonding with a walk down Avenida Florida to check out some of the shopping areas and ended up in the Bohemian area of San Telmo.

We should be well rested with a free day tomorrow before our final match and full day in Buenos Aires on Monday. The trip is coming to a close and when we return the season awaits.

Day 5, Friday, August 9th

In the morning we had a match against the River Plate U-18’s on a huge field with the maximum allowed dimensions, 120x80yd. It would be interesting to see if the extra space allowed us more time on the ball to connect passes and penetrate the River defense, or if it meant more space for us to cover. The reality, as it often is, was somewhere in between. We played our best football of the trip so far and were afforded numerous scoring opportunities through quick, creative buildup, but it also allowed River the same opportunities. It was the sort of match that defines the beautiful game, where both teams pushed the tempo with the ball and tried to play attractive football. In a game that could have swung either way, River ended up on top with a scoreline of 2-1. After the match we had some free time that some used to rest in the hotel or do some walking around Recoleta and other nearby neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, but the one thing on all of our minds was the River Plate v. Rosario Central match later that evening.

The match was set to start at 9:30pm and we boarded the bus at 6:30pm to beat the traffic and catch the reserve game. We arrived at the stadium around 7:00pm and the buzz surrounding the stadium was mounting with each minute. Once we finally made our way through the crowded entrance into the stadium and found our front row seats, the excitement that had been building throughout the trip reached higher echelons than we imagined. By the start of the game, the atmosphere in the stadium was electrifying with sixty thousand River Plate supporters singing their club’s traditional songs.

The first half of the game was filled with intense pressure from both sides, each team doing their best to break up the rhythm of the other side and not allowing the players much time on the ball. There were few scoring opportunities for either side with Rosario having slightly better chances. In the 2nd half the match developed and both teams were afforded a bit more time on the ball. Still, neither team was able to capitalize and the match looked like it may be heading for a scoreless draw when River Plate’s Federico Andrada scored from a header off of a corner that filled the stadium with songs of celebration whose decibel levels seemed to have an endless peak. But, just two minutes later River Plate’s Jonathan Fabbro was sent off for a reckless challenge that reduced them to ten men and increased the tension in the stadium. Though River were able to kill of the game without much fuss and nearly added a second with the last kick of the game as Manuel Lanzini was sent through on goal but could not finish.

It was truly a match that none of us will ever forget and will be a story told with a level of excitement equal to 60,000 rowdy River Plate fans.

Day 4, Thursday, August 8th

The trip has been fantastic thus far, and has been especially useful for myself, as a new coach, to learn more about the team and individual players. The guys on the team have done a great job of inviting me into their family and I already feel a tremendous amount of pride to be a part of Roanoke College.

On our fourth day here, we were scheduled for training and it was my first session to run with the team. I had a great technical session planned out with some passing patterns I think are particularly useful for our possession-oriented team. We showed up to La Universidad de Buenos Aires and I was excited about the topic I had chosen, only to see that we were training on a hard dirt field that was covered in a few blades of grass, which is a rather generous description. The quick one and two touch patterns I had planned would be challenging on a perfect pitch and were nearly impossible on the field provided.

Luckily, the Defensores de Belgrano U-20 team were training on the field across from ours and asked us to play them in a pickup game (on a much more forgiving artificial surface). Good players and coaches are adaptable to their surroundings and we accepted the opportunity without hesitation, not to mention it saved my session! Despite multiple scoring opportunities from both teams, the game ended in a 0-0 draw.

Later, we toured the River Plate stadium El Monumental, where we will see the first team play tomorrow. The stadium was much more recently built than the historic stadium of Boca Juniors, La Bombonera. It was a massive stadium, capable of holding 80,000 boisterous River fans and built up our anticipation for the River Plate v. Rosario Central match. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

Day 3, Wednesday, August 7th
Boca Juniors Experience

Breakfast at 8:00 AM, departed for Boca Juniors training complex at 9:00.  Arriving at 9:45 we toured the on-site dormitory where Boca youth and professional players live.  We met Sol, our Boca Juniors representative for the day.  Sol gave us a brief introduction to the club and to the day we were about to spend.  Around 10 we walked across the street to the training complex where the players where fitted with Boca Juniors kits (socks, shorts, and jerseys) to wear for our training.   We were greeted by Oscar and Gaston Banelli who would lead a training session for our guys.  Oscar is a long time (20+ years) Boca Juniors coach at many levels.  He is responsible for much of the youth development for Boca, including such stars as Teves, Gago, and Coloccini. The training session included some technical work,  a 1v1 activity, 2 v 2 to goals, and some crossing and finishing.  The team trained for a solid 1:45 at a very high rate.  Oscar and Gaston demanded intensity. We would come to learn that although Boca plays a great brand of typical Argentine possession based futbol, the club is especially known for the passion with which their player’s play, their work rate, their tenacity, and their intensity.  Our guys could not have responded better!
After training, we ate lunch in the player’s cafeteria, along side futbolers, male and female, and basketball players from Boca Juniors.  Following lunch we toured La Bombonera, the Boca Stadium, named for its shape as a “chocolate box.”  The tour was excellent.  We got an inside look at the stadium, seeing everything from the ground level, to the players indoor warm up area, the “12 man” fan section, and finishing with a tour of their incredible museum.  Following the tour of stadium Sol led us through the real “Boca” the neighborhood outside the stadium for which the team is named.  Players were fascinated with the art, architecture, and people of the neighborhood, a very real experience for many of them.
Even though we were tired from training and touring, we went right back to work.  We headed back to the training facility to prepare for our match against Boca Juniors U-18’s. Donning our custom “Argentina Blue” Puma kits for the first time, we headed right onto the field to warm up for our 4:00 PM kickoff.  Fresh off a summer layoff, 36 hours of travel and an intense first training session, we entered the game nervously but not cautiously, attempting to press the ball high off the kick off.   The first 5 minutes saw us with little success, as Boca players patiently moved the ball evading our pressure.  7 minutes in we were caught high in the back and a big ball from center back to forward beat us behind giving Boca a 1 goal advantage.  After conceding the goal we adjusted well and became more confident with our precious time on the ball, created some counterattacks and ultimately some restarts, including a Mark Strewlow rebound volley from a corner kick.  Mark's strike was barely parried over the bar by Bocas U17 Argentinian National Team goalkeeper.  Boca continued to build possession throughout the half.  We held tight until about the 40 minute mark.  Another big ball got over us diagonally to one of their highly skilled wingers.  The Boca winger collected it and served a great ball into the vicinity of their two targets for what we would call a “layup”.  At 2-0 down at the half, the coaching staff made some adjustments and the players discussed what they had seen on the field.  We acknowledged the simple truth that we were playing an excellent team on short rest.  Such a revelation allowed us to enter the second half on a more confident note--less nervous but more cautious.  Our tactics worked early as we found more of the ball and more space behind and around Boca's backs, though I was disappointed that we still gave away possession to the home side too often. Nick Stauffenbeger's early effort running forward produced a solid chance with a wide shot.  Garret Eldridge's curling shot, set up by a Brian White service, was saved by the Boca goalkeeper.  At the 70 minute mark, Boca scored again, this time a snapping header off of a nice cross.  Their 3rd goal and 3rd class finish of the match!  From then on we enjoyed far more sustained possession than in the first half, and we were willing to win 50/50’s and first balls more often.  Boca continued a very patient and methodical process with the ball at their feet, highlighted by some crafty combination play in the attacking 1/3. We had several solid counters to no avail and the game ended 3-0 in favor of the home team Boca.

Boca were wonderful and gracious hosts.  The coaches, the players, the club managers and even the fans we met throughout the day, were all, in a word, great! We're now all big Boca Fans!

Day Two: Tuesday, August 6th
Buenos Aires City Tour

We arrived in Buenos Aires at 9:30 AM.  We collected our baggage, cleared customs, and met our tour guides Gerry in the terminal.  We boarded our bus and headed to Hotel Carlton, located in the hip Recoleta area of Buenos Aires.
We were all zombies by now; only showers, lunch, and a quick nap gave us life.  We boarded our bus again at 3pm and were taken on a fantastic tour of Buenos Aires, highlighted by visits to Recoleta Cemetery, Casa Rosada, Puerto Madero.  An outstanding team dinner at a local Argentine steak house and we were off to bed to get ready for our day with and against Boca Juniors.

Day One:  Monday, August 5th
Travel Day

The theme of day 1 of our trip to Argentina was travel!  Two vans carrying 10 players and three coaches departed Roanoke College at 5:45 AM.  Several players, most from points south of the college, had already made their own separate journeys to Roanoke the night before, some driving 5-6 hours. We headed to Washington DC Reagan International Airport where we would meet up with the other 10 players who had commuted to the airport on their own from points more north towards DC. All in all, we endured 28 hours of travel.  As one would imagine, most seemed unfazed due to the excitement of what might await in Argentina.
The drive from Salem to DC reminded us how fortunate we all are to experience college life in such a beautiful part of the country.  We were treated by the sun coming up over the Blue Ridge Mountains as we traveled north.  The drive was relatively uneventful, except for our stop in New Market, VA to rendezvous with New Market native and apparent celebrity Patrick Bain.  We met Pat at a gas station/ mini-mart just off the interstate.  As we entered to grab some snacks, Kenny, the owner, and several others were very excited to see Pat.  They were genuinely interested in his soccer, education and life pursuits.  After some time with the locals, New Market's native son jumped in the van and we were off again to Washington.  As a new coach and organizer of this trip, my biggest fear for day one travel was DC traffic.  The HOV lanes on route 66 treated us well and we arrived on time.  The remainder of the team eventually arrived well within schedule.  Freshman/Transfer Jackson Goyette had traveled the furthest.  To get to DC, Jackson caught a 6:00 am flight from his hometown of Toronto, Canada that morning and had waited for the rest of us to arrive.
Check-in was relatively painless, as was the first leg of our trip to Miami.  After a five hour layover, at 8:00 pm, we boarded the flight headed to Buenos Aires. This flight normally takes nine hours, yet this one had a surprise for us.  As you would imagine on a "red-eye" flight, most of us eventually fell asleep.   When we awoke to the bustle of preparations for landing, we were informed that we had arrived in Santiago, Chile!! This layover had been added recently, yet was not shown on our tickets.  Players were obviously tired, and the coaching staff baffled yet steadied.  We essentially got off the plane, road up an escalator and re-boarded in a 20-minute span.  Possibly more surprising then the undocumented layover was the process to get back on the plane. Essentially, the players told the gate agent their names and she crossed them off a handwritten list with a sharpie before letting them back on.   No tickets, no ID's. Youth soccer camps in the USA have more thourough check in procedures then this.  Unfortunately and understandably, a process like this is not possible in our current times in the US.