By Lucas Hodges
Coming off a much needed day of rest, the boys were rejuvenated with a noticeable pep in our step as we prepared to depart for a new country. The destination, Salzburg, Austria, which would be the location of our last couple of matches on this European tour.
After coffee and breakfast at the hotel and a couple of hours on the bus sleeping and checking out the beautiful mountains, we reached our first point of interest, center city Salzburg. We set off on a lovely tour through gorgeous gardens and busy streets with the Swiss Alps looming in the distance, hovering in the clouds. Our tour guide chaperoned us in and around the most noteworthy locations of the marvelous city, such as the famous padlock bridge, a filming location for The Sound of Music, and the town hall within the heart of Salzburg.
After meandering through the busy streets, we promptly made our way to the outskirts of town to the Red Bull Salzburg Academy and training facility which was nothing less than magnificent. Perfectly cut fields, newly developed and modern facilities, and enormous mountain ranges in the distance would bring a wry smile to the face of any visitor.The academy is home to their youth soccer and hockey teams.
Upon arrival we roamed the grounds in anticipation of our first game against the RB Salzburg reserve team, which finished its 2016 campaign as runners up in the second division of Austria. Many of the kids on that team were part of the U19 team last year that won the UEFA youth champions league (beating FC Barcelona, PSG and Atletico Madrid along the way to name a few).The sunny skies, cool air and slightly damp grass made for perfect footballing conditions. Kickoff came and the hosts pushed hard with a fierce, pressing mentality. But, the boys fought tooth and nail. Chances came for both teams, but in the end, the result favored Salzburg 2-nil.
For our second match the conditions were not as primed as the first. Heavy downpours and lightning nearby brought a halt to the match against1860 Rosenheim (a fourth division club of Germany), but we moved the match to RBSalzburg's state of the art indoor facility. A three-nil result in our favor proved to be a great ending result for our European matches. Thereafter, the Academy showed us great hospitality with a delicious buffet dinner on its campus. Finally, after a lengthy day in Austria, we now head back to Munich, where we will spend the last full day of our tour.
Although the first result did not fall in our favor, it was an extremely important match for us in terms of our own season's preparation. Playing some of the best youth players in the world, we learned some valuable lessons that we all must take back home to push us even closer to a 2017 Final Four run and a Big East championship.
Entry No. 7
By Kian Zapata
Pretty relaxing day.
We started the morning bright and early with breakfast at 7 am. We then departed the hotel for training, by foot to the 1860 Munich facilities. Our training was very light as it we only had one day before we played again, and consisted of rondos and a fun Ajax tennis game. It was a short practice and as we finished, one of the youth academy teams took the pitch.
Next, we returned to the hotel for time to rest and relax in our rooms . We had time to sleep, do laundry and spend time responding back to our families back in the US.
Our highlight of the day was attending the Tollwood festival in the evening . It was a cultural festival which included art, music and food . With the exceptions of the German natives Dre and Yusuf, thegroup had all tried their first ever döners , which were similar to gyros except German style. Inside the döners, were pork/lamb, lettuce , onions, and a special white sauce. The group had enjoyed it very much and attending the festival was definitely a new and unique experience to the German culture. The day ended with us arriving to our hotel very tired but enriched with new memories.
It was a very relaxing day since we played the day before and had a game the next day. The trip has been incredible so far and the entire team is extremely thankful to all of the alums, donors, staff and coaches that made it possible!!
Today was game day. Breakfast was at 7:30 in the lobby of the hotel. Every minute was everything at this point in the trip when it came to sleeping. Most guys woke up at 7:27, hoping that each minute would boost their recovery. It didn't. Instead, those extra minutes tricked you into throwing on clothes and sprinting to the elevator so you wouldn't be late for breakfast.
Our first breakfast in Germany didn't compare to what we encountered in Spain. To put it in context, we had a snack for breakfast. I think we all gravitated towards the croissants and the Nutella. Instead of the smell of crisp bacon and warm sausage, they had lunch meat. Instead of cold milk for the cereal, the milk was warm.
Shortly after we had a light training session at tsv 1860 München training grounds which consisted of a few rounds of Rondo (5v2) and pregame tactics. We jogged to training which was a little bit different than taking the bus everywhere in Spain but it wasn't far. It was probably no more than a 10 minute jog but probably seemed like forever to all of us; including the coaches since we walked and toured the whole country of Germany the day before.
Yeah, I guess you could call us experienced travelers at this point.
There was one stop light along the way where we had to stop the jog. Besides the fact that most of us aren't New Yorkers, I think most guys looked at it as a gift from heaven to take a break from the jog. The best part of the jog besides the stop light was passing by the training grounds of Bayern München in which we had the opportunity to tour after our own training.
I'm talking THE Bayern München who has had the likes of players and coaches such as Arjen Robben, Franck Ribbery, Phillip Lam, Thiago Alcantarra, the genius of Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti to name a few. It was a breath taking experience which will be engraved in our minds for the rest of our lives.
Lunch came around and we finally figured out that the hotel was not trying to starve us. We had an amazing meal. It started off with each of us devouring a whole baguette. It was understandable after the breakfast we had. Next came the creamy potato soup. It was just the right temperature for me to burn my tongue with the first bite, then letting it cool down for a few minutes and proceeding to eat it. We all ordered either Lasagna or Chicken for the main course, in which both were simply amazing.
It was time to tune in for the game. Many of us had our pump up music blasting in our ears but we couldn't hear one word because we were all passed out on the 40 minute bus ride to the stadium. The only part I remember is getting on a bus that was previously ridden by the team of Bayern München and getting off to realize that the experience of riding on this awesome bus was real.
We had the opportunity of playing on a grass field, which was the first time since the season. The team we played was BCF Wolfratshausen and they have a friendly set up to play Bayern München next week for preseason! I know I'm saying Bayern München a lot but they are Bayern München and we are in München so get used to it.
Anyways, the game was a bit chippy. The other team came in with hard tackles. BCF Wolfratshausen stole the first goal in the second half off a cross and a header from their forward. Our team didn't let down and we responded well. I scored shortly after Connor Bradley bombed a ball up the middle of the field which was flicked on by Jake (Jacob Anderson). I ran through and placed it with my left foot right over the goalie. Unfortunately they ended up winning the game 2-1 off a questionable hand ball penalty call. (No bias, it was actually a terrible call, their player said it hit his own hand after the game). The game was a disappointment for the standards of Villanova Soccer. We weren't clicking well and we had some key opportunities that could have put away the game.
Despite losing the game, the day ended wonderfully because the other team cooked for us right at their complex under a sunset and a lightning storm in the near distance. It was a very kind gesture and I think no one had thoughts of staying up to text our loved ones back in America when we got back to the hotel.
Sleep was in our eyes and was the path that we all chose.
Entry No. 5
By Conor Bradley
The day began with the loud, buzzing sound of my alarm clock which seemed to obnoxiously flaunt the fact that it was 4:30 in the morning and I had to get up. I sluggishly rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, and then dragged my heavy bags down the hallway into the elevator, not fully understanding what the day had in store for me. Still half asleep, everyone packed the bus to make the short trip to the airport. The day finally arrived!
It was time to leave the beautiful city of Barcelona and venture to our next destination; Germany.
We took the short flight from Barcelona to Munich, and when we arrived we saw something new for the first time on the trip; rain! As we gathered our bags, we walked out of the airport and were greeted by a cool, refreshing drizzle to which many of us was relieving from the hot, humid climate of Barcelona. The bus that picked us up was no ordinary bus. It was a bus that the Bayern Munich first team used! The bus had tables, water, and even an espresso machine!
It was only a brief journey to the hotel, where we put down our bags and walked through the calm, quiet streets of Munich to a garden restaurant. We ate like kings as were served our burgers, schnitzel, and more!
Throughout our trip, I have realized that we have all found two new loves; Fanta, a delicious, fizzy drink, and espresso. Every meal was accompanied by at least one of them (and plenty of water of course) especially espresso which fueled us with excitement to seize the day.
During the walk to the stadium, I was surprised how calm and peaceful it was. The stadium was magnificent. When you walked inside it was not hard to imagine the euphoria of an actual soccer game.
We had a very personable tour guide named Max who was well informed about the history of the club. He told us many interesting facts about the Arena, and also was able to answer any question we asked him in great detail. During the tour, we got to see the lower tier of the stadium, press conference area, dressing rooms, media area, and the promenade. It is safe to say that after the tour of the stadium, we left with complete admiration for the enormous, majestic Arena.
We walked through the lovely town and landed in a huge hall with long, wooden dining tables stacked with people, food, and the restaurant staff was dressed in traditional German outfits. At the very front of the room was a stage where four men were playing music, and occasionally two entertainers would perform unique, but strange dances. The vast hall would amplify every noise made, making it difficult even to hear yourself think!
Exhausted from the long day, we walked through the luminous city, hopped on the subway, and traveled back to the hotel. With a full stomach, heavy legs, and a happy heart, we went to sleep with only excitement for what tomorrow had planned for us.
Entry No. 4
By Shane Bradley
The day began with the daily sounding of the 9 am alarm which led to preparing for the day ahead of us as the team headed downstairs to indulge in the delicious and endless breakfast buffet. The buffet included typical Spanish style breakfast foods like fruit, toast, and yogurt, unlike the classic American spread that consists of bacon, pancakes, and maple syrup. The best part about breakfast was the famous espresso machine which brewed the most amazing coffee; Starbucks could not even compare.
With bellies full and satisfied smiles on all our faces, the team headed to their respective rooms to get changed and gear up for practice- rendezvous in the lobby to then hop on the bus and head to the field for practice.
The field was a classic for Barcelona; a small turf field in the center of town surrounded by apartment buildings. Since the day before was a recovery practice, today's practice agenda was more intense and physically demanding. The team worked hard and remained focused as we worked on moving the ball out of the back.
After improving this aspect of the game and the coaches were pleased, we showered quickly with our now rumbling stomachs begging for lunch. Lunch exceeded all of our expectations and was a favorite for the players as we once again faced an endless buffet post practicing. The buffet had almost every kind of food satisfying anything we desired. After devouring the food at the buffet, the team made sure to have a post meal espresso to give us energy for the rest of the day.
The coaches then gave us an hour of free time to explore and discover the Barcelona beach. We all immediately took our shoes off and made our way down to the water to enjoy a refreshing soak in the Mediterranean after a hot practice. The water was cold but relaxing for all. The beach was beautiful and a favorite for many of the players since most are only familiar with American beaches. The time spent here was relaxing as all absorbed the breathtaking view. Our time spent here was great but it was time to tour Old Barcelona.
The tour was so interesting and packed full of information about the history of the city. They took us down the small streets lined with shops and apartments and we all gazed in awe at the beautiful architecture of the ancient city. It was an experience we all will not forget.
Following the tour, we had two hours until dinner. Many of us, now exhausted from our busy day, capitalized on the opportunity to nap while others decided to spend their time basking in the sun and swimming in the rooftop pool which included a breath-taking view of Barcelona.
After swimming in the pool and enjoying one last Spanish buffet dinner, the team headed back up to the roof top to enjoy a mesmerizing sunset take place over the city. The view was indescribable as our centrally located hotel was the perfect place to watch the sunset unfold. We watched as the bustling city below was complimented with the sunset making the city glow. The Pyrenees in the distance only added to the spectacular view.
The sunset was the perfect way to end our time spent in Spain and many agreed that they had never seen a view so picturesque. After, we all headed back to our rooms with bittersweet sentiments of leaving Barcelona but stoked for Munich. We all went to bed early with our alarms set for 4:30 am as it was time continue our journey in Germany.
Entry No. 3
On the 3rd day of our trip we arose to another delightfully warm Spanish morning and deep blue, sunny sky.Outside the hotel, businessmen in suits rode their bikes to work and the city began to open its eyes and fall into its daily routine after another late weeknight.
The flow of traffic outside the hotel was extremely entertaining because there were lanes that proved themselves a mere formality as cars and bikes chaotically weaved past one another ignoring the seemingly invisible white lines with zero belligerent honks or violent crashes that you sat there anxiously watching and expecting to happen.
A group of soccer players from the United States could not imagine a better vacation here in Barcelona, one that immersed us in a deep tradition of beautiful futbol. Our morning hunger was pacified by a delicious breakfast rife with eggs, Spanish sausages and many cups of espresso. Once our stomachs were perfectly content, we headed to a university for training where we completed a strength circuit as a recovery practice from the game on day 2.
The players that did not play many minutes in the game had the pleasure of getting to play a 5v5 game with goalies on a mini field next to the main field while the scorching Castilian sun was out in full force. Anticipation and excitement grew rapidly during lunch outside the Nou Camp where we could not seem to eat quickly enough to get inside the stadium and begin our tour of the 90+ thousand capacity European behemoth. By the end of the tour, it was clear that futbol is much more than just a sport here and you could feel this stadium instill a new appreciation and passion in us as a team for the sport that we have all devoted so much of our time and energy to.
We unanimously agreed that any seat inside the stadium would more than suffice to watch the magicians of FC Barcelona such as Lionel Messi or Neymar Jr. do their best work.As the sun set on our third day in the Castilian capital, we experienced a sensory overload attributed to seafood paella at a restaurant where the view of the ocean and Barcelona Beach was just as breathtaking as the food.
After dinner we walked through a zone of renegade, yet completely legal firework displays set off by Barcelona's children for the celebration of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist that continued all night.We became devoted fans of the resplendent fireworks going off on every corner of the city and fell asleep satisfied knowing how fortunate we are to be in the position that we are in. Barcelona has treated us well.
Entry No. 2
By David Bettenhausen
After more than 10 hours of quality sleep, we woke up rejuvenated. As we walked down the steps to breakfast, there was a sense of excitement in all of us; it was game day.
The breakfast buffet was filled with so many great options; however, the pastries and coffee machine were the clear team favorites. The breakfast pastries were bountiful and delicious, while the coffee gave us an extra boost before our training session at Espanyol.
When we arrived to the Espanyol facilities, we were brought out to the practice turf field. Because we were set to play a game later in the day, the session was short and light. The Espanyol coaches that ran the session were from the academy, and they gave us a description of the soccer philosophy that they try to instill in their players that turned out to be very similar to ours.
They like to repress teams as soon as they lose the ball so that they can gain possession back as soon as possible. The best place to win the ball, they shared, is high up the field near the opponent's goal so that their team can be dangerous immediately. This is very similar to our own mentality that we boil down to a few words: win it, keep it, finish it.
After the training session we got a tour of the facilities. We got to walk on the field where the first team trains most of the time. This field was enclosed by a 12 foot fence that concealed the field from the public so that no one could watch in on the training sessions. Another interesting fact that we learned about Espanyol is that 70% of their first team is made up of players from the academy.
Once the tour ended, we came back to the hotel to get showered, eat lunch, and nap before we left for the game.
We met up in the lobby, and headed out to UD Bellvitge's home field for our first international match. The bus ride to the stadium was pretty quiet, as everyone was getting focused to perform their best.
After a hype pregame talk by Coach Carlin in the locker room, we headed out to the field. It was finally time for the game to start.
At the very start, we looked a little bit off our game. A few calls weren't going our way, the turf was a bit different than we were used to, and we were a half of a step too slow in a lot of tackles. After we settled in and started connecting some passes, it became obvious that this was going to be our game to win.
Max Kroschwitz was able to give us a lead in the first half after he beautifully finished a ball that Zach Zandi played into him. Zandi continued to push the tempo on the offensive side when he notched another assist in the second half. This time it was Andreas Bartosinski who had a fantastic finish over the head of the UD Bellvitge keeper. Later on in the second half, UD Bellvitge slipped a goal in to make the score 2-1. Despite a few questionable calls by the referee that seemed to favor the home team, we managed to come out with a 2-1 victory. We headed back to the hotel after the win in order to shower and get some dinner.
Once dinner finished, we had a couple hours to ourselves to explore the city before we went to bed. We walked back up to the Barcelona Museum of Art so that we could experience the full effect of the beauty of the water fountain display at night. After roaming around popping into random shops and cafes for another hour, we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep after another great day in Barcelona
Entry No. 1
By Carson Hunt
Leaving Villanova was an exciting time as the Men's Soccer team wrapped up a successful yet exhausting ten days of training.
Most of the team was able to get some sleep on the journey. The flight was filled with beautiful views of the Barcelona countryside. However there was a collective sigh of relief as we landed, ending the eight hour flight.
We arrived at customs around 10 o'clock in the morning. While the jet lag set in the coaches did their best to get us acclimated to the time change as they kept us busy with a trip to the art museum at Montjuic, which is located right near our hotel.
The architecture was beautiful, reminiscent of the Renaissance period. As we embarked up the seemingly eternal grandiose stairway, the Rocky theme song played in my head as I raised my arms when I reached the top. While at the top of the stairs one can see the Barcelona skyline in its entirety, which was a truly magnificent sight.
The trip to Montjuic was followed by a training session at a facility in the heart of the city of Barcelona. Even through the jet lag, the team was able to push through their collective exhaustion and get a solid training session to get their feet under them. The night concluded with a walk around the city and dinner at an all you can eat buffet around 7 o'clock. The coaches knew they could no longer have us fight to stay up as a good half of the team fell asleep at the table (Shane Bradley, Jack Gilliam to name a few). We are extremely grateful for his truly amazing opportunity to not only play the game we love but also see a whole new world.
Can't wait for tomorrow!