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Courtesy: Saint Louis Athletics

Billikens Travel to Madrid

Courtesy: Saint Louis Athletics
          Release: 05/27/2013
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Saint Louis University men's soccer went on a week-long training trip to Madrid, Spain, in late May. Below is a trip recap compiled by the SLU soccer staff upon their return to St. Louis. In addition, several players kept a daily blog that was posted during the trip, which is also below.

TRIP RECAP (By: SLU Soccer Staff)

The 7-day stretch from May 23rd to May 30th of 2013 will be a week that one college sports team will never forget. During that period, the Saint Louis University Men’s Soccer team set their sights on Madrid and had the experience of a lifetime. Madrid, one of the most historic and prominent European cities, was all that we could have hoped for and then some. During the trip we had several goals as a team. The first was to represent Saint Louis University in the proper manner and the second was to improve as a soccer team. After looking back on the trip we realized that we not only accomplished those goals, but we went above and beyond them as well.

At Saint Louis University, the focus of our school is to educate the whole person. This is made up of three parts: the mind, body, and spirit.  When all three parts of a person are educated, they ultimately leave SLU a better person and more prepared for the world that awaits them. In Madrid, our players were exposed to a variety of experiences that touched on all three areas and in return gave us more than we could have asked for.

For those who don’t know, Madrid is a city that is rich with soccer history. It is home to four teams in La Liga, the top soccer division in Spain, and is home to the training center of the their national team, which is currently ranked #1 in the world by FIFA.  Watching Rayo Vallecano and Getafe train allowed our players an up-close opportunity to see the level in which they all aspire to play. This educated their mind, as they were able to see and recognize just how much work it takes to get to that level. Touring the Santiago Bernabeu and Vicente Calderon stadium allowed our players to get a view of some of the finest parts of soccer history and to see where some of the world greatest players come to work everyday. The two games against semi-professional teams pushed our players’ bodies to the limits as they tested their will, character and mental toughness. They passed with flying colors and the things that they proved to themselves will leave them filled with confidence for the upcoming season.

Along with the soccer history, Madrid also gave us an opportunity to explore some of its culture. The Prado, located in Madrid, is considered by many to be the pre-eminent museum in the world when it comes to paintings. We were fortunate enough to be able to take a tour of the museum and to see some of the best works of art in the world. Behind each painting there was a story to tell and each of us were able to learn a little bit more about European history.

To round out our educational experience in Madrid the team spent part of one evening at the Almudena Cathedral where we were able to attend mass. While the entire mass was spoken in Spanish, most of us were able to follow along with the order of the ceremony. The cathedral itself was a sight to see and the whole team was glad that we were able to make this a part of our trip.  Our time at the cathedral was a time that we were able to use for reflection and to realize how lucky we were to be on this trip. This was an education of our spirit, which rounded out the three parts of a Saint Louis University education.

Being a member of the SLU community is an honor, privilege and wonderful opportunity. Throughout the 7 days in Madrid, the Men’s Soccer team maximized their time and experience as they took Spain by storm. They were able to see a different part of the world, strengthen their bond as a team, persevere through adversity and improve as a team, and educate their mind, body and spirit all in one trip. 

The Billikens had 10 days of training to prepare for the trip to Spain. To hear from coach Mike McGinty at one of the training sessions, click here.

SLU wrapped up the 10-day training camp in memorable fashion. Chelsea FC was in St. Louis for a friendly with Manchester City. Chelsea trained at Hermann Stadium on Tuesday, May 21. The Billikens were granted special access to the private training session. SLU also attended a reception and Chelsea open practice at Busch Stadium on Wednesday. The next day, the Bills departed for Spain.

DAY SIX (By: Francisco Vizcaino)

Unfortunately today is our last day in Madrid, but that doesn’t mean we sat around and did nothing. After our buffet breakfast we had the pleasure of watching Rayo Vallecano, a first division team, practice. It was an intense training and a good opportunity for us to see just how hard professionals practice. I think it was a surprise for us all to see how good a tenth-place team in the first division actually is.

After the training we took a small break and walked over to take a tour of the Atletico Madrid stadium. Having attended a match already that week, it was strange to see the stadium so empty, but the tour was interesting to me because it is my favorite team. Loads of history and titles in this team, with a new stadium in the making and we got to see it all. We left the stadium to go into the center of Madrid where we split up to eat and shop. After what seemed like an eternity of shopping the entire team sat down at a nearby restaurant to eat some traditional style tapas. Grilled vegetables, baked potato, and a plate of meat had the team silent for the next hour. We all left full and it was a great way to end the trip with everyone eating together.

DAY FIVE (By: Jon Roeckle)

This morning we had a wake up call for 8:30 a.m. After breakfast, we got ready to go watch Getafe train. Getafe is a team in the Spanish Primera division that finished in 10th place. When we arrived at the stadium around 10 a.m., we were able to go in and look at their stadium. Although it was not as big or nice as Real Madrid's and Atleticio Madrid's stadium, it was still very nice with a capacity of 17,000. After looking around the stadium for 30 minutes we took a short walk over to their practice facility to watch their first team train. The starters were still recovering from their game over the weekend, so they just did a light jog and played some 5v2. The reserves had about an hour-long training session where they did an intense warm up, some possession games, and games to goal at the end. It was a neat experience to be able to watch the training from so close. The guys really enjoyed it and were taking tons of videos and pictures.

After training we arrived back at the hotel and had a little down time. Most guys took naps, others went to go exchange dollars for euros because they were running out. At 2 p.m., we boarded the bus and took off to the SLU Madrid campus for a reception and dinner. When we arrived at Madrid we met Dr. Paul Vita and he took us to the newest building at SLU Madrid. The building was still being finished but it was beautiful. We were the first people to ever eat at the cafeteria. Our meal was a traditional Spanish meal consisting of salad, paella and fruit for desert. It was the first time many of us have ever had paella, it was delicious and everyone loved it. After lunch we went on a tour of the new building. The building consisted of classrooms, study lounges, a brand new library and a dance room. Many players were wishing the St. Louis campus had this nice of buildings! After the tour, we walked over to have pastries and coffee with some of the students. Most of the players found students that spoke their national language, which made for a great conversation starter. We then said our thank yous and goodbyes to the people on campus and headed back to the hotel to get ready for our match.

(FOR A VIDEO OF THE TEAM'S TRIP TO THE MADRID CAMPUS, CLICK HERE).

We had a short meeting in the hotel lobby before leaving for the match. Coach McGinty reminded us that this would be our last game together until August and that we should leave everything we have on the field. Our final game would be against Atletìco Pìnto, a third division team in a small suburb of Madrid. We came out flying in the first half and took a 1-0 lead midway through the first half. Alex Sweetin played in a great ball off a corner and Julian was able to get a head on it to put us out front. At half time coach McGinty reminded us of the importance of managing the match and closing the game out. However, Pìnto and the referee didn't have that same plan. After giving up 4 goals in a span of 15 mins on many questionable calls we found ourselves far behind. After two bench clearing confrontations and countless players bombarding the referee with questions, nothing was fixed. But we as a team knew what needed to happen. We needed to come together as a team and handle this with skill and precision. With 20 mins left, we took our game to the next level and scored two more goals, both by Robert Kristo. With many other quality chances in the last five minutes, we still were unable to find the fourth goal. After the game, coach made it very clear how proud of us he was. This was the reason we came over here to see how we handled adversity and how much we have matured since last fall. Even though everyone was upset we lost, we knew in the back of our heads how well we played. We then had a short bus ride back to the hotel where we grabbed a small pasta dinner. After dinner, with everyone being exhausted from the game, we hit the sack to get ready for the big day tomorrow.

DAY FOUR (By: Adnan Gabeljic)

The team woke up at 8 am. to have breakfast and get ready for a visit to the home stadium of Real Madrid. After a short discussion in the lobby area of the hotel about yesterday’s match and the Atletico Madrid match which we got to see, we headed toward the Bernabeu. Upon arrival, the entire squad rushed over to take pictures of the front of the stadium which read "Estadio Santiago Bernebau". Most of us had never been to a stadium of such magnitude. The excitement quickly shifted to the entrance into the tour. After climbing several flights of stairs, we were able to gaze out into the stadium from some of the highest seats. Needless to say it was far different in real life than on paper. With awestruck looks on the faces of the players, we all began to take as many pictures as quickly as possible. The tour then took us to the trophy hall of the soccer team with "The Best Track Record in the World". Not only were there dozens of trophies throughout the excessively long hall, but also television displays mounted everywhere showing some of the greatest moments in the history of the club. This was a truly unique experience. The rest of the tour included walking through the Real Madrid locker room and out through the tunnel to the benches where we saw the field up close and personal. It concluded with a visit to the press conference area and the official team store. 

After the tour of the stadium, we headed back to the hotel and had three hours of free time to go around town and get lunch. Many players chose to take the metro down to the main area of the city of Madrid. There they had lunch and shopped around town before returning back to the hotel at 4 pm.

At this time, the team took off to go visit the Museo del Prado. According to the tour guide, this is considered the greatest museum of paintings in the world. Needless the say, much of the team was excited to get to see some of the greatest paintings in history. We followed our tour guide who showed us the highlights of the collection of over 9,000 paintings. Included in the highlights, which we analyzed closely, were masterpieces from Francisco de Goya, Diego Velazquez and El Greco. One that is likely to stand out in our memories was Velazquez's Las Meninas, which was said to be the second greatest painting in the history of the world. Needless to say, it left an impression on most of us. After the conclusion of the tour and a few minutes at the gift shop, the team headed back to the hotel.

After an hour of rest at the hotel, the team gathered and made their way to a nearby restaurant for dinner at 7:30 pm. A standard Spanish dinner composed of three courses including a first course of soup or salad and and a light main plate followed by a dessert. After finishing dinner, the team was given about an hour to roam around and buy snacks or have a coffee if desired before returning to the hotel by 10 p.m. to rest for a big day tomorrow.

DAY THREE (By: Alex Sweetin)

When the team met downstairs for an early morning breakfast there was only one thing on our minds – Game Day.  As our bodies began to acclimate, jet lag was taking a backseat concern to the game day anxiety. As we began to fill up the breakfast room, Coach McGinty reminded each player to start to begin the mental preparations for the game.  After breakfast we returned to our rooms, gathered up our gear, then met down in the lobby ready to depart for the game.  Before we got onto the bus, Coach McGinty took a chance to address the team regarding some information about what to expect during the game.  He talked about the usual tactics, the referees, winning, and most importantly, taking away critical lessons and experiences from this game. He then told us why we were in Spain for a variety of reasons; but first and foremost, this experience is to test our ability against professional teams in Spain that we knew were going be playing like it’s their job, because, well it is.

We departed for the game and headed about 30 minutes away from the city of Madrid to a small Spanish community called Colmenar.  We had a match set against the 3rd Division side called Agrupación Deportiva Colmenar Viejo. This team consistently finishes toward the top of the Division and has a stadium that fits around 2,000 people, not including the standing area around the community wall on the far side. The fans sat an arms-length away from the artificial turf field.  These players are under contracts and their ages ranged from 18-25 years old.

After some pre-game ceremonies, it was time for the match.  We got off to a great start, going up 2-0 in the first 30 minutes. Two quality goals by Jon Roeckle (off a corner) and Francisco ‘Poncho’ Vizcaino (counter attack and cross by Ray Lee) gave us confidence we could play with a professional team.  A misfortunate no foul call was what led to their first goal just before halftime.  We were still full of life coming out after halftime and knew we were in a great position to close out the game.  Both teams made multiple substitutions at half and throughout the second half, which did not take away from the flow of the game. Both teams had multiple chances to take the lead but no one took the opportunity. We thought we had scored a vital 3rd goal around the 56th minute mark but was called back for an offsides.

After another unlucky break where it looked like the player was attempting a cross, the ball flew straight into the top corner to tie the game around the 65th minute.  The pressure was on us as well as the referee, where a series of questionable calls eventually led to their 3rd goal in extra time.  Losing the game 3-2 was very upsetting, but we came out of the game with way more positives than negatives as a team.

We sauntered back into the visitor locker room, packed up our gear, and headed back to the hotel.  Coach McGinty knew the team was a little disheartened from dropping the three points when we most definitely deserved to walk away with at least a point so he decided to give us a little free time to grab some traditional Spanish tapas and relax before heading to a professional soccer match later that night.  We were lucky enough to get tickets to a La Liga match between Atletico Madrid and Mallorca, the last game of the season. Atletico Madrid often plays little brother to World powerhouse, ‘Real Madrid.’  But just last week Atletico Madrid, who will finish 3rd place in La Liga, defeated Real Madrid in the ‘Copa Del Rey’ Championship game.  This happened for the first time in over 10 years. It was certainly a spectacular triumph.  They presented the trophy before the game with a tremendous ceremony on the field.

Afterward, we were able to watch the teams warmup, followed by the match which ended in a 0-0 draw.  Despite the game being less thrilling than we had hoped, the environment and aesthetics of the whole arena was something a lot of us have never felt before. The fans were like nothing most of us had ever witnessed; between their constant chanting, referee bashing, and game involvement. It truly was a blessing to be able to be in the stands tonight. 

DAY TWO (By: Nick Shackelford)

We woke up a little later and got to our first taste of what Spanish breakfast was. The meal-sizes in Spain are identical to what we in the U.S. would consider to be appetizers. But all the boys were still dealing with their individual battles of jet lag.

We took a little walk around the Hotel and just took in the sights before our first planned tour of the trip. We all piled into a bus and headed toward the center of Madrid or better known as the Plaza Mayor. The Plaza Mayor had literally everything you could imagine. The plaza had authentic Spanish cuisine, souvenir shops, and cafés on every corner. This place was a melting pot of tourism and culture. An exchange between tourists and street performers, espresso machines and merchant bartering filled the air. Coach McGinty gave us all a set time to meet up and then our team all split up. When the team splits up, the common thing to do was grab one of the guys who spoke a little Spanish and let him do all the talking. (Will, Pancho, Kingsley, Nico) We spent about 4 hours on the total tour and two hours walking around the Plaza Mayor. The bus dropped us off back at the hotel and we all rushed to the Metro station.

Our second stop of our trip was a famous Cathedral in Madrid called the Cathedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena (see photo gallery). We participated in a mid-afternoon mass and received a cultural experience that majority of people only read about.

Our final stop of the day was at a sports bar called Marca for us to watch the Champions League final between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. The bar was set up for us to have our own private viewing party and enjoy a pregame meal of pasta. The waiter at the Marca had a lot of trouble remembering all of our orders, and the language barrier did not help much either. After about an hour of miscommunication, our whole team scarfed down the plates, finished the end of the Champions League match and hopped on the Metro to call an end to our second day in Spain.

DAY ONE (By: Nick Shackelford)

The SLU Men’s soccer team began its long trip to Madrid bright and early Thursday morning. The buses were packed, each player had their seats on the bus and despite the early wake-up call, our overall mood was rather upbeat. We arrived at the airport, got to our gate and awaited our first flight of the day to Atlanta. Once we on the plane, it all began to sink in. After 6 months of waiting, a spring full of fitness and hours of hard work, it was all about to pay off. We landed in Atlanta International Airport and had about an hour lay over, some guys went to exchange money, others went to load up on snacks and some ran for the power outlets to jam as much battery life into their laptops and iPhones as possible. An airport clerk began to call the groups, it was finally happening. The next time we step foot on land, it will be foreign soil.

Unbeknownst to the team, Coach McGinty had a surprise up his sleeve once we landed in Spain. We met up with our trip advisors, Bruno and John, and the tour began. A couple of guys fell back asleep, a couple of others complained about not having anymore phone service. But as we began passing the Spanish countryside, all the attitudes began to melt into a single ball of excitement. We started heading toward the city and took an off ramp toward what looked like its own little town. A couple of guys knew where we were from seeing pictures online but once we got closer, EVERYONE knew where we were. We were at the home of Spain’s national team, Ciudad de Futbol. We, SLU men’s soccer, were about to walk the same halls as Xavi Alonso, Victor Valdez and Sergio Ramos. The sleepiness and heavy legs quickly disappeared. It was a light training session, a couple of 5v2 grids then a quick 9v9 game to goals.

Needless to say, being up for 36 hours on the first day of travel ended well. We made it to our Holiday Inn located near the heart of Madrid and took a quick tour around our hotel just to get a little more acquainted to the area before heading back to the hotel to begin adapting to the time change.

If our first day here is any indication to what is in store for us, this trip will be more than just creating camaraderie, we will be creating memories for life.

PRETRIP

The Billikens had 10 days of training to prepare for the trip to Spain. To hear from coach Mike McGinty at one of the training sessions, click here.

SLU wrapped up the 10-day training camp in memorable fashion. Chelsea FC was in St. Louis for a friendly with Manchester City. Chelsea trained at Hermann Stadium on Tuesday, May 21. The Billikens were granted special access to the private training session. SLU also attended a reception and Chelsea open practice at Busch Stadium on Wednesday. The next day, the Bills departed for Spain.

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