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Blogging From Brazil: Updates on Men's Soccer Trip To Fútbol Paradise

March 2, 2009

Click here for photos of the trip

With the Loyola men's soccer team in Brazil over Spring Break, junior Greg Howard has been blogging for Loyolagreyhounds.com with updates from the team's trip to the fútbol-fanatical nation. Below is Howard's blog through Monday. Please check back on Wednesday and Friday for more updates!

Sunday, March 1, 2009:

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - We finally made it. After a two-hour bus ride to Dulles Airport and a nine-hour flight highlighted by a period of extreme turbulence that left grown men clutching each other for dear life, Loyola Men's Soccer finally landed in Sao Paulo, Brazil at 9am on Saturday, February 28th. We grabbed our luggage, exchanged our money, and met our guide Ricardo (who has a striking resemblance to Joey Dussault) before piling into a luxurious Osastur tour bus. The boys were exhausted, but too excited to sleep much on the two-hour ride to SpaSport Resort in Itu, Brazil.

From the time we landed, we knew we were in an alien, fantasy paradise. The weather was perfect, about 75 degrees, and there was lush vegetation everywhere, from green grass to palm trees to ferns to pines to trees that defied description. However, it wasn't until we left the Sao Paulo city limits and trekked through the Brazilian countryside, that it hit us: we were actually here. Virtually every sign we saw was in Portuguese, there were miniature soccer courts everywhere, the roads seemed to cut straight through the outer limits of the Amazon. Finally (after most of the team succumbed to jet lag and lack of sleep from the night flight) we arrived at SpaSport Resort.

The resort was a lot different than what most of us imagined. The resort itself is beautiful, with tropical plants everywhere, a pool, a spa, and a gym, but it felt nothing like anywhere we've ever been. For one thing, we're the only people here, besides the staff. Second, there are two full-sized soccer pitches not ten feet away from our rooms. Finally, the rooms are not "typical" resort rooms, but tiny boxes with two twin-sized beds and a fridge. The peaceful isolation of the place and modest dwellings makes it feel more like a soccer monastery than an actual resort; Ronaldo was here a few weeks prior to rehab his knee without outside distraction. We realize now that we came to play soccer and grow as a team rather than lounge for a week in paradise.

We barely had enough time to put our bags down before we met up for our first Brazilian meal in the main cafeteria. The food was exotic and tasted great. There were three different types of salads, rice, chicken, beef, eggs and more. The fruit and vegetables were particularly good; they were noticeably fresh, as if they'd been picked just few minutes prior. Once we finished our first real meal in almost 24 hours, we hopped back on the bus and rode two hours back to Sao Paulo. We had a game to watch.

We arrived in Sao Paulo at Palmeiras' Stadium to watch Palmeiras Reserves vs. Guarani. This was our first real brush with Brazilian citizens, and it was a memorable one. We found quickly that our appearance didn't really betray us as tourists; there were Brazilians who looked Irish, African and everything in between. It could've been the fact that we were walking around without Palmeiras paraphernalia, or that we were rubbernecking from the time we stepped off the bus, trying to take in the foreign sights, sounds and smells.

After being checked for weapons by riot police, we walked underneath a tunnel and onto the grounds. Palmeiras' stadium was simply incredible; the field itself was on top of a building, and giant, stone steps surrounded the field on three sides. The fourth side consisted of giant skyscrapers, and you could see the entire Sao Paulo skyline from the stadium. The atmosphere was electric. Everyone in the grounds donned white or green in support of Palmeiras, and the team had two rival firms who actually competed against each other for title of the loudest fans. The dress policy was apparently "no shoes, no shirt, no problem," and many fans used their tops as flags rather than as clothing. The spectators were so passionate and energetic that, at times, they held our attention even more than the match itself.

After 75 minutes of hard-fought, exciting football wrought with individual brilliance, fluid play and close chances from both teams, Palmeiras finally got on the board with the winning goal, produced by a great through ball that left the forward all alone with the keeper. Before the ball even hit the back of the net, Palmeiras' supporters went crazy. The concrete beneath our feet literally started shaking as the fans danced, cheered and sang in celebration. Infected with their passion for the team and the beautiful game, we followed suit, newborn Palmeiras fans ourselves.

After buying jerseys, the team was hungry, so we rode about 10 minutes from the stadium to a local Brazilian Steakhouse. As soon as we sat down, waiters sprinted heaps of steak, roast beef, prime rib, chicken breast, sausages, cheese balls, chicken hearts and seemingly whatever else they could find to our tables. Cries of "Sim por favor!" quickly transformed into defeated grunts of "Nao obrigado" as our bellies filled to bursting. Finally, tired and full, we returned to the resort.

We had a game the next day, so the players were excited. A few of us took a nighttime dip in the pool before relaxing outside our rooms. We were engaged in a very good conversation until we heard what seemed to be a monkey call sometime after 10:30. Josh, the fearless leader, volunteered to shut the gate closest to our rooms. He and Cooper, armed with lawn chairs and fire extinguishers, slowly approached the gate before Cooper spotted some unidentified animal in the shadows, and sprinted back to the safety of the team. Many of us city boys at heart, the sheer terror on his face was enough to end the conversation and we retired to our rooms until morning.

Game day. After breakfast at 9am which consisted mostly of fruits but also eggs, bacon and rolls, Coach Mettrick called a brief practice. The boys jogged and stretched before partaking in a few passing drills and walking through set pieces. It was only 10am, but already it was steaming hot and the humidity was almost unbearable. After practice, the team ate a light lunch before retiring back to the rooms for a pre-game nap.

Before we knew it, our first opponents, UniSant' Anna from Sao Paulo had arrived at SpaSport and it was time to play. We expected a tough match-up; UniSant' Anna is one of the best university teams in the country. After warm-ups and some last minute strategy from the coaches, Loyola Men's Soccer took the pitch for a 3:30 kickoff.

The line-ups were a little different from the fall season (sophomores Cooper Tilton and Kyle Wittman made their first start at left back and goalkeeper, respectively) but the results were the same. The match started quickly, and we were knocking on their door before long. Our best chance in the opening minutes came from a Daniel Ankrah cross that Phil Bannister just missed with his left foot. Midway through the first half, we broke through, as Bannister scored on a goal line scramble following a great corner kick from Charlie Hutton. Two minutes later, Bannister just missed a breakaway with the keeper following a UniSant' Anna turnover. The pace slowed a bit after that, and at halftime the Greyhounds enjoyed a 1-0 lead.

The second half was noticeably tougher for the players, although Coach Mettrick subbed liberally. The heat and humidity were a huge advantage for the Brazilian side, and they threw numbers forward mercilessly, sometimes seven and eight players at a time. They shot often, but our defense stepped up to match the intensity of UniSant' Anna's attack. Many of their shots were from outside, and Kyle Wittman showed safe hands when called upon. Jamie Darvill, playing attacking midfielder for much of the game, had two great runs of note and hit the crossbar once.

Substitute Karl Digbeu also did well to relieve pressure, as he and Steven Bantock got to the byline a few times and looked dangerous crossing. We absorbed the attacking pressure and countered; substitute Mark Jaskolski had two chances and freshman Fayek Bseiso could've scored in his debut off a clever cross from junior John Loaiza. Although a little sloppier at times than one would've hoped, Loyola was victors at the full time whistle. As the game ended, both teams converged on the field, hugging and speaking briefly before taking a picture together. Hungry and exhausted, the boys showered and met with the coaches before heading to dinner at the resort.

And that's exactly where I'm headed, too. Stay tuned, for tomorrow will be packed with activities before our Tuesday bout with a Palmeiras junior side. So until then, adeus!