March 6, 2009
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. Here is the final installment that Howard will write from Brazil. Please check back at the beginning of next week for a trip summary
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Sao Paulo, Brazil -The trip to Brazil is really starting to speed up even as it's winding down. Over the last few days, Loyola Soccer has spent a lot of time out of their rooms and the boys have tried their best to take advantage by immersing themselves in an alien, yet captivating culture.
After breakfast and a light lifting session on Wednesday morning, the boys were told to shower up and put on some casual clothes before we hopped on our tour bus. Many of us read the itinerary beforehand and knew that we'd be able to spend time at a mall to shop for ourselves and, of course, our families as well. Based on our brief stint at the mall on Tuesday, we knew that many Brazilians dressed to impress when they were at the mall, and we tried our best to do the same, many of us donning polos, designer shirts and shoes instead of sandals. Confident in our appearance, we once again made the long trek to Sao Paulo. We had a stop to make before the mall.
Once in Sao Paulo, we took a turn that took us away from Palmeiras' stadium and through another, richer part of town. The houses and properties got bigger and bigger the longer we drove; some took up entire blocks for themselves. We even got to see where a few Sao Paulo government officials lived. After a period, we arrived at Estadio Pompeu de Toledo, the home of Sao Palo FC; Ricardo's favorite team and the most successful in Brazilian history.
Everyone thought the Palmeiras stadium was large and impressive until we laid eyes on Sao Paulo's. Everything about it evoked class, and suddenly Palmeiras didn't seem as amazing as it once had. When we got off the bus, we were greeted by two young Brazilian guys who introduced themselves as our tour guides, albeit with translation help from Ricardo. We thought we'd be taking a tour of the trophy room, but we came to find out that we'd be touring the entire stadium!
We entered through the player's entrance and immediately took a right into the media room, where the players and coaches were interviewed after matches. Everyone took pictures on the four-person panel overseeing the entire room, and even conducted a few mock interviews. When we were all finished, we made a right out of the media room and continued our VIP tour underneath the actual stadium.
We arrived at a large chamber, interrupted periodically by pillar and covered in turf, with a small goal on one side. It was the warm-up area, where the players got loose before the games on matchday. What a revelation this was; for the entire trip, we thought Brazilians only warmed up 5-10 minutes before the game. In actuality, they stayed and stretched inside to escape the South American heat.
After taking pictures there, the boys continued to the Sao Paulo first team locker room. In each locker had a huge photo of each Sao Paulo player with his signature underneath. I'll admit, it was pretty cool, and after snapping more photos, we walked through the players' tunnel and out onto the field.
This was nothing like Palmeiras. The pitch itself was special, but it paled in comparison to the actual stadium. Palmeiras' stadium holds about 28,000 people, but Sao Paulo's holds almost three times as many. Sao Paulo once held 130,000, but giant concrete steps were replaced with plastic seats for extra comfort. It resembled a college football stadium more than anything else. The difference between the two stadiums was simple; when you were young, you didn't dream about playing in Palmeiras' stadium. You dreamed about playing in Sao Paulo's.
We took about forty-five minutes to explore the entire expanse of the stadium. We took a lap around the pitch, taking pictures at every opportunity, then went back inside and climbed five flights of stairs to reach the top cheering section, to take panoramic pictures of the entire structure. It was quite a sight from our position, and you could tell that our once strong Palmeiras feelings were starting to get replaced by our new affection for Sao Paulo FC.
We went back inside and continued onward to the Sao Paulo trophy room, even though room isn't really the word. We started off in a hall that housed the team's World Championship trophies (the most recent over Liverpool in 2004) and continued to the actual room, which more resembled a gigantic cavern that covered a full two floors. There were hundreds upon hundreds of trophies from Sao Paulo FC's decorated past as well as trophies and medals won from other sports by Paulistos (the nickname for Sao Paulo's citizens).
There were Olympic medals, boxing belts, volleyball and basketball trophies, and much more. Some of the trophies were even taller than me! It was incredible, and we were impressed. Of course, the tour guide knew we would be, because all of a sudden he was leading us to the team store, trying to take advantage of our temporary weakness and awe.
But as college kids, we are nothing if not frugal. The jerseys cost upwards of about $100, and even the t-shirts cost about $40 each. Suddenly sober and clearheaded, we fled the beautiful stadium after making a few minor purchases.
Next stop: the mall! Finally, it was time to give back to our parents and family and buy them some souvenirs, and hopefully some souvenirs for ourselves, too. And, of course, it was time to check out the beautiful Brazilian women.
Once we stepped foot inside Iguatemi Mall, though, it became obvious that we weren't going to be able to buy that much in there at all. Sao Paulo is one of the richest cities in Brazil, and we were in the richest area of Sao Paulo. We were basically in an area equivalent to Beverly Hills, California.
Instead of novelty and souvenir stores, the mall was packed with shops like Louis Vuitton, Emporio Armani, D&G, Tiffany's, and Hugo Boss. I picked up a pair of jeans. R$465. No thanks. The clothes were so expensive that stores allowed you to make installments on your purchases! It was enticing, but as college kids, we are nothing if not frugal. We spent most of our time in the food court, hanging out, asking girls for directions to one place or another, and just enjoying our time relaxing on an afternoon off.
When we left the mall around 8pm, smiles lit our faces from the experience, but it was time to get focused. Loyola had a 7v7 match today vs. a competitive 7v7 soccer team that played out of a social club called EC Pinheiros, Ricardo's own club. Although the game was meant to be more of a friendly than the other three, the boys wanted to keep their undefeated record in Brazil alive, and the only way was to beat the upcoming foe.
The club EC Pinheiros absolutely blew us away. From Ricardo's descriptions, we expected a YMCA. In actuality, to even call EC Pinheiros a YMCA on steroids doesn't begin to explain the size and layout of the place.
EC Pinheiros resembles a small athletic town within the city. It has soccer fields, basketball courts, beach volleyball pits, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a 400-meter track, and lounger areas. And that's just on the outside. There are buildings all over the club, high rises that house business offices, apartments and restaurants. Inside the actual club, there are more soccer pitches, basketball courts, indoor volleyball pits, pools, a full-sized gym, and rooms for fencing, judo, yoga, dance and probably anything else anyone had ever thought of in EC Pinheiro's 109-year history. It's the biggest club of its kind in South America, and one of the biggest in the world. By the time we toured a mere fraction of the compound, it was time to suit up and play.
The match was played on a small turf pitch, probably a little bigger than a basketball court, and there weren't any walls. The goals were smaller, and there were a lot of rule changes. For example, instead of a corner kick, you took a throw-in from the corner flag, and you only had five seconds to inbound the ball once it went out of bounds. The sport actually resembled basketball or indoor soccer more than the full-sided brand of the sport we're used to.
Coach Mettrick decided to start John Loaiza, Mark Jaskolski, Fayek Bseiso, Karl Digbeu, Michael Samaroo and Joey Dussault, with Coach Kyle Swarts playing in goal. On the bench were Daniel Ankrah, Cooper Tilton, Wade McHugh, and Coach Mettrick himself. The rest of the team sat in the bleachers, and cheered the boys on like family. Which, of course, we are.
We learned soon after kickoff that 7v7 soccer was absolutely nothing like the full-sided sport we're used to. Due to the number of players and the size of the field, the strategy used by EC Pinheiros was nothing like we've seen, and as full-sided team, we struggled. At the end of the hour-long match, the score was 9-2 in favor of EC Pinheiros, although there were some solid performances on both teams. John Loaiza scored two sensational goals, and even his finishing exhibition wasn't enough to overshadow Digbeu's or Tilton's, who were voted as co-MVPs of the match. It was a fun experience, one that really opened our eyes to a different style of soccer.
After taking pictures with the opposing team, we all went to a pizzeria at EC Pinheiros for a late dinner. The restaurant was run in the same way as Brazilian steakhouse; there were always 3-4 waiters running around with pies, throwing slices of pizza on our plates before we could even finish the previous slice. It was a hearty meal, and for dessert, the waiters even brought out chocolate pizza. Bellies full and the boys exhausted, it was time to head back to SpaSport for our last night at the resort.
Everyone was excited when we woke up on Thursday. This was the day we were waiting for; it was time for Loyola Soccer to head to the beach. After a breakfast and a short practice, it was time to pack up, thank the staff and travel four hours or so to Riviera, a beach town outside of Santos, Brazil.
We'd been driving for about two hours before we entered the tropical rainforest. I don't think I'll ever forget it; the infinite green blanket of trees and mountains that was interrupted briefly by our tiny street before once again continuing into eternity. The sheer cliffs and rivers that winded their way through the forest only added to the beauty and majesty of the landscape. The view was truly incredible, and the boys oohed and ahhed their way through the jungle, snapping pictures for the entire second half of the trip.
After about two hours, the bus made an abrupt right onto a side road and took us into the small town of Riviera. We arrived at our hotel, Amarills Flats, a three-story tropical hotel seemingly in the middle of the rainforest. After eating at the hotel restaurant, we took our bags up to our room and BAM!
Air conditioning. After five days at SpaSport and cooled by a ceiling fan every night, air conditioning was the best thing the boys could've been met with. As tempting as staying and relaxing in the cold room was, we were at the beach. We had the entire evening to relax and explore, and we didn't want to waste time.
After a thirty-minute walk through rainforest, we made a left, and, without warning, the ocean sprang up on us. The weather was perfect, not too hot or cold, and the water was warm. In the water, small islands popped up intermittently, completely covered with greenery. It was pretty cool, and for the rest of the day, the boys hung out on the beach, playing soccer on the sand and swimming in the ocean.
When we returned to the rooms around 7pm, we ate dinner and relaxed at the hotel. At 10pm, it was lights out; our hardest test, against the Santos FC U-20 side, was on Friday, and we were going to need all our rest if we were to do well.
This morning, we woke up to our last full day in Brazil, focused and ready to go. After a 7am breakfast, the boys got their gear, piled into the bus, and headed an hour and a half to Santos. We once again drove through an expanse of rainforest, but our minds were elsewhere. It was quiet on the bus as everyone prepared themselves mentally for the battle ahead.
We arrived around 9am to the Santos training grounds, the same grounds that players like Diego, Robinho and the great Pele once called home. The fields were decent but not overly glamorous; the grass was little long and there were dirt patches in the eighteen yard box. The entire compound itself was a testament to hard work; the best players in the world didn't come from manicured lawns and state-of-the-art facilities, they came from a soccer school of hard knocks where they had to work everyday and pay their dues to make it in the game.
The game kicked off an hour after Loyola arrived to the grounds, and from the opening whistle the match was intense. The heat and humidity were almost unbearable, but Loyola did their best to compete with a Santos team who was used to the conditions. From the start, it was clear that Santos was the strongest opponent of the tour, and they worked to set the tempo for the game using short passes around the box to get opportunities on goal.
The Loyola defense had to brace themselves as they were immediately under the gun. Santos had a series of long shots over the first ten minutes, but Kyle Wittman kept his shutout streak alive with two good saves. Loyola had their first real chance when Wade McHugh cleverly turned a Santos winger at midfielder before carrying the ball thirty yards and crossing it just out of the reach of his teammates. In the seventeenth minute, Daniel Ankrah beat a player down the left wing before guiding a left-footed cross onto the chest of Phil Bannister, who took a touch around the keeper before being taken down, awarding a penalty kick for Loyola. Jamie Darvill stepped up to take the kick, but was foiled as the keeper guessed correctly and tipped the ball against the post and clear of danger.
The game continued on throughout the first half with a fresher Santos team dictating the pace as Loyola College defended well to deter any of the opponent's efforts. Just before half, Wade McHugh was fouled on the left side, and Charlie Hutton stepped up to take a free kick. He drove the ball back post where Darvill met the ball with his head and sent it back across goal. Tennant McVea was lurking but could not reach the ball before the Santos keeper. After an even first half, the score was 0-0.
Santos subbed for eleven new players in the second half, but Loyola did well to fight back against the fresh legs. The back four of McVea, Glenn Leitch, Steven Bantock and Cooper Tilton stayed compact and did a good job of containing the Santos threat, and the opposition was once again forced to settle for long shots. Loyola started to assert their style of play, working the flanks as substitutes Karl Digbeu and Joseph Dussault came on to make an instant impact for the team.
Then, with about twenty-five minutes remaining, disaster struck for the visiting side. A ball sailed over McVea's head, and a Santos forward ran onto the ball, got to the byline and played it across the face of the goal. In an effort to clear the ball off the line, Leitch accidently knocked the ball into his own net, putting Santos up 1-0. It was a tough goal to concede, but Loyola pressed the attack. About five minutes later, a clever three-man combination between Ankrah, Bannister and Darvill left Bannister with a volley, but the ball was deflected and saved by the keeper. Coach Mettrick then brought on fresh legs himself with the substitutions of John Loaiza, Mark Jaskolksi and Michael Samaroo for Darvill, Bannister and Dines.
With about five minutes remaining, McVea gambled and made a long run with the ball, playing a give-and-go with Loaiza before being pulled down about thirty-five yards from goal. Hutton lofted a good ball into the box, but the keeper made a spectacular diving save and held the ball to remove Santos of any danger. Fayek Bseiso then came on and dealt with flulike symptoms to make a few good passes during his time on the field. At the final whistle, Santos FC were the victors, but Loyola soccer fought valiantly in lieu of the heat, humidity and fatigue that they battled over the course of the entire game.
Although we lost, spirits were high after the game. We'd play three full-sided games and competed with some of the best professional youth teams in Brazil. After taking pictures and swapping gear with the opposing players and coaches, it was time to take a short trip to Santos FC's stadium, the house that Pele built.
When we pulled up to Santos' stadium, we were immediately met by a tour guide named Stephanie who, in English, gave us a brief overview of Santos FC's history since their conception in 1912. Afterwards, we were able to look around the trophy room. Although not as magnificent as Sao Paulo's, Santos' trophy room was still pretty spectacular. Everything was on one floor, but there were still dozens upon dozens of trophies, as well as an exhibit for all of the jerseys worn throughout the team's history, and even a memorial to Pele himself. Everyone knew that Pele was great, but I doubt any of us knew how great. Santos has scored 11,365 goals in their illustrious existence, and Pele has scored 1,091 by himself. Absolutely astronomical. After walking around and taking pictures, we made our way to the media room, and then to the locker room.
The locker room was a different experience. It wasn't much bigger than ours, and the player's lockers were stacked over one another in columns of twos along one wall. There was a bare wooden bench where the players sat. The accommodations were so modest that it was hard not to like it. It seems as if Santos throws all the glitz and glory to the side and play the beautiful game for the sole purpose of playing it, not for shoe contracts and endorsements or otherwise.
All the lockers had players' faces and names on them, and most were unlocked. The only one locked was Pele's, who still had a locker in the Santos dressing room. In his last game at Santos, he put something in the locker and locked it. No one knows what it is, and no one has ever opened it. Maybe one day, someone will, but as of now, it is a shrine of the greatest player in history.
From the locker room, we took the player's tunnel to the field. There were groundskeepers working on the field as we watched, and we snapped pictures of the stadium as Stephanie spoke. The stadium only holds 20,000 people, but the seats come right up to the field, separated only by a netted fence. There was a blue collar feel to the place, and as a blue collar team ourselves, the environment struck a chord. After a few more photos, we headed to the Santos store.
Because of the good tour (and cheap prices on the racks) most of us bought stuff for ourselves, and our friends and family at home. After about an hour of shopping, we packed back into the bus and headed back to Riviera.
And that's where we are now, headed back to the hotel for one last night of relaxation and fun in Brazil before our return to the States on Saturday. We'll see you soon, but until then, ciao e obrigado!