March 12, 2009
In the final installment of a five-part blog, Loyola junior Greg Howard posts a wrapup of the men's soccer trip to Brazil. The Greyhounds traveled to the futbol capitol of the world over the College's Spring Break, playing in three matches and making memories that will last a lifetime.
Thursday, March 12:
Baltimore, Md.- The longer I'm back at Loyola and removed from the Brazil tour, the more I can see the invaluable benefits the team will gain from the experience. For most of us, it was a once in a lifetime trip. Brazil itself was a beautiful, tropical paradise in its own right, rich with a culture that was both foreign and captivating. The people, from Ricardo to the resort staff to the homeless kids to complete strangers, were friendly and helpful and welcomed us to their country with open arms.
Loyola College never wanted for anything. When we were hungry we were presented with all you can eat feasts of fresh, tasty food, and when we were thirsty we were given all the water, juice and Guarana (officially the best soda in the world) we could handle. Everything was easy, relaxed and already planned out for us. As a result, the players and coaches could concentrate on the soccer aspect of the trip, on growing and improving as a program into next season.
Even with all the strengths of Brazil tour, the soccer itself was clearly the main highlight. We were able to play, not one or two, but three very tough sides that challenged us from the kickoff to final whistle. UniSant' Anna, Palmeiras and Santos each had their own signature style, but were also consistent with the Brazilian soccer mantra: attack, attack, and attack some more. In every game, each team asked questions of our team and forced us to literally solve problems on the run.
Against UniSant' Anna, we had to defend against seven and eight attacking players throughout the match. Everyone from the forwards to the goalkeeper had to defend as a group for the entire game. Against Palmeiras, we were faced with the task of countering a team that switched play by driving the ball fifty and sixty-yards at a time with consistent accuracy that we have yet to face in America. In our final test against Santos, we were forced to stay compact and disciplined as their players attempted to penetrate our defenses with great combination play and clever through balls around the top of the box. By the end of the three games, we were a much more battletested team from top to bottom.
This is undoubtedly because everyone, from the starters to the substitutes, was called upon to play against stiff competition. Each match was a physically exhausting battle in the heat and humidity against well-conditioned opponents. Players tired, and when asked, the subs had to come on and perform in the starters' stead. In this regard, the team showed a maturity throughout the entire trip.
Our visits to the Palmeiras, Sao Paulo and Santos stadiums will undoubtedly also have a great effect on the team. I think the electric atmosphere at Palmeiras' stadium, the sheer size and class of Sao Paulo's, and the hardworking mentality of the players at the Santos grounds really served as inspiration for the team. Many of the boys want to do well in college before trying their hand at professional soccer, and I think seeing where professional players train, change and warm up was an invaluable opportunity because it gave a lot of us something to strive for.
We walked the same grounds as Edmilson, Kaka and Pele, and saw the work it takes to be truly great. I think we can use this firsthand experience to will us on when the going gets tough and when we have to truly dig deep as a program.
On a final note, Loyola Men's Soccer would like to thank everyone who helped make this trip become a reality. The players would like to thank the coaching staff, Loyola Athletics and Loyola alumni for pushing the tour forward. We are very grateful to have collaborated with 2SV Sports Management, who made our time in Brazil as smooth as possible.
A special thank you also goes out to Henry Dussault, who put a lot of time and effort into planning the trip. Last but certainly not least, our program would like to thank all our friends and family that both helped with fundraising and donated money themselves.
The Brazil tour was an experience that we will hold dear for the rest our lives and it couldn't have happened without help of our loved ones. Loyola Men's Soccer will use the trip as a solid base upon which we will improve as a team and as a program. So to everyone who made it possible, obrigado!