March 24, 2014
Head coach Stefani Golan writes a final blog post to wrap up the team's Spring Break trip to Barcelona, Spain. The Gophers will play two more spring games as they take on Wisconsin at the Savage Dome on Sunday and Minnesota State University, Mankato on April 6.
Hola, Gopher Soccer Fans!
We just got back to Bierman around 6 p.m. and we are tired! The trek home started with a 3:30 a.m. departure from our hotel and we were at the airport and through security by 4:30 a.m. allowing me to call Dave and Travis one last time from Spain. Travis was amazed that it was Saturday night back in Minnesota while it was early Sunday morning in Spain. It was a long trip home but it was an amazing eight days!
If you asked me before the trip what I was hoping the team would get out of it, I would have told you a few things:
1. An amazing soccer experience
2. Team building opportunity
3. Cultural immersion opportunity
I can say without hesitation that we were able to get each of these pieces at a level that exceeded my expectations, but I will focus my post on the soccer aspect of the trip.
From a soccer standpoint, we were able to see one of the best teams in the world play in person and the best player in the world break FC Barcelona's all-time scoring record...and that was on our 2nd day there! I cannot express into words the atmosphere of Camp Nou. We were there plenty early and got to soak it all in as the atmosphere built. On top of that, to see this team play in person is something everyone who loves the beautiful game must have on their bucket list...and must scratch it off! I love so many of the Barca players like Iniesta, Xavi, Alves, Sanchez, Fabregas (didn't play), Neymar (didn't play) etc., but there is NOTHING like seeing Messi play in person. We got to go back to Camp Nou the next day to tour behind the scenes, and it was amazing. I loved that so many girls ended up buying a ton of Barca gear from jerseys to scarves to hats. It just shows how much they loved it! And I personally bought a ton of gear for Dave, Travis and I... I cannot wait to bring them back with me sometime!
Our first game was a 7-0 win over Badalona CF, and we didn't play particularly well. We had no idea what to expect out of a 2nd Division women's team, and this game definitely gave us a false sense of what the women's soccer would be in Spain. Our expectation was that the teams we would face would be really technical but probably lack the athleticism we see in the US. After all, the best women's soccer in the world is in the US so we don't have to leave the country to play quality women's teams. We do need to leave the country to be in a place where futbol is numero uno and where we are going to get the atmosphere and level we got to experience with La Liga teams and even el Segunda Division.
Anyway, the 2nd game against Sant Gabriel, a professional team in la Primera Division in Spain, would prove to be our wakeup call and welcome to professional women's soccer. The best way I would describe it is that we came out like we would show up and win, and we were very flat. Sant Gabriel was EXCELLENT technically and did a great job maintaining possession, better athletically than anticipated, and they pressed defensively. We told the girls they did what we wanted to do at a much higher level than we executed. I would say they would be a top 20 or so NCAA D1 team, technically better than anyone we played this year but didn't have the athleticism all over that some of the top D1 schools have. But their technical proficiency and willingness to press and organization of their press was very good. We wanted our team to see the value of being technically proficient and that we have a long ways to go, and we definitely saw that in a 3-0 loss. Their 2nd goal was a great and well-earned goal; their 1st and 3rd goals were the result of them capitalizing on our mistakes in a few small details. As a staff, we were excited after the game because we needed one like that to show our team that we haven't arrived and that there are some major pieces where we need to grow. We are working to become a much better possession team, which means our players have to value the technical aspect of the game as much as we value fitness and hard work and this game demonstrated why it is so important!
On our 3rd game day in a row, we started the day at RCD Espanyol's training grounds where we got to watch both their 1st and 2nd teams train. They had significantly different sessions based on what they had coming up in the week, and I found a lot of value in both sessions. Javier Aguirre, the coach of the 1st team, came over to explain what they would be doing and why and to recommend watching at least some of the 2nd team's session. He was extremely nice and helpful. The 1st team did a jog and stretch, then competed in different setups of soccer tennis, and then some of the guys served some long balls back and forth while the set piece guys hit those. The 2nd team did a lot of technical work early (our girls recognized it :)) and moved into possession and finally playing. It was great for our group to see a professional team doing similar activities to what we do.
We would return to RCD Espanyol's training grounds for our 3rd game in 3 days later that night. We gave up an unbelieveable goal in the first minute of the game...they played a ball over and behind an outside back and their flank player got off a lofted service, and their player lined up a side volley that she absolutely laced into the back of the net. I clapped for the goal. The great thing about this game is that we settled in much quicker and adapted well. We were more organized and better in possession than the night before, and it was a great game. Espanyol was as technically proficient as Sant Gabriel and the soccer was better than we expected. We continued to get better as the game wore on, making a few adjustments at halftime. As a staff, we saw growth from Wednesday to Thursday as well as from the first half on Thursday to the 2nd half. We could have crumbled after Wednesday, but we didn't...we responded in the way we expected our team to respond. Unfortunately, we couldn't find the back of the net, but so many other things went well that we are excited to continue forward with this group.
Our final soccer moment was last night when we got to see the Barcelona B team play in the mini stadium. It wasn't the same as watching their top team play, but it was still very good. We had great seats and saw everything up close. There were a couple of guys who really stood out to me for different reasons, so I went online to learn a bit about them and found out they are about 20 years old. It will be interesting to see if any of them make it to La Liga or even to the EPL, Serie A, or any of the top leagues in the world. We will be paying attention so we can say, "We saw him when he was with Barcelona B!"
From a team building standpoint, the team had to deal with adversity for sure. We played 3 games in 3 days, which we never do here. All 3 were on turf, which we try to avoid here (though we train mostly on turf in the winter/spring). We played our games at 8:30 p.m., 9:45 p.m., and 9:30 p.m. We also had the days packed without a lot of down time on game days and we typically got back to the hotel really late at night after those game times. We asked a lot, and the girls were better on game day 3 than the other 2. The other thing that was awesome from a teambuilding standpoint is that we saw a lot of different people hanging out with one another when there was time for free time/exploring/non-team meals. It was awesome to see them investing in getting to know one another better.
In terms of cultural immersion, just read the rest of the blogs! So much to do, so little time, but we made the most of it all. We had an unbelievable tour guide in Han Baggen, who was organized, fun, detail oriented, and handled adversity very well. He wanted us to have a great trip, and put a lot into it all, and it showed. Everyone gave him a hug at the airport, and he has an open invitation to come to Minnesota anytime!
We truly want to thank everyone who made this trip possible. Our administration signed off on us fundraising to make it possible and has been nothing but supportive of our program. Several people contributed monetarily to make it happen, and we are very grateful to them. It was outstanding that Deborah Olson and Phil Simon were able to make the trip with us as they invest a lot in our program, and it was rewarding to have them a part of our group for this trip. We hope they enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed having them with us. The parents that came along on the trip were fantastic as well. They are so supportive of our team, respectful of the fact that it was a soccer trip, and were a TON of fun throughout the trip. I couldn't imagine the trip without them!
We learned a ton throughout the course of the trip and found it to be extremely valuable for the program moving forward. We cannot wait to start planning and fundraising for the next one in 4 years!
Time for some sleep... I have been awake for a full 24 hours now!
See you at ELR this fall!
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