Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Guest TigerBlog - Obrigado, Part II

TigerBlog and John McPhee thought they could squeeze in a ride around Skillman Park before the rains came yesterday morning. They were wrong. 

About halfway through lap 2 of the 2.2-mile loop, it started to drizzle. About a minute later, it was a full-out downpour. At least Mr. McPhee was wearing a rain jacket. TigerBlog was wearing his "Denver Lacrosse" sweatshirt, and he couldn't believe that the sweatshirt - let alone the person wearing it - could get that wet. It probably doesn't get that wet in the washing machine, and TB felt like he did when he did junior lifesaving a long time ago and he had to tread water wearing a sweatshirt.

Despite this, the two were going to pedal on, until they heard thunder just as they finished Lap 2. It was a sign, TB suggested that perhaps there would be no Lap 3 on this day.

While still soaking wet, TigerBlog's thoughts were turned quickly from being drenched to what to write about and then quickly to the men's soccer program. The men's soccer team has just returned from Portugal, and Tiger head coach Jim Barlow emailed TB to take him up on his offer to do a guest blog about the trip.

And here is what Jim had to say: 


The Portuguese word for “thank you” is the most appropriate word for the men’s soccer team today, as we recently returned from an amazing trip to Lisbon during spring break. We had an incredible time both on and off the field, and we were able to experience the culture, history, and passion for soccer in a beautiful and friendly city and its surrounding towns. Off the field, we visited much of historic Lisbon, and learned how it was rebuilt after the horrific earthquake and tsunami of 1755 that, according to some estimates, killed up to 90,000 people and destroyed much of the city.

We walked to the ancient cathedral that was built for the city’s first bishop in 1150 on top of a former mosque. Our guided and famous “tuk tuk” tours of Lisbon showed us a lot – castles, churches, monasteries, and towers/lighthouses the explorers used when departing from and returning to the Tagus River. The views from the top of Lisbon’s hills were gorgeous. We attended a Fado Show, and experienced first-hand the passion and depth of Portugal’s unique folk music. We traveled out of the city to the historic coastal towns of Sintra and Cascais, and we were able to see the Castle of the Moors built atop Sintra in the 8th and 9th centuries. We stopped by the Western-most point of Europe, Cabo da Roca, and walked along the scenic cliffs over the Atlantic Ocean.

In addition to the sightseeing, we also engaged in community service activities at the Helen Keller Center and the Casa Pia Social Institution.

At the Helen Keller Center, we observed a game of “Goal Ball” in which visually impaired children rely on their hearing to know where on the field the ball is located.  They then try to secure it, and attempt to score a goal by throwing it past the opposition. Our players played various games with the children at both locations, and it was incredibly rewarding for our players to interact with such amazing and brave children and the adults who care for them.

While the off-the-field activities were extraordinary and educational, the soccer experience was equally, if not more, rewarding.

We were able to train for two days at AC Porto Salvo’s facility, and we toured both Benfica Stadium and the Portuguese National Training Headquarters. Our players and staff were able to see what life is like for players like Christiano Ronaldo, Pepe, and Ricardo Quaresma when they are called into National Team duty. We also took a picture with the trophy that Portugal won at the 2016 European Championship.

Our coaching staff was invited to participate in a discussion about Benfica’s coaching philosophy and academy set-up with a member of the club’s Professional Staff. The lively discussion included topics ranging from educational opportunities for Benfica’s academy players to scouting networks, on-field tactics, and coaching philosophies.

The Benfica coach could not believe that our players had not played in a “real” game since November, and that they have only been training for two days a week. When we played Benfica (3-0 loss), we observed first-hand that there is still a sizeable gap between soccer at a top professional academy (where the players still have a full day of school), and college soccer. Everyone in the room agreed that the college rules are a big reason for this gap (yes, this is plug for supporting the current proposal to make college soccer a fall and spring sport).

In addition to our match with Benfica, we had a fun, back-and-forth game with Sporting Lisbon (who were without several players who had been called into National Team duty) that ended in a 2-2 draw.  Our last match was against Sacavenense, a lower-division club known for producing players who go on to succeed at the Benfica and Sporting academies.

With the score tied at 1-1 in the first half, one of our players received a second yellow card and was sent off. At halftime, the Sacavenense coach insisted that since the game was a “friendly,” we should not play a man down.  At full strength (because of their generosity) in the second half, we scored again and won the match 2-1. Regardless of results, though, the Portuguese matches gave us much needed opportunities to improve, to learn about ourselves, to grow as a team, and to strengthen the bonds between our players. We cherished this opportunity.

Finally, on the last evening of the trip, we witnessed a World Cup qualifier in a packed Benfica Stadium. Portugal defeated Hungary 3-0 behind two goals from Christiano Ronaldo. The passion, energy, and pride emanating from the stadium was electric.  Kristy McNeil from OAC said it was the “best day of my life.” What a way to end the trip!

So, obrigado.

Obrigado to the many friends and alumni of Princeton Soccer, whose generosity and support made this trip possible.

Obrigado to our videographer Miguel, and to our host and tour guide, Francisco Mendes, who both became our friends instantly and made us feel like we have known them for years. Francisco’s sense of humor, his passion for his job, and his willingness to go above and beyond our expectations to make our trip as good as it could be will not be forgotten.  And who can forget our political discussions or watching him perform “Guilty Trigger” with his rock band on YouTube!

Obrigado to our coaching staff – Steve Totten, Ryan Hayward, and David Goldstein (we missed you Moff – get better soon) – and those who accompanied us on the trip for fitting in with our team so seamlessly. From family members of the coaching staff, to former Friends of Soccer President Wayne Paglieri ’78, to Kristy from the OAC, Jessica Muroff (and her husband Dave) from the business office and John Furtado from athletic medicine. Obrigado for your friendship and support, and for ensuring a great experience on and off the field for our players.

Finally, obrigado to our players, who represented Princeton Athletics proudly on this trip by the way they played and the manner in which they conducted themselves. Whether it was touring the ancient cathedrals, playing our Princeton Soccer assassin game, practicing for the matches, competing against top level academies, filming or writing our travel blog or participating in team meetings or discussions, it was fun being around you.

If you read this blog every day, you know that TigerBlog was in Portugal with men's lacrosse in the fall. He, and others, recommended Francisco to us, saying that he would really help make the experience better, that he was a great guide and that he would greatly enhance our understanding of the country. They were right on all counts.

Francisco sent me a nice note after we arrived home. It's easy to tell that he really enjoyed working with both Princeton teams and that they were also, for him, special experiences. It's also easy to tell that the athletes and staffs from both teams made a really positive impression on him.

He was a big part of a great week.

Thanks for the memories, Portugal.

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