Friars boys watch Roma train in March '16

Friars enjoy ‘experience of a lifetime’ on GoPlay tour of Italy

“It truly has been an experience of a lifetime and one that we will all remember forever,” claimed Jake Drew of Providence College men’s soccer team after their recent trip to Italy.

Providence College took 21 players, led by coach Craig Stewart and arrived in Rome on Saturday, February 26 for a 10-Day international tour.

The Friars remained undefeated after playing three competitive games, while taking in the sights of St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum. The Friars watched AS Roma train and met some of the players, including  Poland international goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, watched Roma legend Francesco Totti hit the post with a free-kick at the Stadio Olmpico, whilst also taking in the delights of the Italian culture.

In an action-packed schedule, pizza-making, selfie-stick buying and a trip to the beautiful resort of Sorrento were all experiences treasured by the athletes, who gained crucial experience and earned a creditable 0-0 draw with a talented Roma Primavera side.

Below are series of blogs from student-athletes on the trip.

Blog #1 – Nick Sailor

Bonjourno from Italy! We landed in Rome early Saturday morning and were greeted by our tour-guide, Italy connoisseur and Italian-speaking Englishman, Joe (Giuseppe), for the week. Once we packed our bags into the coach bus, we drove from the airport into Rome for a brief driving tour of the sights we would see in the coming days. We arrived at the Centro Di Preparazione Olimpica Guilo Onesti for a quick shower and lunch. You could certainly sense we were exhausted from the travel, but that lull in energy quickly diminished when we went to see the Colosseum. In marvel of the size and the rich history behind the Colosseum, much of the team took selfies with the new selfie sticks sold by street vendors (Editor’s note: Manny Andrade ’16 was able to negotiate the best selfie stick price. Johnny Hamilton & Alex DoRego recreated the best action shot. See below for winning pic #JoRego). We continued to walk around the city of Rome, marveling at its art, the architecture and lively, vibrant people. We kept exploring the city until we ate our first dinner in Italy at Taverna Le Coppelle. Dinner was a great teaser for the tremendous food we are going to eat during our trip. Finally, after a long day, and very few hours of sleep, we called it a night.

The next morning, after breakfast, we laced up our boots to begin the soccer portion of the trip. Our first training session was run by three coaches of the A.S Roma staff. Hardly any of us speak Italian, but the concepts and principles of ‘calcio’ remained the same and we gained a lot from the coaches’ ideas and methods of training. Rain put a halt in some of the mid-afternoon exploring of Rome, but it did not impede the pizza-making lesson. We all have had pizzas during our lifetime, but this pizza in Italy was unforgettable. The demonstration of how to make pizza was met with awe in its simplicity and its attention to detail. After a brief demonstration, we proceeded to make our own pizzas, using the technique we just learned. Some pizzas looked better than others, some did not have the presentation of professionals, but after it was cooked in the oven, the taste was sublime. Coupled with arrocino, and dessert, our time making pizza was a success and we headed to bed well fed but hungry for our first game against Lupa Roma F.C.

Blog #2 – Colin Miller

Monday February 29, 2016, Rome, Italy – When in Rome
We awoke to pouring rain outside of the Olympic training center. Today we kicked off the morning with breakfast at the dining hall, after a much needed night of rest. Afterwards, we spent some time working through a walk and stretch. The team then gathered for 30 minutes, discussing our game plan for our first match against Lupa Roma. We had a little down time to gather ourselves after our meeting, before heading to lunch at 12:30. We fueled our bodies for the game and set off for the field! Out on the field, the team put their best foot forward earning a comfortable 4-0 victory! Mac Steeves scored three of our four goals and the other one came from Julian Gressel. After the game we took the team bus over to a professional soccer game between Lazio and Sassuolo at the world famous Stadio Olimpico! The rain was coming down hard but that didn’t discourage the Lazio supporters from cheering on their team! Despite the home field advantage, Lazio came up short in a 2-0 loss. It was a tremendous experience for Providence Men’s Soccer.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016
After another heart-healthy breakfast from the cafe, the team got out on the field for a 10am training session. It was a beautiful day for practice, with the sun shining and the temperature in the mid-60s. The session was focused on recovery from yesterday’s game and some technical preparation for tomorrow’s match against Roma Primavera. After the session, the team had some time to enjoy lunch and get ready for a full day of sight-seeing. We departed at 1:45 pm for the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. Words cannot describe how beautiful and elaborate the sculptures and paintings were within both the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. The craftsmanship and integrity of painters/sculptors, such as Michelangelo, is truly remarkable and magnificent. It was an experience that all the men will cherish for a lifetime! We picked up a few souvenirs before walking to dinner at Restaurant Taverna Parione. The Italian cuisine never disappoints and the men left with full stomachs and smiles on their faces! After walking the meal off through some local shops and the side streets of Rome, we boarded the bus to head back to the hotel. We are looking forward to our match-up tomorrow against Roma Primavera, which will certainly be a test for the team. Hope everyone is enjoying their spring break as much as we are! As always, Go Friars!!

Blog #3 – Mac Steeves

Wednesday, March 2, 2016
This morning we packed up our belongings and left the Olympic training center. Karl Anderson ’88 and his family joined us as we took a bus ride to the AS Roma Training facility in Trigoria. There we were able to watch the first team train on immaculate grass fields, as the team prepared for their Serie A game on Friday. The 90-minute session consisted of a dynamic warmup and directional possession play. It ended with a small sided game under the watchful eye of Head Coach Luciano Spalletti. The boys had a great view from the balcony as we watched the likes of Totti, Maicon and Dzeko in action. At the end of their training, we were able to talk to starting goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczęsny, and quickly grab a team picture with him before heading over to the Mancini park hotel for lunch. After a fantastic pre-game meal we arrived back at the training complex to face Alberto De Rossi’s Primavera team. The talented group of young players proved to be a good test for our team early in the spring season. The game was well played and although both teams had their fair share of chances, the game finished scoreless. After the game, players from both teams shook hands and took photos before showering and got back in the bus to head down the Almafi Coast. The day at Trigoria was definitely a highlight for many of the players and our thanks go out to AS Roma for being such fantastic hosts.

Thursday, March 3, 2016
On Thursday, we woke up eager to go to the island of Capri, but unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate. Our day trip was cancelled so we squeezed in a regeneration/practice session at a field 10 minutes from the hotel. When we arrived, everyone was surprised at how beautiful the field was. It was a nice 6v6 turf field with an unbelievable view. We played a small sided inter-squad tournament where many goals were scored and a lot of laughs were shared (Editors note: Team Portugal were named tournament champions after beating the ‘All Americans’ in the final with the ‘Rest of the world’ finishing last). After that, we went shopping and walked around Sorrento until dinner time. At dinner there was a wonderful guitarist who performed many songs for us while we ate. Although our stay was short, we found Sorrento to be a beautiful place to visit and tomorrow we look forward to heading back up to Rome.

This is Mac Steeves signing off from Italy. Forza Roma! And, as always, GO FRIARS!

Blog #4 – Jake Drew

Friday, March 4, 2016
We departed the beautiful city of Sorrento early Friday morning, ready to get back to Rome for the last part of our trip. The bus climbed the winding hillsides and we took in breathtaking views of the city below as the morning sun poked through the clouds. Just over an hour later we arrived at the ruins of Pompei. Tired eyes opened wide to the sights of the ancient Roman city and the overlooking Mount Vesuvius, which was responsible for the destruction of the city. It is amazing that the body molds of people who died during the volcanic eruption were preserved, which we got to see at the end of the tour. The team even found a bone on the ground, which was pretty cool. Credit to Johnny for the find. (Editors note: pretty sure it was a stick). After the long drive coming back from Sorrento, we quickly checked into the Hotel Donna Laura and got ready for the AS Roma game against Fiorentina at Stadio Olimpico. We were treated to a first class tour of the stadium which led us through the locker rooms, up to the clubhouse and then down to the team dugouts. We were able to stay pitch-side to watch the team warm up before taking our seats with the Roma fans. It was a vibrant atmosphere, as songs were sung from around the whole stadium. We got to join in on a few chants and had plenty to cheer for as Roma breezed past Fiorentina, 4-1. The legend himself, Totti, also made an appearance at the end of the game and almost scored a majestic free kick which struck the post. After such an amazing experience with the club tour and game, I’m sure most of the team will agree that they are newfound fans of AS Roma!

Saturday, March 5, 2016
On Saturday morning we did some sightseeing and had some time to shop along one of the main shopping areas in Rome. We got to the Spanish Steps right as the gate opened at 10:00 am and made our way down. Even though part of it was under construction, there were great views of the city from the top of the steps. We also got to see the Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Ugly Boat) at the bottom of the steps. From there we made our way to the iconic Trevi Fountain. It is rumored that you will fall in love in Rome for tossing a coin in the fountain, so a few of us tossed a coin over our shoulder into the fountain for good luck. After seeing the fountain we went to the official AS Roma store where the guys were able to buy everything from Roma jerseys, t-shirts, rugs, headphones & underpants! After that we had some time for shopping and lunch on our own before getting ready for our final match. Our game kicked off around 6:15 pm with relatively clear skies, but it was raining for most of the game. Despite the conditions, we fought to a 1-1 (Andrade) first half and came out strong in the second to win 4-1 (Gressel, Sousa, Steeves). It was great way to end the trip with a win and to stay undefeated! After the game we had our last meal together at the Restaurant Le Terme del Colosseo, which was a great place for such an occasion as we enjoyed great food, live opera performances and some farewell speeches. It was a great way to wrap up the trip and say thanks to the people that made it happen and helped make it run smoothly. Overall, the trip has been fantastic. Between the games, training, sightseeing and spending time together as a team, it truly has been an experience of a lifetime and one that we will all remember forever!

Rugby Utah and GoPlay Tours link up in the eye of ‘global rugby storm’

GoPlay Tours and Rugby Utah can announce they have entered into an exclusive agreement aimed at developing cultural exchange projects for students in rugby-rich locations.

With rugby participation at an all-time high in the United States and growing rapidly, Rugby Utah, based in Salt Lake City, are the state’s officially recognized Geographic Rugby Organization, and GoPlay Tours, a division of ACIS Educational Travel of Boston, MA and one of the leading companies in the Study Abroad industry, are planning their first joint effort — a summer GoPlay branded program in New Zealand.

The purpose of the partnership is to develop international cultural exchange programs allowing student-athletes to receive training in locations such as the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

“This is a wonderful collaboration between two leaders in their respective fields,” said Malcolm Hood, a noted physiotherapist in the global rugby community and Rugby Utah’s “ambassador at large” for international bridge building.

“Rugby Utah has forged alliances with some of the most prestigious players, coaches and clubs in the world and they are therefore is in a unique position to promote in-country training among student athletes at a standard of professionalism that’s truly is one of a kind,” added Hood.

The partnership between Rugby Utah and GoPlay comes at a time when interest among student athletes in rugby is at an all-time high and rugby participation is growing at double digits among high school and college-age participants across the nation with the state of Utah leading the US in growth and participation.

“We find ourselves in the eye of the global rugby storm, as the world awaits the much-anticipated return of Rugby Sevens to the Rio Olympics and students around the world wanting Rugby as part of their educational experience,” said Ken Rivera, CEO of Rugby Utah. “We are excited to enter into this partnership with GoPlay and ACIS, one of the most progressive companies in the cultural exchange space.”

RUGBY UTAH INKS EXCLUSIVE WORLDWIDE PARTNERSHIP WITH GOPLAY TOURS

In the announcement this week, Rivera made mention of three phases for the partnership.

In the short-term, the development of a Summer 2016 program to be located in New Zealand. Following the launch of the Summer 2016 program, the partnership will focus on the development of both outbound and inbound cultural exchange programs for players, coaches, and referees. Outbound referring to study abroad programs for US students and inbound referring to study and play in the USA programs for students located in other Rugby playing countries.

Longer term, the partnership hopes to develop deeper associations with leading colleges and universities across the world to promote a global inter-scholastic study and play program focused on Rugby.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Rugby Utah,” said Darren Lyons, program Director for GoPlay Tours and ACIS.

“We have long recognized the growth and popularity of Rugby among our students and now we have the ability to leverage the outstanding relationships Rugby Utah has forged with some of the world’s most prestigious teams, players and coaches and provide them with a Rugby program second to none — the opportunity of living and playing in Rugby’s most important host countries mentored by some of the sport’s most elite players and coaches.”

Ken Rivera, CEO Rugby Utah and the official spokesperson for the partnership is expected to make additional announcements in the next few days in Las Vegas against the backdrop of the USA Sevens, the largest international rugby event held in the United States.

About Rugby Utah:

Rugby Utah Ventures is focused on developing commercial interests to build the country’s finest training facilities, promote the most elite rugby events, and to develop the rugby lifestyles brands necessary to strengthen America’s rugby culture. For more information,
visit rugbyutah.com

About GoPlay Tours:

GoPlay Tours is a division of The American Council for International Studies (ACIS). Since 1978 ACIS has been a leader in quality educational travel for middle and high school students and their teachers dedicated to bringing history and culture to life. For more information,
visit goplaytours.com

Alejandro Bedoya trying to break the American stereotype

USMNT midfielder Alejandro Bedoya says he is hoping to break the stereotype of American players in Europe in a bid to enable more youngsters from the United States to venture into Europe to follow their soccer dreams.

Bedoya, 28, who was born in New Jersey, but who grew up playing soccer in Florida, currently plays for Nantes in France after spells in Scotland and Sweden, and he has revealed that it’s hard for American youngsters to make the grade in Europe.

Bedoya, who himself turned professional at 21, admitted he had some catching up to do with his European counterparts when he ventured to Europe, because in places like France “players have bee professional for four or five years”.

“There’s always a stereotype with Americans,” explained Bedoya. “That they aren’t technically or tactically as good as their European counterparts. But that’s why players like myself are here to break that stereotype and hopefully we can lead the way for the future and enable American kids to come over here.

“Not many Americans have played in France, but hopefully I’ve done enough for young American kids to follow me over here and play in the French League – which is a good league.”

Bedoya has an interesting soccer resume with two spells in Sweden, a spell in Scotland with Glasgow Rangers before moving to Ligue 1 with Nantes in the summer of 2013. The beach-loving Bedoya, whose business background sees him involved in numerous other projects outside soccer, believes travel and learning different cultures has helped him shape his career.

He did though find the French language a big barrier in his early time in north-west France, but the 44-cap US star is now more than at home in the European city.

“It’s one of the hardest things to adjust too, especially in France,” said Bedoya when asked about the French language. “The French people are more introverted and you have to earn their respect.

BROWSE GOPLAY’S SOCCER TOURS 

“The first few months it was tough. It was probably after I scored my first goal, three months in that the guys who couldn’t speak any English would come up to me and then I started feeling more comfortably.

“I think it’s important that you make the effort, learn the language and be part of the culture. I’m not fluent in French, but I can do interviews in French now, so that’s good,” said Bedoya in a US Soccer webchat on Facebook last month.

Bedoya also claimed his experience in South Africa at the 2010 World Cup was memorable and his advice to youngsters in High School who want to turn pro was to be passionate and enjoy the game.

“Growing up in High School it was all about it being fun. You have got to keep working on your ball skills and you’ve got to have the passion,” said Bedoya, whose named his father, who played professionally in Colombia, as his biggest influence growing up.

bedoya

Meanwhile, Bedoya has waded into the heading debate and sees no reason why young soccer players should be heading the ball at such an early age.

Bedoya, who earned a business degree a Boston College before he embarked on a professional soccer career, thinks heading the ball for youngsters under the age of 12 is a waste of time and believes they would be better focusing their attention on refining their ball skills.

Over the last few years several top neuro-surgeons have claimed that youngsters should be banned from heading the ball because it is too dangerous. Children’s neck muscles are not developed enough to handle the shock of impact of the brain against the skull and it results in damage, according to experts.

And as part of a legal settlement in November, US Soccer now recommends that youngsters should not head the ball at age 10 and under and Bedoya is a firm advocate of that stance.

“I don’t think there is a reason for kids to be learning how to head the ball at such an early age. Kids aged under 10 do not need to be concerned with heading the ball,” said Bedoya.

“They should be more concerned with ball skills. And then when children get to 12 they should be taught the proper way to head the ball – with the forehead and not the top of the head.”

NSCAA Baltimore 2016 Convention: Storm Jonas evaded; bar raised again

If anyone needed convincing that God is a soccer fan then look no further than last month when the NSCAA’s annual coaching convention in Baltimore just evaded Storm Jonas.

Just a week after the end of the world’s largest gathering of soccer coaches the weather turned nasty on the eastern seaboard and Baltimore was battered with 30 inches of snow – the first time on record that amount had fallen in Harford County.

Storm Jonas tragically claimed at least 19 lives in the US, bringing major cities to a halt and leading to the cancellation of thousands of flights. The downfall brought Washington DC to a standstill and saw drivers ordered off the roads in New York City as 11 states declared a state of emergency.

There’s no doubt the convention would have been heavily affected and may have been cut short, but as it was Baltimore 2016 went off without a hitch and proved another huge success thanks in large to a helping hand from above.

Nowhere in the world can deliver a coaching convention like the NSCAA do every year. A five-day festival of soccer with 10,500 attendees, 200-plus presenters producing 100 lecture and field sessions and 300-plus companies from ourselves, GoPlay Sports Tours, a division of ACIS to Corpus and their oval-shaped balls. And yes they do sell the imaginatively-shaped training aids worldwide and plenty of them too, according to their men on the booth.

The waterfront City proved again to be an ideal haunt after hosting the convention five years ago and the bar was again raised.

The NSCAA, who are celebrating their 75th anniversary year, continue to attract internationally acclaimed clinicians and coaches. Former England international and Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce was one of the guests this time around, along with highly-regarded Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, former Chelsea coach Avram Grant and newly-appointed USA Under-19 coach Brad Friedel.

Pearce held a number of classroom sessions and field sessions, which were well received and the 53-year-old was “blown away” by the scale of the grassroots participants in the US.

“The sheer number of participants at grassroots level is incredible. And even more so in the women’s game. It really blows us (England) away and we have got a lot to learn from the US,” Pearce told Sirius XM at the convention.

“MLS will only get bigger and it’s going to start to attract coaches, like myself, from England. I like the US model because the league is more open and anyone can win it.”

While Pearce was surprised by the scale of the sport in the US, retired USMNT star and controversial Fox Sports analyst Eric Wynalda attempted to cure the MLS ‘problem’ in his “Let’s Fix This, It’s Broken” seminar.

“The problem with the MLS is not that the players aren’t good enough. It’s that they’re not being challenged,” said Wynalda to the intrigued auditorium.

Another feature of this year’s convention was La Liga’s technical partnership with US Club Soccer. The link-up is aimed at advancing coaching education opportunities through their new “LaLiga Formation Methodology” courses, which start this spring.

The MLS SuperDraft and NWSL College draft was the focal point of the media attention, but the exhibit hall is still a favourite of GoPlay’s and it did not fail to disappoint again with small upstarts featuring alongside huge global brands.

From Kwik Goal’s vast range of equipment to the more bizarre booths pedalling mis-shaped balls. The pick of 2016 were Ballwall’s aptly named wall, Bonza’s sport bag that turns into a seat and the Frix Friction Ball, which doesn’t roll as quickly as a normal ball and so enables more touches, which claims to aid skill development.

But for all the weird and wonderful exhibits and celebrity guests it’s the attendees who make the convention. Coaches of all levels come from all over the world to learn, share, maintain and build new relationships and the atmosphere is something to behold.

There is nowhere on the planet that allows high school coaches to interact with well-respected, international class mentors with Barcelona, Chelsea and US Soccer to name but a few. The learning process and career development for many is invaluable and the relationships moulded at the convention are ones which last a lifetime.

The one common denominator at the event is the willingness to learn about the game we love and that is the one thing that is evident more than anything.

See you in Los Angeles in 2017.