Thursday, August 8, 2013

Day 7- A Tour of the Camp Nou, and the Climax of Our Trip

The Field at the Camp Nou

Yesterday we knew a full-morning training session would do much more harm than good looking forward to the night's game against CF Barcelona. We had practiced, and played Espanyol the morning, and night before, so our legs were already pretty dead. So instead of a training session we decided to hit the hotel pool for some water recovery, with the main feature of the practice being a synchronized swimming contest, with teams of 4 competing, and the coaches and moms judging.
The performances were absolutely exquisite... The gracefulness of our team in the water is something to behold...They are like dolphins...well, maybe more like flounder...

After this fine exhibition of creativity and coordination we headed to the beach with some soccer balls to do some light juggling, and technical drills.
Afterwards we again relaxed with some swimming and eating before departing for our tour of CF Barcelona's stadium, the Camp Nou, where we had seen Barcelona defeat Santos on our first day in the country.

The Camp Nou is much more than just a soccer stadium. The air in the stadium is heavy with history, passion, reputation, and glory. It really is an awe-inspiring place. The entire complex is made up not just of the nearly 100,000 seat stadium, but it also contains a collection of all kinds of athletic facilities, the largest grossing Nike Store in the world, restaurants, and a museum which houses the hundreds of trophies acquired by Barcelona since its founding in 1899. Some of the highlights of the tour were the 4 UEFA Champion's League trophies in the museum, seeing the locker-room, and walking past the team chapel and down the tunnel just like the players as they take to the pitch before a game.

The tour was awesome, but the climax of our trip was approaching fast...
Our evening match against the current "Champions of Europe", CF Barcelona!

Shaking Hands and Sharing Small Gifts Before the Match
Pre-game Huddle

Our match was played on a fantastic artificial field within the massive training complex of Barcelona's Football Club. The same place that players such as, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Xavi, and Iniesta, train at daily...
Within seconds of the kickoff you could see the class of Barcelona's team. They have the exact style of the legendary Barcelona mens team. They possess the ball with hardly a mistake for minutes on end. Their touch on the ball is immaculate. They are athletic and pressure the ball relentlessly if it is lost. And they put the ball in the back of the net with authority.
In the first half there were at least 3, or 4, national team players from top female footballing nations and we held our own.
The second half however, their was no fooling around from Barca. Their were at least 7 national team players, including this season's "golden-boot" winner for all of Europe...

Catherine Lamplugh Beating Barca to the Ball
Brittany Nicoline Looking for a Long-ball, with Melissa Pavi Overlapping

Taking the field with a team of this quality is a once in a lifetime opportunity, we learned the level to which this game can be executed, and we for sure learned a ton about defensive positioning and maintaining possession under-pressure.
Though Barcelona dominated the scoreline, and the possession, we by no means felt embarrassed by how we played. It is never easy to be soundly defeated by a team, but we played with a lot of heart, had some good moments of possession, some great defending, and some fantastic saves in goal. We definitely made Barcelona work for what they got, and for the level of this competition, that is a fantastic achievement.
The Landmark Conference is not going to know what hit them this season! Go Greyhounds!

The Amazing CF Barcelona Football Complex
Moravian With Barcelona All-Smiles After the Match

Tomorrow morning we will be packing up our luggage and heading to the airport in Barcelona. We will be catching a connecting flight in Madrid in the afternoon, and should arrive at J.F.K. Airport tomorrow evening. It was an amazing trip, and a huge blessing for all of us to be able to participate in it, but we are excited to get back home, rest up, and ready ourselves for preseason which is nearly here.

Thank you for all your support of us, and for following our blog. I will post one last wrap-up post tomorrow to summarize the trip and bombard you with photos!

Day 6- Training, Relaxing, and Match Against RCD Espanyol

The Beach at Santa Susanna Beside Our Hotel
Wednesday was a very relaxed day in terms of scheduling, but exhausting on the soccer front.
After a breakfast and a light morning practice just to shake our legs out we had the remainder of the afternoon to relax around Santa Susanna. Some of the team shopped, had a good meal, or went to the beach or hotel pool until we needed to leave for our nighttime match against RCD Espanyol.

The Field in Espanyol's Professional Complex for Our Game

Though we anticipated an increase in the competition level for this game due to the increased prestige and funding of Espanyol, it actually was a little bit of a decrease compared to CE Sant Gabriel. Sant Gabriel was a much more athletic team, to go along with being very technically skilled. Where as Espanyol was mainly technical with only a few high-flying type players. This in combination with the playing surface at Espanyol's complex being far larger than that of Sant Gabriel's gave us more time on the ball, without quite the amount of pressure being applied in comparison to our first match.
After gaining pretty good control over the flow of the game in the first half, an Espanyol forward was played-in off-sides by at least 4 feet or so, and passed the ball into our goal with the the refs completely ignorant of the missed call.
This was a bit of a mental-shock after starting the game so well before this play, but junior Co-Captain Kirsten Schall tied the game back up at 1-1 within a few minutes of the blown call.
Unfortunately, Espanyol's attack grew into the game in the second half, and they soon scored a well developed goal by means of a direct run down the right wing, with a dangerous ball into the six, that their forward managed to run onto perfectly, making the game 2-1.
We continued to play well, and had some very dangerous opportunities, especially from a few strings of corners which we nearly managed to snag a goal or two with.
Unfortunately, again our momentum was foiled when more "play-acting" from Espanyol at the top of the box resulted in a free-kick, which was impressively, yet casually struck over our wall, into the lefts-side of the goal by one of Espanyol's center-midfielders.
The game ended 4-1. A scoreline which does no justice for how close the game was. The game had fairly equal possession, and a good number of scoring opportunities from each team.
All ended well however, the coaching staff was proud of improved performance, and the Espanyol players were very friendly after the match. They were extremely excited to receive our retired Moravian jerseys from our players.
Moravian with Espanyol After the Match
The Team with Coaching Staff, Our Tour Supervisor, Enrique, and Our Professional Guest-Coach, Raul.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Day 5- Tour of Tarragona, and Sitges

The Team at the Ruins of a Roman Gladiatorial Arena in Tarragone
Today we woke up early, and with everyone completely exhausted from a hectic week, and a physical first match, we sucked it up and hopped on the bus for a two-hour bus ride to the ancient coastal city of Tarragone.
Tarragone is, as our tour-guide, Xavi, informed us, quote, "a city, built atop a city..."
This bustling sea-side city is built directly atop one of the largest, most influential cities of the Roman empire.
We were led through the streets on a walking tour, and around every turn the foundations of 2000 year old buildings were exposed. The main section of the old-city literally lies upon a Roman "Hippodrome", which was in this case, a 30,000 seat stadium used for chariot racing. We were even taking underground into the vaulted support structures of this ancient stadium.

Underneath the Roman Hippodrome in the Massive Vaulted Support Structures
We ended the tour at the Roman gladiatorial arena (see top picture), and we then had a relaxing lunch at a restaurant on a terrace above the Roman sites overlooking the Mediterranean.
After boarding the bus again we drove back in the direction of Santa Susanna, making a stop mid-way back at the resort town of Sitges.
The Area Right Next to the Beach at Sitges (Not our Photo, the First Place I Forgot to Take Pictures At)

Some of the team chose to shop, or eat, for the time we had in Sitges, and a large group of us also got to enjoy an awesome time on the beach. The beach, though a little crowded, was still amazing, it had soft-light colored sand, and the water was warm enough that some of the team played volleyball in the water for more than in hour...
We headed back to Santa Susanna, and members of the team split-up for dinner and some much needed recoup time before we hit the soccer field again for practice tomorrow morning, which is followed tomorrow night by our 2nd match of the trip against another professional, 1st division-side, RCD Espanyol.

The Crest of Tomorrow Evening's Opponent
Review of our match against Espanyol tomorrow evening, wish us luck!

Day 4-Tour of Sagrada Familia and Matchday 1 v.s. CE Sant Gabriel!

The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Yesterday we toured the Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona's city-center. This cathedral has been in the construction process since the 1880's and is so large and detailed that estimates say that it will be another 100 years before it is completed. The church was the crowning achievement of world-famous architect, Antoni Gaudi, and it continues to be built under his guidelines by his successors.
The Sagrada Familia really is like no other cathedral, it utilizes completely unique architectural structures that were invented specifically for use in this building. And it also blends together a large amount of very different construction mediums, and styles of artwork that focus on blending Christian motifs with different concepts of found in nature.

The Inside of the Cathedral
After the tour, we grabbed a light dinner, and the girl's did some shopping around the main shopping streets of Barcelona before we had to meet up to travel to our first match of the trip against CE Sant Gabriel.

The Game Field for Our Game V.S. Sant Gabriel

CE Sant Gabriel was made up of players aging from a phenomenally talented 15 year old, to some experienced veterans who were in their mid-20's. They play in the professional women's 1st division in Spain, finishing 7th of 23 teams in their last season.

Moravian and Sant Gabriel Before the Match
The game began very well for us, with Caroline Clark passing the ball into the side-netting around the 10th minute. The next half hour was a complete battle with a lot of hard challenges, and some scrappy play, but ultimately Sant Gabriel's very good technical play paid off, and they managed to get the score to 4-1 by the end. Two of their comeback goals were solid, one was a penalty, earned by more than a little bit of play-acting, and the final goal was a screamer of a shot from range into the top-left corner.
Taylor Blake Fighting for the Ball
Going into the game not fully knowing what to expect, and with a couple of defensive injuries making the game a 13 person roster v.s. a roster of 25, we still by all-means held our own despite the score line. We heard from both their trainer, and some of their players after the game that nothing was easy for them, and that we fought them extremely well. Supposedly the other two U.S. college teams they played were beaten 12, and 13, to 0, so overall we felt very proud of our team's performance, and we cannot wait to get back out tomorrow for morning practice and our night-game against a slightly tougher opponent in, RCD Espanyol, who finished even above Sant Gabriel in the professional 1st division.

The Two Teams Interacting After the Match
The trip has been amazing so far. I know that we have all seen and learned things we will never forget, and the main purpose for our trip, gaining valuable soccer playing experience, has been great for the team thus far. As we begin our official season in just a little over a week, it is great to receive the additional training that other teams are not getting, and not only that, but we are getting experience against some of the best female teams that the world has to offer. Our staff feels that it our time here will go a long way in achieving our very achievable goal of winning the conference and heading to nationals this year.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Day 3- Practice and Visit to Montserrat

Again we held a morning practice session. Today however the session was guest-coached by a professional Spanish coach named Raul. The team completed a number of fast-paced possession drills with Raul really stressing the FC Barcelona style of play, meaning, lots of one and two touch passing, option availability, and as much pressure as possible on the opposing team whenever the ball is turned over. We ended with a larger 8 v. 8 game.
After the practice Raul had nothing but compliments for our level of play, and overall our Moravian coaching staff has been really happy with the level of intensity and the focus we have shown so far in the first couple of training sessions.
Tomorrow is our first match against Spanish professional first-division side, CE Sant Gabriel, and we couldn't be more excited to get into action.
Team Crest of CE Sant Gabriel, Tomorrow's Opponent
After practice and a restaurant lunch we left for an afternoon visit to Montserrat.
Montserrat is a very impressive, jagged, mountain range that is home to a series of catholic religious sites including an early catholic monastery and cathedral, which houses the famous, "Virgin of Montserrat" which is a very well-known statue of Mary and Jesus that was supposedly carved in Jerusalem at the very beginning of Christianity. When we visited, hundreds of visitors waited in line to climb up to it's resting place above the alter in the cathedral just to say a quick prayer in front of it.
The building complex on top of Montserrat also has an art museum which holds some very famous artwork by artists such as Caravaggio, Picasso, and Salvador Dali. The reason for this art museum being built atop this mountain is due to the fact that during the Spanish Civil War, the mountain was a place of refuge for many of Spain's artists and musicians in order for them to continue their work away from the troubles going on throughout the rest of Spain.
There are also a large number of hiking trails weaving throughout the mountain-range, which I can imagine would hold some spectacular views of the surrounding area.
It is possible to hike up a steep trail to reach the monastery area, but with our team needing to keep our leg strength for tomorrow's game, we stuck to riding in the overly-packed cable car which makes the trip up the 4,000 foot mountain in about 5 minutes...

The Girls at the Base of the Montserrat Mountain Range

On the Top of Montserrat

The Team may be a Little Bit Exhausted

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Day 2- First Day of Practice and Tour of Barcelona

Daily Spanish Newspaper for this Morning
The team all ate breakfast at 8:30 in the hotel, then after a short break to let our stomachs settle we walked the couple of blocks down the road to our practice facility for our first morning practice.
Practice Facility

The Team Getting Ready to Hit the Field
After some light technical drills, we split-up into four teams for tournament of small-sided games, and then combined the teams for a 7 v. 7 larger game, before finishing our first session with some light fitness work. The goal of the practice was just to get our touches  on the ball acclimated, and get our legs working again after a long couple of days sitting down.

Around noon we headed back to the hotel to cleanup and get a quick lunch, then gathered at the bus to leave for our afternoon tour of the center city of Barcelona.
On the Steps of the Royal Palace with Barcelona in the Backdrop
 We met up with our tour guide for the day, Jordi, once we arrived in the city. We were led through the city by bus to get a quick overview of its layout and architecture before making a number of stops all around the city and its surroundings at different famous structures, and grand overlooks. Some of the main sights were the Royal Palace, the Cathedral of Barcelona, the 1992 Olympic Stadium, and the main boulevard of Barcelona, Las Ramblas. Jordi, our guide was a little encyclopedia of a man. A little long-winded at times to some, but he certainly knew his city, and was very informative with his knowledge of the history, art, and architecture of Barcelona.
The Team at the Royal Palace
Not Completely Sure What is Happening Here...
Enjoying the Old City

Day 1- Arrival and Barcelona v.s. Santos Game!

We all arrived at Barcelona's airport late yesterday morning, and luckily all of our luggage arrived as well...
The Team Upon Arrival in Barcelona's Airport
Our guide for the week, Enrigue, was at the exit gate to meet us, and we all hopped on the bus for the 45-minute drive to Santa Susanna, a coastal area 30 miles north of Barcelona where our hotel is located.
Once we were checked-in some of the team used the downtime before the Barcelona game to hit the hotel pool, or to take a nap a quick nap on the beach. Others just went to their rooms and passed-out for a few hours...

Around 6:30p.m. we got back on the bus to depart for Barcelona Football Club's legendary soccer stadium, the "Camp Nou" to watch a high-profile preseason match-up between Barcelona, who was featuring the current "FIFA World Player of the Year", Lionel Messi, and new signing, Neymar, an up-and-coming superstar who was recently acquired from Barcelona's opponent for the evening, Santos FC. Santos is a top team in the Brazilian league, and there were nearly 90'000 fans on hand to see the match.
Seeing the mob of so many passionate soccer fans on our arrival at the stadium for a preseason game really put into perspective that soccer is not just a game, but a way of life for the people of Barcelona.
Outside the Camp Nou

 Barcelona won the match handily 8-0 in as perfectly executed a game of soccer as you could ever dream of seeing. The quality of Barcelona's play against a strong, but completely out-matched Santos team was absolutely unbelievable to watch. Individually each Barcelona player's skill and composure on the ball was immaculate, but even more impressive was the way in which each of these world-class superstars followed the team-wide tactical plan with seemingly ZERO mistakes.
Inside the Camp Nou for the Pregame
After the game we followed the river of fans out of the stadium to find our bus, and after a long wait to make it through the busy parking lot we drove back to Santa Susanna, arriving back at the hotel around 1 a.m. The team was all completely exhausted, but we tried our best to rest-up as best we could before our morning breakfast and our first morning practice...