For many high school kids, spring break trips is a time they will never forget. For four local soccer players, an adventure in Spain will rank up there.
Nation Ford’s Brad Young, Blake Baker and Steven Halas and Clover’s Zach Pierce spent their recent spring break in Spain as part of the Mediterranean International Cup tournament. They were selected as part of the Discoveries Soccer Club.
The tournament features some of the most high caliber teams from around the world, including two of the top four U-19 teams. Coaches from Spain had visited the Discoveries Club last year to host camps and evaluate talent and the four local players were picked from one of those events.
They were in Barcelona and other parts of Spain eight days all together. For most of them, it was their first trip outside of the United States. Halas was the lone player who had been abroad, to Italy and Mexico.
“It was a real intense first couple of days,” Young said.
“It was one of the best trips of my life,” Pierce added. “I had always wanted to go to Europe. I loved it.”
One thing the group did notice is that soccer in Europe, especially Spain, is a lot different than it is in America.
“It is a lifestyle,” Baker said. “It is great to play in that type of atmosphere.”
Halas added it was like the country didn’t just embrace the sport, but the sport engulfed the country.
“It was great to see how different it was,” he said. “Everything revolves around soccer.”
And when Halas says everything, he means everything.
From what the four experienced, soccer came first and then education, which is different then what they grew up with in America. When the boys would get up in the morning, they didn’t get ready for school, but practice. The group would practice twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, and would prepare to play in a couple of games during their stay. The got up between 6:30 and 7 every morning, ate breakfast and then practiced at 8 for a couple of hours. That was followed by lunch and then another two-hour practice session later in the afternoon.
“All of the city was about soccer,” Pierce said.
One thing they all noticed is that the game is a lot faster than what they were used to.
“You learn to be more mature on and off the ball,” Young said. “Every inch and every second counts. The speed of play is much quicker. I think it made us more confident.”
“One mistake and you are off the field,” Baker added. “They want perfection.”
Because the majority of players are technically sound, practice sessions would revolve around preparing the team for its upcoming opponent and not working on fundamentals, which the boys say is different here in America. The games they played in were 50 minutes long, instead of the normal 80-minute high school game, but it still took a lot out of the players.
“You were mentally and physically drained,” Young said. “I think it prepared us better. It got us stronger on the ball and we have a higher IQ about what to do.”
Pierce said the competition was like nothing they had seen before.
“Technically, they were all great players,” he said. “They were like Division I (college) players. It was a big change from what I was used too.”
Both Young and Baker are seniors and will be playing college soccer next year. They said the trip gave them some insight about what the college game will be like. For Halas and Pierce, who are both juniors, they said they would both go back if given the opportunity again.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I would love to go back,” Pierce said.
Mac Banks: firstname.lastname@example.org, @MacBanksFM