Mount St. Joseph University

Once in a lifetime trip: MSJ’s men’s soccer team’s adventures in Spain

Dateline: student newspaper

File Under: athletics, soccer, spain

Soccer in Spain

Picture a poor, underprivileged Spanish city. Ruins of old buildings linger around as if they were being hoarded by the ground they were built on many years before. Picture all of the people living in poverty, with little food and little money. Picture the dirt ground that these children call their soccer field, playing in just their street clothes—no athletic gear, no cleats, and no shin guards. What do you see? Are these children happy?

If you were to ask the head coach of the Mount's men's soccer team, Rudy Argueta, he would smile and say, “Of course they're happy.” This is something that Coach Rudy, along with assistant coach Tina Blakely and 14 Mount soccer players witnessed firsthand along their unique ten day journey to Spain this past August.

Coach Rudy explained, "...these children left everything around them alone, and they just enjoyed playing soccer. It was something that stuck in our heads. When they scored, they celebrated just like the professionals. The children stayed to watch us play their hometown team, the team that they've always rooted for, the team they've always watched. Anytime one of my players would touch the ball, the children would yell, ‘Go America!’ It was something unique."

Shane Hall, a senior defender for the Mount, also felt very touched by these children. "The children only spoke Spanish," Hall said. "They came up to us and we had no idea what they were saying, until our tour guide said, ‘He wants to take a picture with you.’"

Bryson Lewis, a senior midfielder and captain of the Mount's team, simply stated, "The children respected us a lot."

"You don't really see that much of that over here because of so much worrying about your kids. Over there, they wanted their kids to be a part of that atmosphere, of our team unity. I thought that was amazing... My players really felt like professionals. Young children were looking up to them, to be players like them." Coach Argueta acknowledged. 

This was not the only account of cultural differences that the team discovered during this trip. The people were more liberal and open there than they are here in the States. Everybody respected everybody and the team didn't notice a lot of judging, but rather noticed that everybody goes in their own way. They noticed 'siestas' were very much a part of their culture.

Coach Rudy described, "Every company, every store closed from 2pm to 5pm every day in order to take their 'siesta,' or nap."

They noticed how much pride that the people had for their culture. They noticed how much they loved their ancestors. They noticed how much they loved the old buildings that stood as ruins. They didn't just see the pride, but they could feel it, too.

Learning from the Experts

Coach Rudy and his team played and practiced in two cities: Madrid and Barcelona. They played against a total of four professional teams while they were there. Their first game was against Aracaca Club de Futbol. Their second game was against Atletico Pinto. Third, they played against Casar Club Deportivo. Their fourth and final game was against Palafruguell Futbol Club. Each day they continued to improve on their skill sets and team unity.

Lewis was very impressed by the style of play that the professional teams possessed. "They appreciate the game itself, as well as the art of it.”

Hall added, "For soccer, the first touch is very important. Their style of playing was pretty much perfect." Hall noticed that most American teams' style of play is to just go straight up field and try to kick the ball into the goal. In Spain, it's completely different.

Hall explained, "One of the professional coaches put it this way: 'When we have the ball we are having fun. When we lose the ball we want to get it back as quickly as we can so we can have fun again.'"

"Our last game [against Palafruguell Futbol Club], we were playing the best soccer we have ever played, as far as possession." Coach Rudy was proud to say. The game was tied 0-0 at halftime, which is great for playing against a professional team. This game was the team's last learning experience while in Spain and it was very special to the Mount players. The Palafruguell Futbol Club had just celebrated their hundredth year as a club, so they decided to play Barcelona's first team, as celebration. Players like Lionel Messi and Xavi Creus, some of the best players in the world, played on the field just months before the Mount's team. Coach Rudy and the team were treated very professionally.

Coach Rudy explained, "Before the final game, we met the president of the team. After the game, he came back out and he took us out to dinner. They took us to the restaurant that they owned. They fed us. They brought their families with them. The coach wanted a picture with us. The coach's son wanted a picture with us. I think that was bigger than the soccer side of it. You played professional players, with a professional coach and usually you will think that you would be the one that would want to take pictures with them. But it was reversed. It was something unique, that you don't see. I think that was very professional. That was pure class on their side."

Building experiences, friendships and memories

Coach Rudy said that his best memory from this trip was "seeing their faces when they stepped on the field. Seeing those smiles when they played against those teams, seeing the effort, as a coach when you see your team playing professional teams, a lot of teams can put their heads down. A lot of kids can say, 'Why even bother?' But this group of guys gave it their all. They were fantastic. They represented our university in the greatest way possible. They were role models to any group, from anywhere... They were a true example to a lot of kids, to a lot of people in general. That was the biggest thing to me. Seeing them have the opportunity to see something bigger and better."

For most of the players that went on this trip, this was the first time that they've ever traveled overseas. Lewis stated, "It was unfortunate that our entire team couldn't make it. Our friendships have improved, and we learned a lot about each other."

Hall said, "It was the best team unity that I've seen since I've been here [at the Mount], in all four years. It was the best team unity I've ever seen, actually."

The team has very high goals for this upcoming season. "As a team, we want to be more successful. Anything I can do to succeed our team goals is my goal. We are a young team this year, so I want to teach the younger players by leading by example and playing hard." Lewis said with great confidence.

"As far as our team goals this year, we want to have our first winning season. The Mount's never had a winning season. I believe we have a good opportunity to do it this year." Hall said. 

Coach Rudy saw this trip and this experience as a way to grow, "These men did not just grow as soccer players, but as people. They noticed and learned a different culture. They saw how hard people worked over there... As a group we grew a lot closer, and it shows now. All of the guys respect each other and everything they do."

Visit Dateline's Flickr page to see pictures of the soccer team's trip:

Photos courtesy of Rudy Argueta.