This week, IMG Academy boy's soccer teams are training overseas in Lisbon, Portugal. It is a chance for them to experience international soccer, and to be able to observe and train with one of Portugal's premier clubs, Sporting Lisbon, and to compete against some of the top youth soccer players in the nation.
Forty-five IMG Academy players, accompanied by their coaches, made the journey. Each team is chronicling their experience to give us three points of view on the excursion, and our U17 team has checked in to report on their first three days away. The U17 squad describes their accommodations, attending their first European soccer match and much more.
IMG Academy U17 team, Days 1-3:
As the lads joined one another at the soccer offices at 8:45 a.m., the adventure on the road had begun. IMG Academy brought together three teams - U-15, U-17 and U19. The team rode on the large bus to Tampa International Airport to connect Newark, New Jersey. The two-hour flight only ignited our excitement even more as the lads ate lunch at Newark's airport. But it was only a matter of time before we boarded the seven-hour flight to Portugal. The flight was timed well, and most of us managed to sleep on the plane. But the inexperienced travelers among us succumbed to the wrath of jet lag. Our day concluded with the flight as most of the team passed out on the flight.
Once everyone had gotten off the plane, we moved through immigration and onto our bus. The cold wind and murky weather couldn't smother our enthusiasm and excitement as we boarded the bus to our hotel. The 30 minute drive to the hotel was in dull weather, but once on the Vasco Da Gama Bridge, the sun shone through the clearing clouds to reveal a beautiful shoreline. Cameras and phones were snapping as everyone went ecstatic over the fact we were in Portugal! Once we arrived, we all had lunch and had a rest before touring the Sporting Lisbon Academy. Once we arrived, we watched the U19 team play against Braga, another professional youth team. The team and I couldn't believe how well they were playing and had doubts about playing the Sporting U17 team. Once the game had ended 1-0, a huge fight had broken out and we realized that their passion for football was incredible, and the game was loved as if it were life or death. The tour of the academy startled us as it reminded us of the IMG Academy Campus. Once the tour ended, we all returned to the hotel to eat dinner and rest up for the coming week.
Everyone woke up to a 7:30 a.m. study hall. We all grumbled down the lift, complaining how early it was. When computers and notebooks opened, school had begun. After that was all done, we returned to the academy to watch the U15s play a local team. Surprised how well the team played, we couldn't imagine how amazing the U17s were going to be on Wednesday! After a game that finished 5-0 to Sporting, famished and prepared, our team made our way to the Sporting cafeteria to be greeted with lunch prepared by Sporting’s cooking staff. Afterwards, we prepared ourselves for training with the Sporting coaches. The fields were artificial turf, but the amount of care taken for the fields impressed us. It really showed us what it takes to be a professional footballer. Not only did the players need to be professional, but everything around the players needed to be perfect. The coaches explained their playing principles and told us that we were going to play next. We were observed for our technical and tactical abilities. What they knew and what we knew were similar, but obviously the coaches knew the smallest of details. Happy and well- worked, our team returned to the changing rooms to watch European football with Benfica facing Pacos de Ferreira – which for some us, was our first time to see it. In the center of Lisbon, the Red Eagles proved to be popular, as hoards of red and white marched towards the stadium en mass, chanting loudly. Once we arrived, the club’s song began to play. As the Benfica fans stood up and sang, the emotions poured out of the fans and the red scarves they stretched above their heads showed that European football was all about passion. Six minutes into the game, Benfica scored, and the stadium erupted when everyone stood up and screamed. The singing lasted the entire first half. After the restart two minutes later, Benfica scored again when their star striker Oscar Cardozo scored. The game concluded at 3-0. Tired and exhausted from the game, we returned home in silence and many of us slept on the bus back.