Final Day Boys - Coach Dacey

We have arrived in Frankfurt completing the short first leg of an all day trip. Yesterday was a whirlwind, with two games in the morning against FC Slovan Modra, lunch in old town Bratislava, an impromptu walking tour, a professional game, dinner and travel preparations.

Slovakia has been slower (or more reluctant) than the Czech Republic to feel (or possibly embrace) the impact of the fall of communism, with many legacy buildings and structures. In our hotel, Hotel Tourist, we got a taste of the Red Star days, but many players mistook the simplicity for meek one star lodging. Progress and modernization radiates from the capital, Bratislava, which has a wonderful mix of preserved history and gleaming steel.

Both games went well, with the 94s winning 4-1 and the 95s winning 6-0. FC Slovan Modra is a small local club that was given very short notice due to another club pulling out of the games a few days prior. Our hosts were generous and their players enjoyed playing against the Americans. We drew quite a crowd for a small village. The facilities are about to be replaced with all their money reserved for construction in lieu of upkeep.

After the game and gift exchange, we headed downtown for lunch in old town Bratislava. Old Town is a well preserved old European capital, with narrow streets winding around architectural wonders, all overlooked by a great old castle.

We all split up, set to return to the bus in front of the palace. However, our meeting time was lost in translation and bus failed to arrive, giving us the opportunity to educate ourselves on Bratislava's public transportation system.

A few km down the road, we found the train station were we could catch bus 61. Instead we opted to walk the 3 km back to the hotel, located a few blocks from the stadium. Along the way we saw great city parks, performance halls and daily Slovakian city life.

We heard the chants and songs of the local supporters before we saw the stadium. We were gifted ticketless entrance
through the VIP entrance. We arrived about twenty minutes in, with host FC Slovan Bratislava up 2-0 on bitter rival Dun. Streda. FC Slovan Bratislava is the league leader, richest and most storied team in Slovakia. There hundreds of riot police, in full gear. Inside the stadium, the two supporters groups were in separate, but adjacent stands. At the edge of each group, riot police lined shoulder to shoulder, at times thee deep, making a human wall to keep the two groups apart. Between the two stand stood an old firetruck, presumably to discourage or quell any riots with a high pressure shower. Near the firetruck were the German Shepherds and mounted police. I have only ever witnessed such a show of force at World Cup games.

To watch three first division professional games in thee different leagues and countries is amazing. The quality of soccer, stadia and atmosphere improved each game. What an education for our kids. As one coach stated, "If you don't want to be a pro after seeing that, then you don't want to be a pro."

The hosts continued to dominate in every aspect and some great finishing provided a 6-0 victory. The quality of play was surprising high.

After the game our entire group went for pasta and pizza before heading back the Hammer and Sickle Inn to pack and get a few hours of rest. We had a 2 AM wake-up and 3 AM departure.

Ten days, three countries, four games played, three division one pro games, a men's and women's pro training session, rejuvenation, sightseeing, castles, chateaus and the food, culture and history that goes with each. All while healthy, no issues and freakeshly high spirits. Truly priceless.

Soon we will walk through customs and into the lives we left less than two weeks ago. However, we will make that walk with new insights, appreciations and maturity, both as soccer players and, more significantly, as people and members of the global community.

We appreciate the support through this trip. While the calls home have been scarce, every opportunity was given to every individual to learn, grow and mature.

Everybody looks forward to home, but soon, when the reminiscing and story telling begin, most will yearn to return here, a sure sign of a successful trip.

Final Day Girls - Coach Shaw

We have arrived in Slovackia...Today was the icing on a triple layer, double chocolate, fudge and whipped cream cake. In all honesty, I can't come up with another analogy to use for this trip...each day seems to top the previous.

The 95s kicked off first at a very intimate soccer complex. This was a very open match, we started to gain the territorial advantage and wasted a number of chances. Sure enough, we were punished at the end of the half to be down 1 nil. In the second, more of the same--Tons more chances for us but they made theirs count and we drop the final match 3 nil. Quality stuff by our hosts on how to slow down a game when under pressure-huge lesson for us!

The 94s, would round out the tour with the final match of the day. The host side looked to keep possession and our group looked to counter. Sure enough on our first attack, we would win a corner and score. Minutes later, we win the ball in a cental area and score on the breakaway to be up 2 nil at the half. More of the same in the second, with the 94s countering quickly. We grab one more goal before our hosts respond for a consolation strike off a free kick. 3-1 VA.

What a fantastic way for us to finish the soccer! Both VA teams played 4 quality games against teams that are the backbone of the Czech and Slovakia youth national teams. The skill level of our opponents was significantly better than previous trips, womens' soccer is on the rise in Europe and the "world football" lessons were huge.

After spending time trading practice worn shirts with our hosts and conversing about Slavic Facebook-we had to make a decision. Go to the historic area of Bratislava to sightsee or picnic, relax and then go watch our hosts pro game that afternoon (they are the number 1 team in Slavackia). No vote-all wanted to relax and go to another game. Was it being tired of walking/sightseeing or were we getting into the soccer culture?

We are escorted on a 10 minute walk to the Slovackia national team stadium by a rep from the club (we were their VIP guests at the game). Apparently, certain streets have been blocked off to keep rival fans apart. As we enter the stadium, we are greeted by songs, chants and flag waving. On one end of the stadium are the rival fans, surrounded by dozens of Robo Cops in full riot gear. The "friendly" banter between the fans of each team was classic. Coorinated shirts are put on, synchronized dance, thousands of fans standing, waving at the same time. SK Bratilslava score first and then often, routing the guests 6 nil. The stadium is in full voice from the early goal and doesn't stop. At the final whistle, the guests' fans are escorted away by the Robo Cops, we leave comfortably with our hosts who have arranged our final dinner.

Wow, 3 pro games in 3 different countries!

It is now 10:30 am Europe time, we were up at 2:00 am to get to the airport in Vienna for the 6:30 flight.

All is well, it will be a long day of travel. A total of 17 hours... Will go now and let your sons and daughters tell you their stories.

Day 9 Boys and Girls - Coach Dacey

Vienna is an amazing city, overflowing with culture and history - and a bit of soccer!

We arrived in the city just after noon and dispersed for city walking, museums, an opera house and palace tours. Of course, some went in search of gifts and other gear. To wander the streets where some of the world's greatest cultural, artistic and intellectual contributions were born is truly an amazing and humbling experience. I hope our players felt the same.

We met up at the museum center at 4pm to catch the bus to the FK Austria Wien grounds. After some wait, and tasty spit-roasted pig head, the decision was made to ditch the bus in favor of the subway. We cleaned the picked over swine skull, devoid of all meat besides brain and tongue, tossed it in the trash and headed to the subway station. Once we sorted out the name of the stadium we figured subway and tram transfers, got tickets, and headed for Vienna's underground.

Along our journey there were a few clad in purple FC Austria Wien jerseys, the nearer we got to the stadium the more purple we saw. Walking up the hill from the packed tram the stadium we turned the corner and found a true European environment. Inside the stands, The Supporters were alive and well equipped with "Soccer-Holics", "Fed Aym", "Fanatics", "Bulldogs" and other large banners, flags, drums and two hooliganish leaders with microphones. The Supports stood, sang and chanted for the entire match, only to take brief cigarette breaks. Any whistle against their team drew moans, shouts and whistles. It was a proper European soccer environment. The first half was average, with the only real action a red card for the home team. Down to ten men, the hosts conceded a goal and The Supporters fell silent for a brief spell, finding a second breath with their team on the attack. In the 88th minute, FK Austria Wien leveled, The Supporters went nuts! Just into injury time, the hosts scored again. The Supporters discarded their shirts, lit flares and created every sort of ruckus short of imprisonment. Our players were soon pressed against the fence, pounding the metal and mimicking the locals. The final whistle drew even more song and chants out of The Supporters section.

It is an amazing experience for the players to get a taste of the passion and support in a true club.

After the game, we spent nearly the balance of the day (and loads of cash) in the fan shop, followed by a wiener schnitzel dinner hosted by FK Austria Wien and the assistant coach in the clubhouse. We then boarded the bus for hotel in Bratslavia.

Another day of fantastic cultural and soccer education comes to a close, leaving a single day of soccer ahead before departing for the states.

Day 8 Boys and Girls - Coach Dacey

Following three consecutive days of games, Friday was a day of rejuvenation, light training and packing for our departure to Vienna on Saturday.

We awoke to weather we erroneously expected for the majority of the trip - gray, cloudy and the constant threat of rain. There we're a few drops, but the sun broke out in the afternoon to return to the same glorious weather we have enjoyed the whole trip.

Our delegation was invited to meet with the Kyov city officials in the morning. The Vice Mayor and his team received our Managers, Coaches, Team Captains, Delegates, and President. We were invited into city hall were a breakfast reception was set out, with coffee, water, wine and pastries. They wished us the best of luck in our games (unless we were playing the local team) and travels. Denise presented the Vice Mayor with a very well received VYSA desktop pen set and clock. In return, we were each presented with a DVD on Kyov and the local history and culture.

City Hall sits at the end of the city square (well, it is really a rectangle), which has a small outdoor farmer's market surrounded by small shops of all sorts and the requisite Gothic church.

Back at The Compound, the boys had free time and study time in the morning. After lunch we all headed to Uherské Hradiště, hometown of FC Slovacko, for some shopping downtown.

Later in the afternoon, we went to FC Slovacko's facility for training and a rejuvenation session in the spa. The girls had a mini-tournament (won by the staff). The boys session was short and light, with fun games like soccer tennis and dodgeball. After training we went into spa for rejuvenation in the steam rooms, pool and hot tubs. Dr Dan spent some time explaining the process and great benefits to this sort of rejuvenation.

An outdoor barbecue was hosted by FC Slovacko. The FC Slovacko Women's team joined us after training and we all ate and danced then prepared for the Czech Idol Rematch, hosted by MC Badiee. Despite all the preparation and rehearsal, the girls fell to the crowd pleasing comedic performance of Noah, who earned the Czech Idol Title for the boys side with a monotonous rendition of the classic, "She Got It Me!"

After MC Badiee awarded Noah the title, we had a brief ceremony, where our host, and logistics coordinator, Jitka, was presented with a small gift of appreciation on behalf of the players, staff and VYSA as a whole.

The boys returned to The Compound, the girls to Hotel Club, to pack and prepare for an early departure to Vienna. We are currently headed south through the rolling, green fields of Southern Moravia for Vienna, where we will spend some time sightseeing prior to watching FK Austria Wien (Vienna) in a top division league game. After the game we head to Bratislava to check into the hotel.

Amazingly, we are all healthy and injury free. Any homesickness and apprehension has given way to excitement, growing relationships, a fledgling cultural appreciation and an increasing love for the Czech Republic . We will likely struggle to return all players to the States.

It was difficult to get some of the staff to board the bus this morning (with two begging Mr Miller to get fired), as we have all taken to the food, weather and Moravian people.

Our brilliant journey is quickly coming to a close.

Until Tomorrow ...

Day 7 Girls - Coach Shaw

Hello from I95 traffic from Prague! We are hardly moving as I start this blog.

Another day of life memories! We left very early this morning to visit what is the one of the most impressive cities I have ever seen. From the history, to the detail in the buildings, the modern fashion, to my favorite-the food. Yes, my goal is to sample different foods throughout this trip. And I have a number of players who share this desire.

Watch for the pics of the world famous castle, the guards that can't smile, the bridge and wonderful market. But the highlight for me is finding our way back to our bus through a maze of subways, asking directions from people who don't speak English-using hand signals, grunts and gestures. Thanks to our Chef de Mission, "Eddie"-his ability to speak 4 languages saved the day. Having 30 girls jog through a subway system to catch a train is an awesome site.

We arrive at the home of the youth academy for FC Sparta Prague. What a site-they took inspiration for its design from Liverpool and Bayern Munich's facility. This is a world class facility, to develop world class players. The 95s would find this out in their game.

No excuses for our teams, in Region 1-we have to play 3 games in a row. This is game 3!

The 95s kicked off first against Sparta Pragues' 94s and we were given a lesson in "world football." Their hunger, technique, movement and passing had us 4 nil down at half. We discussed battling and showing some toughness-tried a couple of different things in the second half. Lots better, scored twice but they also caught us out for 3 more. Final, 7-2. Later I was to find out that this was the top girls youth team in the Czech Republic. Our fatigue, maybe? But in truth, a rested team would have had a tough match on their hands.

94s kicked off against Spartas' 93s - with some 95s on their roster. What a pleasant sight as we showed some mental toughness and bounced back from the loss yesterday. We played with tons more passion and speed and were rewarded with a first half goal. The second half was one any coach would be proud of, Sparta with all the possession and VA battling to stop their attacks. Very entertaining! We hold on and win 1 nil.

We had a lovely dinner at their restaurant overlooking their facility.

Am now 2 hours (11:30pm) from our hotel-another long day. Tomorrow we will meet the Mayor of Kyjov (the town we are staying in), he wants to formally welcome our program. Reporters in the afternoon and a pro recovery session planned with 3 different types of saunas at FC Slovacko.

I hope the Mayor gives chocolates... I have yet to sample them!

Day 7 Boys - Coach Dacey

Today was all about busing and soccer.

We left The Compound early for Prague, to face Slavia Prague, currently the top club in the country. After a few hours on the bus, we got to the southeast outskirts of the city, where Slavia has built a new stadium and has six training fields.

On the way in, Dr Dan spoke about how to prepare to play. Bad traffic presented a teachable moment about dealing with adversity (possibility of arriving late) and controlling the controllables. Dr Dan also spoke on nutrition and the impact various foods would have on performance.

The facility was great and sat on the same grounds as the pro hockey club, HK Slavia Prague. After overcoming the language barrier, we were shown to the locker room and begun preparations.

The 94s played well in spurts, but quickly learned a valuable lesson: top teams finish opportunities if given the most slim of chances. Soon we were creating our own chances, but unable to convert and gave up the second goal. Our effort was decent, but we were unable to recover against a top level opponent and finished down 5-0.

The 95s played well in the second game, creating and finishing two early opportunities. Quickly thereafter, Slavia brought on two very skilled center mids, who began to create problems. A few adjustments enabled us to get two more goals before the half-time whistle. The second half saw us score another goal and quickly quell any attack, guaranteeing the 5-0 victory.

Following the game, our gracious host gave us a personalized tour of the year-old stadium, which is very modern and clean, fit for any team in the world. The stadium is very intimate, with no fences and the stands very close to the field, which Andre feels gives them a major home-field advantage. We started at the field level, with a brief tour of the visitor's locker room; the host locker room is off limits to anybody not connected to the team.

Andre, our tour guide, is the Director of Media Relations for the club and a lifelong fan. He told a brief history of the club, focusing on how the communists forced the club to change their name and colors, as it was not a club for the people. With the departure of communist rule, the name and colors were returned and the long process of rebuilding the club took hold. Winning replaced by wallowing (and a berth in the Champions League, with a quick exit following a 7-0 drubbing by Arsenal). The boys were allowed to walk out the tunnel to field level (although not allowed on the field), just like the pros! All eyes were wide, in awe of stepping out of a first class clubhouse onto one of the finest fields any of the boys have ever seen!

Our tour continued up to the VIP section and further up to the restaurant/disco, where the players and staff are available to the media before and after every game.
Andre was nice enough to answer many questions, many of which were very educational for the boys in what it means to be a pro (training, diet, rules, salary, etc).
It was a great tour and very gracious of Slavia to give us this opportunity. The boys were then set free in the fan shop!

We then went to dine at the home of Slavia's bitter rival, and more famous club, Sparta Prague, where the girls were playing. However, we were sent to the 'new' stadium downtown and had to find our way to the training facility, which sits inside the world's second largest sports stadium (Indy Speedway being the first), Strahov Stadium. Strahov seats 220,000 people. The infield now housed 8 training fields (yep, full size), a club house, offices and a parking lot. Amazingly, all this is inside a stadium - I am unable to describe the immensity of this place - google it, you will be impressed. Sparta currently use this facility as a training ground for their youth, women and reserves.

We are now sitting still in traffic on our way home. We hope to be back to the compound around 11:30 (it is now 9), as we have been invited to meet with the Mayor of Kyov and local press in the morning before we head to training and a group dinner with some of the FC Slovacko youth players.

A very long, but highly productive day comes to a close and a day of rest and rejuvenation await before we depart for Slovakia and Austria.

The boys are all doing very well and gaining experiences and appreciations that will undoubtedly help mold their lives.

Until Tomorrow ...

Day 6 Girls - Coach Shaw

Sorry families, I was a little busy and now I can catch up.

Today started with an opportunity to watch our host club men's pro team train. A good experience for all, Coach Darcy had a great discussion on what to look at with the details in the practice and what we can learn to become better.

After lunch, SHOPPING at a local town that had some fantastic little Czech stores, great cafes (sorry about this) and some history.

Back to soccer as the girls were to play FC Slovacko late in the day.

Both teams had spent some time team building through out the day and it was time to test.

The 95s started a bit flat but went up by a goal early, we were more athletic than the other team but they enjoyed the possesion. In fact, we would catch them on the counter 2 more times to be up 3 nil at half-in all honesty, the half did not compare to the previous day. We played better in the second half, keeping the ball more and forcing the other team to chase. They did eventually get 1, but the coaches were significantly happier with the second half performance. Big test tomorrow-we play the top ranked youth team in the Czech Republic.

94s came into the game today with confidence and a positive mindset but their fatigue was evident in the first 15 minutes-2 nil down. The girls responded rather than dropping their heads and regained control of the game. Some great chances but no goals for in the first half. 2nd half was more of the same, our players showing some toughness and never gave up-we got caught on a couple of counter attacks and would score 1, 4-1 final for our hosts.

Till tomorrow and Praha.... Long day today, with the team building exercises and 2nd game under our belts.