Bellinzona tournament update from Switzerland
Wednesday, April 11
It has been a whirlwind since the opening night match against Barcelona. Each day is packed with press interviews, TV filming, ceremonies, coaches meetings and superb football.
Day Four found us playing FC Basel in our second match of the tournament, one of the best, if note the elite youth soccer side in all of Switzerland. It was a difficult day at best. From the moment the Basel team let out a blood curdling war cry in the tunnel, we were never quite comfortable. We were a bit let down after out-shooting but losing to a very talented Barcelona side the day before. All was coupled with the energy and focus with which Basel came out put us on our heels immediately.
They were clearly a very professional youth side. Within 20 minutes they had gone up 3-0 on incredibly well driven balls from their left side into the box. The crosses found two hard crashing 6’5’’ plus front runners in the air. It will turn out that one of these front runners, Luka Lapenda, won the golden boot for most goals scored in the tournament. Although getting some of the run of play, we were just never really in this match and by the interval had given up yet another energetic goal to a side that simply was the more, athletic, organized, and determined side on the day. We came to learn that this side is hand picked, some having already played in the Swiss first division, financially very well backed, trains eight times per week and when firing on all cylinders is considered one of the very best in all of Europe. They were today a superb side.
After we collected ourselves and made some adjustments at half time we were unlucky not to score pull at least one goal back and only lost the second half 1-0 on the 52nd minute strike by Subotic on a blazing fast counter attack.
We came away from this match having learned some valuable lessons that will make us a better side and have nicknamed powerfully driven balls into the box, “Basel bullets.” A painful but very educational evening for our American youth soccer players that train 2-3 times a week amongst all the competing demands they face in contrast to the academy environment of these European sides.
Day Five – Team presentations to the City of Bellinzona, Match against ARIS Salinicco of Greece The day started with the team heading off for a tour of the three major Castles of Bellinzona, truly a remarkably beautiful area of Switzerland. Meanwhile Breaker coach Bob Poser and Coaching Director Paolo Carbone met with the Director of Professional Football, the Technical Director and U19 team head coach of the great football Club Palmeiras to exchange ideas. While they were very happy to discuss tactics and historical ideas of the CFB (Brazilian Football Association) and the effect the CFB has on the professional teams in Brazil, they were also interested to learn of our tactical ideas and goals. It was a great opportunity to further deepen the relationship between the clubs as they discussed players visiting for periods of training in Sao Paolo. It was fascinating to learn the influence the CFB has on all Brazilian clubs and players traveling to other continents and playing leagues to embrace the most current CFB philosophies so that they are prepared to rejoin the Brazilian National team when called up for international competition.
The team then met in the city center for the tournament ceremony of presenting each team to the people of Bellinzona and Region Ticino. It was a grand affair with TV cameras, newspaper journalists, music, buffet/bar and many families with younger children clamoring to get autographs and glimpses of the next generation of professional footballers. Each team was given theme music as they came up to the stage where the captain was given a tournament poster and said a few words of thanks. The music the tournament selected for the Breakers was perfect – I Get Around by the Beach Boys. Some of the most heartwarming images were those of our Breaker players giving autographs to Swiss children alongside those future pro players from Barcelona, Tottenham and Palmeiras.
ARIS Salonicco Match This was a game we were prepared for and felt as if was our best chance to take our first three points.
The Breakers appeared to finally be getting over jet lag and the very fast speed of play. While the Greeks also had tall target players our speed of play had improved in the two 60 minute matches we had played the two previous days. Our front runners were more active, we were playing much quicker and creating good space for Jose Gonzalez to find more time in the midfield, which he took ten minutes into the match to drive a 35 yard blast that flew inches over the cross bar.
Not two minutes later we realized that while we might have been getting used to the speed of play we did not have that little bit of luck required on occasion for the margin of victory. With the front runners stretching the Greek central defenders (one in an off side position) Gonzalez pushed a ball through for himself and was away through the middle one on one with the keeper, when the Assistant Referee’s flag went up and the referee blew the whistle stopping play, despite both Breaker front runners turning away from play. With the Breakers pushed up the Greek side took the free kick quickly capitalizing perhaps the worst call of the tournament and scored on a counterattack three touches later. Amazing rather than up 1—0 we find ourselves playing from behind again. As if that wasn’t bad enough our keeper, Jeremy Delre, was given a straight red on a collision in our box on a corner kick scramble. This called 15 year old Breaker keeper Kevin Halasz into action. In his first minute of action at the U19 international level was to face a penalty kick! With the Breakers in vocal support, Kevin dove to his right and just barely missed saving a very well taken PK.
Disappointed and feeling the weight of the world the Breakers left the stadium convinced that tomorrow they would surely find the net for the first time this week.
Day Six – Santa Cruz County Breakers vs. Borussia Möchengaldbach This was our last game of the tournament and we were determined to find the back of the net however this German side had only given up a single goal in beating the great Brazilian side Palmeiras 2-1 earlier this week (and Palmeiras would play for the Championship later this evening) so we knew it would not be an easy task. Injuries had really depleted our side throughout the week and we were glad to have been 18 STRONG, as we would need them all. This proved to be a bit difficult defensively at first with some new faces in the line up.
However, none of us would have imagined that we would be down 3-0 at half time after the lessons learned in the first three matches.
The good news is that the boys found another gear after the interval determined to win the second half of this game and prove themselves worthy of invitation to the tournament. At last we would find some Breaker energy, confidence and yes, just a little but of that oh so badly needed luck.
After ten minutes Linares made a run into the final third and sent a through ball to Diego Gonzalez who drove a rocket shot past the German keeper only to hit the far post BUT this time it would pop back into play at the eight yard line where Joe Eubanks dove to met the ball in mid air and drive it into the M’gladbach net for the Breakers first goal of the tournament! If you heard a whoosh sound sometime around 2:00 AM on Monday morning it was our collective sigh of relief! This changed the game in grand fashion.
The Beakers were finally playing like we know we are capable of and had the better run of play creating a number of opportunities in the M’gladbach defensive third. Having adapted to the speed of play and recognizing the need for driven balls of great pace, the Breakers demonstrated we had gained some important experience in the past days. Our second goal came on a great ball played deep into the German final third that found Anthony Ponce who had made a committed run from the midfield. Ponce then played a Manny Leos who had shown in support from the right back position. Leos whipped a ball even the Basel players would have been proud to find a streaking Erik Espinoza. Espinoza who had finally seemed to find his rhythm rose to send a superb header towards goal, perfectly placing the ball back across goal into the near upper-90, the Breakers were now in stride.
Confidence was now on our side and the M’gladbach coach was up urging his players to not allow a third and tying goal. We thought we had found that elusive point late in the game after the best 20 minutes of football we had played all tournament. A final coaching change was made to bring Alberto Mata to the middle of the park and move Jose Gonzalez wide left, positions the boys played for seven years prior to Mata going to Cabrillo College, had Gonzalez isolated on the left side in the final third. As he turned and went at goal he was taken down one yard inside the penalty box. Unfortunately, despite this refereeing crew being very good – as had been the case throughout the tournament, save the center in Greek match – this center was not close enough to play and after running 15 yards to site of the infraction signaled for a free kick one yard outside the box. Now it was M’gladbach sighing with relief.
Despite some wonderful play in the final moments the Breakers were unable to find that elusive third goal before the final whistle. While having lost yet another match, the Breakers players, coaching staff and fans had felt redeemed that we had shown the kind of football we are capable of playing and that they were worthy of invitation to this prestigious tournament. There was a good deal of respect shown between players while organizing for the following team photo.
The post game atmosphere was incredible. The entire town had come out for an Easter weekend barbeque in the Club house with players from both teams having a well earned lunch and the towns children thrilled to get Breaker and M’gladbach hats, pins, stickers and players autographs. It was as if although the match, while important, was only part of these peoples celebration of the competition and the beautiful game itself. I was somewhat envious to see how this small Swiss mountain community had come together around the beautiful game of soccer. While the two teams collected themselves an U6 match was played in the corner of the pitch before we all headed to the Clubhouse for celebratory Ticino region rice and sausage buffet specialty.
Bob Poser Head Coach, SCC Breakers 88
Friday, April 6 – First Match
At last, Match Day is finally here. We started a long day by attending technical meeting and opening ceremonies in the Town Hall. The building is situated in the heart of old Bellinzona. Tournament and referee officials, including observers from FIFA and UEFA, made several presentations. Directors, Coaches and Captains from each team were required to attend. Afterwards there was a reception in the magnificent courtyard of Town Hall. Our team presented the appropriate dignitaries including the Mayor of Bellinzona, the Chief of Tourism and the tournament director a copy of the history of Santa Cruz Beach board walk, our Club pennant and a t-shirt.
After a team meeting in the afternoon we headed over to Faido (30 minutes out of Bellinzona) to play the Barcelona match. The boys appeared quite focused and excited for this opportunity to measure themselves against one of the most storied Clubs in the world. Just prior to heading out of our locker room for our team warm up we had a great surprise when Larry Biggam, the President of the Santa Cruz County Youth Soccer League, arrived and spoke with the players to tell them how proud the Santa Cruz county was of them. His words encouraged them and reminded them to enjoy this experience of a lifetime.
Again the facilities were great. FC Barcelona as expected was a superb side. We knew we were in for a spectacular experience when we saw our captains at the center circle with those of Barcelona and the first division referees from the Swiss FA.
Barcelona had explosive speed and was very technical. When given the slightest chance they were deadly. The crowd anticipated how well the Americans could perform against the highly touted players of Barcelona. As the first half unfolded it was the Breakers with the better chances. In fact they narrowly missed drawing first blood twice – once on a corner Allen Hardison put just wide of the Barcelona goal and another on a throw in by Walker Linares that Erik Espinoza put just over the crossbar. Barcelona was very quick in countering. They were technically superb with exceptional speed of play. Their ball movement was precise, well timed and explosive. The first half ended 0-0 with the Breakers having taken four shots to Barcelona’s two.
The second half saw small adjustments by both sides. Barcelona was no longer willing to leave many players forward on the Breakers set plays. After 11 minutes of fast paced football from both sides, Barcelona capitalized on a miscommunication in the Breaker midfield that resulted in a loose ball bouncing to their #10 Jonathan los Santos. He struck the ball out of mid-flight with lightning speed, a bending ball that connected with the upper-90 beyond the reach of Breaker keeper Jeremy Delre. Despite the Breakers out shooting Barcelona 2-0, los Santos’s spectacular goal proved to be the game winner. After the match there was great camaraderie shown both by sides. The Breakers won the respect and the hearts of the people of Faido and Bellinzona, Switzerland with a good level of play. The Breaker players walked into the crowd with their arms raised high. They applauded the knowledgeable and appreciative spectators who numbered roughly 500.
A great post-game meal with the friendly people of Faido topped off a wonderful evening of football and friendship amongst the passionate world of Calcio (football) here in the Italian region of the Swiss Alps.
Bob Poser Head Coach, Breakers ‘88
Tuesday, April 3
BELLINZONA, SWITZERLAND – Day one for the U18 Santa Cruz County Breakers ‘88 boys team in Bellinzona, Switzerland is in the books. The tournament organizers have been wonderful, treating us in a truly professional manner with every detail from pickup at the Milan airport in Italy and transport to Bellinzona, which consists of a breathtaking ride into the Swiss Alps. They have provided housing, meals, training times, facilities and equipment. Everything was all very well arranged.
Each team in the tournament is assigned a hotel. We have been lucky enough to get the most secluded hotel just south of the city center with our windows opening into a lush green meadow with a river and a spectacular view of the Alps. A full moon rose up over the river as if to welcome us to this beautiful place. They had a great buffet dinner waiting for us after which we hit the sack in order to try and get our biorhythms on Swiss time – our opening match against Barcelona is now less than 72 hours away.
After a great breakfast we were driven into town with the two guides the organizers have assigned to us. They took us to see the glorious medieval town of Bellinzona proper.
We walked through the famous Castle and saw wonderful views of the two other Castles and defensive wall of Bellinzona. The other highlight was all the posters around town announcing the tournament teams.
After shopping for chocolate we headed back to the hotel for lunch and to prepare for our first training on Swiss soil. Our hosts drove us to a private training ground with a groundskeeper and changing room where they provided us new cones, pinnies and balls. We had a few professional trainers from the Club Bellinzona watching and knew our fist impression was about to be made… impressions that would no doubt ring throughout the tournament organizers and other participating teams. The training session lasted one hour and fifty minutes and really helped get the transatlantic voyage out of our system – at long last we were playing the game we loved again. In place of the stands of Cabrillo College at home in Santa Cruz we were now surrounded by steep snow capped mountains covered with vineyards with classic mountain weather that quickly changed between everything from sunny skies to thunder and light rain.
We received many compliments on the quality and intensity of the training session and were told we will be presented with video footage of this and other moments throughout the tournament they are compiling. The boys did Santa Cruz County proud with good focus, a mature attitude and a professional mentality. Thanks to the donations we received and the team’s commitment to representing the Club, County, State and Country, the boys are looking and acting very professional.
After another great meal, the boys retired to their rooms for the evening to relax and watch Champions League matches on TV and preparing for another great day in which we will tour nearby Lugano, Lucarno and the glorious lakes that surround us. Meanwhile, the Breaker coaching staff met with some of the tournament committee members and learned about the ceremonies planned for the coming days in the City center, on the opening day of the tournament. The teams are to be officially presented to the Mayor of Bellinzona, the tournament organizers, one other and the people of Bellinzona. We also meet the Palmeiras team tomorrow in an informal gathering.
It is late and I need to prepare tomorrows training session so I’ll sign off for this evening. Everyone is healthy and happy and despite missing friends and family we are having a great time.
Bob Poser Head Coach, SCC Breakers ‘88
For pictures http://www.torneobellinzona.ch/page.asp?load=629