Training with Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos at Hermann Stadium, playing against semi-professional teams in Spain, watching Chelsea and two other professional teams train and seeing some of the best soccer in the world all in one offseason. The Saint Louis men’s soccer team was very busy this off-season as they went across the world and some of world’s premiere soccer talent came to the university.
Although it might be cliché, the Saint Louis University men’s soccer team had an offseason to remember. However, when you travel to Spain to play and observe professional teams and then have two of the biggest soccer clubs in the world come to your grounds, the cliché seems appropriate. This offseason, Chelsea FC from the Barclays Primer League and Real Madrid from La Liga in Spain played against third division Spanish teams Agrupación Deportiva Colmenar Viejo and Atletìco Pìnto.
The team’s whirlwind of an offseason began in May when Chelsea came to Hermann Stadium to train for their exhibition match against Manchester City on May 23. The next day, the Billikens got to attend the open training session at Busch Stadium and were honored for last season’s Atlantic 10 soccer title.
“We got to shake hands with the guys, be up close and personal and watch them train,” said senior goalkeeper Nick Shackelford. “At the training we actually drive them back and forth from their locker room. They posed for every picture… David Luiz (a Chelsea defender) were messing with the girls saying ‘Hey girls, girls’ like dancing on the golf carts and they told us to stop the golf carts and they signed autographs for everybody.”
However, the Bills could not stay for the match because they were heading for a plane bound of Madrid the next day. After a long flight, the team arrived in Madrid and immediately traveled to Ciudad de Futbol, the national team’s soccer stadium and got to train on their field. The same field that Iker Casillas, David Villa, Cesc Fàbregas, Andrés Iniesta and countless other famous Spanish soccer players have trained.
After the training session the team took in some culture. They traveled to Plaza Mayor, Cathedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena where they attended a mid-afternoon Spanish mass and then went to a restaurant to watch the Champions League final between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. However, this trip was about business and the team still had two games to prepare for in the next few days.
The next day the Bills played the first of their two games against Agrupación Deportiva Colmenar Viejo. The Bills quickly took a 2-0 lead in the first 30 minutes of the game, but in the second the Spanish team scored twice and then in extra time scored on a very controversial call to claim a 3-2 victory against the Bills. After the disappointing loss, the team traveled to see Atletico Madrid, who had just won the Copa del Rey against inner city rival Real Madrid.
The team then traveled to Real Madrid’s home stadium, Estadio Santiago Bernebaéu. They then went to Museo del Prado. The museum houses some of the greatest works of art in the world including works by: Francisco de Goya, Diego Velazquez and El Greco. After another day of sightseeing, the team prepared for its second game of the trip.
Before the game, the team saw Getafe, a Li Liga team, train and visited the newest building at SLU’s Madrid Campus, but then had to prepare for their final game against Atletìco Pìnto. The Bills took a 1-0 lead into halftime, but gave up four goals in the second half. However, the Bills responded with two second- half goals, but could not score a third goal to tie the game and lost 4-3.
After seeing another La Liga team train and some more sightseeing, the team returned to America.
“The trip to Spain was honestly a dream come true for me. Not once did I think I’d be in Spain playing ‘fútbol’” said junior midfielder Kingsley Bryce. “I was fortunate enough to visit the city that I read about in books and learned about from TV One of my favorite moments during that trip was attending an Atlético Madrid game. It was the most eye-opening experience I have had in terms of being a fan of the game. I grew closer to my team in ways that I had not expected.”
After 10 amazing days for any soccer player, one would think that it couldn’t get any better, but the Bills off- season got even more incredible.
On August 8th and 9th, Real Madrid visited Saint Louis University to train for their match against Inter Milan at the Edward Jones Dome. Real Madrid has some of the most well-known soccer talent in the world including Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas and many other well-known players. Members of both the men’s and women’s soccer team were able to spend time with Real Madrid.
For Shackelford, seeing Casillas, Real’s goalkeeper, was his favorite part of the whole experience. For Bryce, it was not a player, but a coach for Real Madrid that was his favorite person to meet.
“My favorite person to see by far was Zinedine Zidane. I believe he is the greatest player to play the game, and meeting him was such an honor,” said Bryce.
The offseason was truly one to remember, but what lessons have been learned from all of this experience?
“That environment (in Spain) and being so far away from home and out of our element prepared us to go onto any college campus on the United States and feel confident,” said Shackelford. The team will need that confidence as they go on the road to three very competitive soccer environments in Connecticut, Louisville and Virginia Commonwealth.
This offseason showed the Bills the effort and preparation that goes into playing professional soccer and the trip to Spain certainly left a major impression on them.