While some students enjoyed the sandy beaches of typical spring break locations like Miami and Cancún, the men’s soccer team made an 11-hour journey to Argentina for a mixture of play and pleasure. The team makes an international trip every four years, and this trip marked the second time it has been to Argentina. The Bears spent the first half of their trip in Buenos Aires and the second half in Rosario, the hometown of soccer superstar Lionel Messi.
The team was scheduled to play four games — two in Buenos Aires, two in Rosario — against the youth or reserve squads of some of the biggest teams in Argentina, two of which are a part of the Big Five of Argentinian soccer. Though the fourth game was cancelled due to inclement weather, the Bears finished the trip with a modest 1-1-1 record.
The first game of the trip was against San Lorenzo de Almagro, the fifth-most popular team in the country, just two days after the team landed. It ended in a 3-0 defeat.
“I think (we had) a little bit of fatigue, and they were probably the best team we played,” said James Myall ’18. “We had a bit of a slow start.”
Bruno bounced back the next day against Racing Club — the fourth-most popular team — by eking out a 1-1 draw, thanks to a goal from Will Cross ’16. The final game took place in Rosario against Newell’s Old Boys, where Messi played for six years. The Bears obtained their best result: a 2-0 victory with goals courtesy of Eric Sugarman ’17 and Nate Pomeroy ’17.
“I thought the team played really well, and I was really impressed with everyone,” said Christian Rodriguez ’17. “There was a lot of times where it was tough for us out there, but everyone was really focused.”
The three friendlies served as an opportunity for the team to experiment with new lineups and learn about the necessity of flexible play. Head Coach Patrick Laughlin tried out a few different starting elevens and — since the teams played with no reentry — the substitution strategies were different than a typical NCAA game.
“We were able to try different combinations,” Laughlin said. “Also, players in positions who may not have gotten that opportunity for extended minutes in the fall got to step up.”
In contrast to the more direct style of play that the Bears usually face in opponents, Argentinian teams play a more possession-based game, seizing opportunities for quick counterattacks and finishes. As a result, the team learned that it had to adapt accordingly during the game, especially defensively, Laughlin said.
“Throughout the trip, we found out how to play against these teams,” Myall said. “Spring games are a time for us to get better.”
“We want to bring this possession style to the D-1 game and learn how to play out of the back,” Rodriguez added.
But the trip wasn’t all business for the Bears. They were also afforded ample opportunities to bask in the culture of their Argentinian hosts and bond as a team. In the beginning, the team stayed in the heart of Buenos Aires, not far from the President’s home.
Over the course of a private, three-hour city tour, the Bears learned more about the history of the famed city. They also toured the facilities of the country’s two biggest clubs, Boca Juniors and River Plate. There was free time allotted for perusing through market stalls, exploring the town and attending Easter mass.
While in Buenos Aires, the Bears had the chance to experience the atmosphere of a professional match between Vélez Sársfield and Quilmes, two clubs from the Buenos Aires area. Interestingly enough, as a result of historical violence between fans, only the home teams’ supporters can attend matches, leaving half the stadium empty.
“The fans are so incredibly dedicated to their team,” Rodriguez said. “They’re screaming and singing the whole 90 minutes of the match.”
On the other hand, Rosario is much smaller than Buenos Aires and offered a whole different feel. On an expansive, city-wide tour, the team saw many sites, including the National Monument to the Flag. Bruno also toured the Newell’s Old Boys’ stadium, which has fences and a moat to halt fans from entering the pitch.
After the weather prevented the final match from being played, the team improvised by venturing back to its original hotel in Buenos Aires for one last event: watching El Clásico between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Then, it was back to reality in the United States.
Between the cultural immersion, culinary delicacies and chances to experience soccer in a country where it is worshipped, the international tour was an unforgettable trip for many of the players.
“It’s a beautiful country and a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” Rodriguez said.
“This is one of the things the players look forward to,” Laughlin said. “It is definitely something that is outstanding and changes your point of view and gives a whole different appreciation of soccer.”