Tuesday March 27th
Woke up at 9 am sharp to prepare the day’s morning session to correct some errors we saw in game vs Junior. The two major problems were our build up out of the back off restarts (goal kicks and when gk gets the ball) and our front 3 pressuring and denying the switch of point of attack from opposition’s back line.
Session went well. Boys interpreted the points regarding our options and how they differ when playing 7 a side. It’s difficult to transition in 2 weeks after a year of training with a different system and formation. Nonetheless, we felt we got both key points across and were hoping it would help our performance leading up the evenings game against FC Barcelona Academy Benjamin A team.
We all returned to the hotel for lunch. The “city tour” we have each year for all the players, coaches, and parents on the trip was programmed for 2pm. Not the ideal scenario before the big game but this is also a cultural experience for the players and families who have seldom been outside Los Angeles….much less to Barcelona. The tour took us to Park Guell and Sagrada Familia Church but we cut it short and skipped La Rambla, Olympic Village, port/beaches, and many other historic monuments because the boys looked exhausted and needed a little rest before the big match.
Bus picked us up and we arrived at Cuitat Esportiva 1 hour before 7pm kickoff time. We were escorted by security to our own locker room where the boys got dressed in the game gear and listened to our tactical talk reviewing key points we had worked on in the morning. Coach Danny Rogers, Paul, and myself took the journey with the team from the locker room onto the game field at the magical Cuitat Esportiva de Barcelona….where all the magic happens and the factory is in production.
Without delay FC Barcelona Benjamin A made their way out to the field and the coach Marc Serra Gregori approached me to have a chat about our stay to date and to ask about our team. I informed him we had a great team but not as polished as in previous years because it was a brand new team we had built 6 months ago. Marc Serra Gregori had a laugh and said he sure hopes it’s not like the previous 2 teams we had taken. He then went on to mention his team was the best crop of talent they have had at this age in a very long time. Oh yeah, Barca TV cameras were all over the place. In previous seasons, there were no camera crews, no media, and very little public in attendance. Something was off and it felt like an ambush.
Game time, we started with a 3-2-1 formation again. Barca employed a 3-2-1 that quickly changed to a 2-3-1. Their players took it straight to us and were combining all over the field both horizontally and vertically. Their right back carved up our left back on the wing and drilled a shot that missed the far post by inches. Barcelona continued to carve right through us on quick changes of point of attack and this time is was the left back flying forward into our box and hitting a diagonal bomb that skimmed the post. Their goal was coming and it was inevitable. Our boys looked slow, dazed, confused, nervous, and inferior. After 2 minutes I whispered to Danny Rogers, “we are fucked!” Barcelona dropped 2 quick goals to close the first quarter with a 2-0 lead. We had not connected one 5 pass sequence nor taken a shot on goal. It was a clinic on the field.
Second quarter began and we made 1 change in player personnel. Barcelona made 2 changes. *Sidenote, we brought 14 rostered players on the trip, they had 10 dressed out for the occasion. More of the same in the 2nd quarter, Barcelona in possession and our team chasing all over the field. The nerves were still there. Barcelona CM #4 started to leave his mark on the game and jaws on the floor in amazement with his movements on and off the ball. It was fucking ridiculous how he completely owned the game. We gave up a soft 3rd goal midway through the second quarter off a corner kick with their African kid elevating untouched to head home. Halftime, Barca – 3, Barca Academy CA – 0.
We were having a difficult time covering their outside wingbacks in their 2-3-1 formation so we adjusted to a 2-3-1 of our own to attempt to match up better on the outside. It paid dividends in the 3rd quarter as we slowly got ourselves in the game. Possession was no longer completely monopolized. The boys started to compete and string some passes together and get to goal. A couple of half chances went wide and over. A dead ball situation had their keeper truly tested for a the first time and he was up to the task making an excellent save. Barca capitalized on a quick counter with their pacey #7 striker to seal the game with the 4th.
End of the 3rd quarter, down 4-0.
We decided it was time to get all of the players onto the field to experience the game first hand and see just how bad it feels to be chasing all game long. They made us feel how we make everyone else feel back home. We were chasing the ball and getting pressed in possession, constantly turning the ball over. The avalanche continued and did not stop until the final whistle, 8-0 FC Barcelona Benjamin A had avenged their peers of the previous two years. Coach Marc Serra Gregori came over with a big smile and congratulated the boys on their work rate despite the scoreline and always playing the right way out of the back, never resorted to kick ball or punting the ball once. He reminded me how good his current team was and pointed to the league standings where they are undefeated through 24 games with roughly 200 goals for, and 10 against.
Barca TV reporter Judit Esteban approached me for an interview. They were very intrigued by our Academy and Penya and how we made our yearly trips. She has been well versed about our prior successes in defeating their Academy team 4-1 in 2010 and drawing 2-2 in 2011. A couple of the players were also interviewed. What a great experience for the boys! Just a little detail for them to see how professional the environment truly is. We are attempting to get the game footage and a copy of the show when it is aired tomorrow.
**Sidenote, all Barcelona Academy big bosses were in attendance at kickoff and had asked us the previous day about our players and team. The level of respect for our program is tremendous. Albert Puig, Guillermo Amor, Pere Gratacos waited for me to finish with interview to discuss the game and talk about their newest crop. They will be present at MIC Cup next week to check on our now U11 boys they saw and liked during last years trip to track their progress.