Río Paraná - Rosario - Argentina (Flickr.com)Thanks to SoundersFC.com for sending this blog our way. The Seattle Sounders of the present and future are in Argentina on a tour and scouting venture. It's going well both on and off of the pitch.
by Bart Wiley, Sounders FC
I knew we were far from Seattle when I awoke mid-flight and stared bleary eyed at the map that was showing our flight path - we were over Havana, Cuba - certainly far from the Northwest.
Our destination on this trip was Buenos Aires, Argentina - and after the eight-hour flight from Miami, we arrived early morning.
Among other things, this trip was a United Soccer Leagues Sounders farewell - owner Adrian Hanauer has always taken great care of the team - and this trip was no exception. He wanted to make sure the guys knew he appreciated their efforts during the 2008 season - an odd season where the current team was playing in its final season, making way for a new Sounders FC team in 2009.
In addition to a ´thank you´ to the players and coaching staff, this trip would serve as an information gathering trip for a possible Sounders FC training camp site.
We gathered our bags, jumped on a bus and headed into BA (Buenos Aires). On the way we were told that 18 million people called BA home - a staggering number that surprised most of us.
Our hotel was in the middle of a neighborhood called the Microcenter. Here the prominent landmark was Plaza Mayo, which contained, among other monuments, the Pink House - BA´s version of our White House.
See also: Danny Jackson's latest Argentina trip blog
Our rooms were not ready so we gobbled up breakfast which was very typical of European breakfasts - lots of breads, meats, cheeses, pastries - and completely amazing coffee. I never knew how much coffee Brian Schmetzer drank, but after watching he and the coaching staff down cup after cup I began to wonder if Argentina had enough coffee to satisfy our crew.
The team would train later this day at the home of Argentina Juniors. After a welcomed nap and some lunch, we jumped on two vans and headed to a training ground about 25 minutes from our hotel. The facilities were somewhat antiquated but the pitches were beautiful. Our team seemed to be the center of attention to those youth players curious enough to watch - I heard many, ´Que equipo´ (what team) from the kids lining the fence. Back to the hotel after training - everyone was exhausted.
The next day (Oct 18) the team faced the reserve team of Estudiantes de La Plata. A gorgeous goal off the foot of Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar gave the Sounders a 1-0 win.
Our host and tour promoter, Ricardo Insaldi, invited us to his house for a barbecue the next night. We were also lucky enough to be joined by Drew Carey and some of his The Price is Right crew. Drew wanted to show his crew exactly how passionate Argentinians are about soccer. We would find out the next day but more about that in a minute.
Prior to dinner, we were treated to an eclectic dance routine by several native dancers. Some of the players joined the dancers on stage before the show was over. Zach Scott showed some fancy footwork.
Dinner consisted of meat and more meat. We had learned that Argentina was famous for its meat - we saw proof of that this night.
Our first Sunday in Argentina found us at the Boca Juniors-River Plate match. Think Yankees-Red Sox but multiply it times a thousand.
We arrived at the River Plate stadium through several security checks and pat downs and ended up sitting with the Boca fans. There were two sections between us and the River Plate fans-both for safety purposes as this match was at River Plate. We were told over 1500 security officers were on hand for the match.
I don´t know what to say about the atmosphere other than it was the most incredible scene I have ever witnessed at a sporting event. Singing, chanting, yelling, flags, smoke, anger, passion, inciting, sheer delight, utter disappointment, 60,000 plus people with white and red bangers, an entire section with red and white umbrellas, people from the upper deck throwing banners down to the lower level. I´m getting goosebumps just typing my memories of the match-absolutely incredible.
We saw several Americans in our section and asked them why they were there. They simply replied ´because it´s Boca-River, what else do we need to say.´
They were right, nothing else needed to be said.
Training on Monday and then another great dinner that night. I mentioned the coffee, but the food is equally as amazing. And cheap. Two of us went to dinner and had appetizers, a bottle of wine, two entrées , two desserts with coffee for under $60 US dollars.
We were supposed to play another match on Tuesday with a team named Platense but it rained harder than I've seen in quite some time. It was 10am but the sky was dark enough to be 8pm.
After unloading from the bus and getting the equipment in the stadium - which by the way was set in a neighborhood right off the freeway and would have never been seen by a stranger. We dodged raindrops on the way back to bus, which would take us to Rosario, four hours away.
We would spend the next several days in Rosario. The team was pleased to hear that the Platense match would be replaced with a match against Newell´s Old Boys, a first division team that currently sits third in the table. They would field a team of several starters, several reserves and several national team members. It´s not often you get to play a first division Argentinian team who sits so high in the table. Our guys were very, very excited.
The match was very entertaining and we won, 3-2. Sanna Nyassi, the young Gambian who is signed by Sounders FC, looked especially dangerous. Our liaison for the trip, Leo, was especially disappointed with the result. He is a native of Rosario and a lifelong Newell´s fan. He´s been training with our team from time and time and has really grown to respect the level of play that the team exudes.
Needless to say the guys were excited and ready to tangle with the rest of the Argentinian first division teams.
We´ll play two more games against lower level teams in Rosario before heading back to BA on Sunday for another Boca Juniors match - everyone is excited about the prospects of that.
A few other comments and observations.
Futbol is everything here. You can´t turn on the TV without finding soccer. Sportscenter is here (obviously in Spanish), but you can´t find any NFL, NBA, or MLB highlights. Only soccer. The Top 10 is only soccer. Soccer is life here.
People should visit Argentina just for the food and coffee-both amazing.
We´ve visited many hotels and training grounds and taken copious notes, all in preparation for the possible Sounders FC trip here in 2009. Adrian and Chris Henderson have visited a few times, and we´re here to provide them with a little more information.
Brian Schmetzer, Tom Dutra, Jimmy Gabriel and Darren Sawatzky (current Sounders coaching staff) are extremely knowledgeable, incredibly gifted and great with the players.
Ricardo Insaldi with Premier Soccer Tours,our host and guide, and his crew have been wonderfully helpful. They´ve done nothing but serve us and take care of us. Everyone is thankful for that.
At a laundromat, I discussed with two women the price of washing and folding t-shirts-definitely a first for me-especially in Spanish.
Leather and meat and coffee: Buy leather here, eat meat here, drink coffee here. I know I mentioned the meat and coffee earlier, but it´s that good.
We´re excited about our last few days here, our last two matches and the Boca match this weekend. The trip has been educational and enjoyable.
All for now. Adiós