Now that the dust has settled and we can reflect back, it truly was an amazing trip & experience for everybody involved.
Our annual trip to the MIC had been postponed for the past two years due to Covid so everybody was especially excited to finally go back to visit with old friends & colleagues as well as to provide our players, coaches & parents an experience of a life time. Our trips to MIC began in 2011 when our Club decided to take our age appropriate BU12 team to Spain for 10 days to experience playing in one of the most storied European Youth Soccer Tournaments in the world, as well as to experience many cultural & social related events.
While in Barcelona for the start of the trip, we were all treated to several tours (ie: Barca's Academy - La Masia, Camp Nou Stadium & Museum, Tour of City Landmarks, etc.), not to mention all the walking we did as well as several bus trips & riding on the central tram through the city. (Even though somebody got us lost!) Visiting Barca's Academy facility is an experience all on its own.
Fortunately for us we got to watch several Barca Youth Academy matches being played including their U12 team that as fate would have it, we would eventually play in the semifinals of MIC, but more on that later.
After three days in Barcelona it was time to head up the coast to our hotel in L'Estartit, where we would be headquartered for the remainder of the trip while at the tournament. L'Estartit, simply put, is an amazing small Catalonian beach town where the sand, restaurants, shops & tourist attractions are all within walking distance of our hotel. The weather did not disappoint as we were treated to the most amazing Spring time conditions.
Naturally, this years team was looking forward to competing against some of the most storied European Soccer Academies of the world and they certainly got their chance. The goal every year is to advance out of bracket play, then advance to the quarterfinals and then hopefully beyond. We have been very fortunate over the past 11 years attending the MIC that our teams have always been able to advance to at least the quarterfinals. Only once prior to this year had one of our teams advanced all the way to the semi-final round which was in 2011 during our first year attending this storied tournament. So, this years team had added pressure to follow in their older brothers footsteps in order to keep the tradition alive!
To start the tournament off, we were placed in the same bracket as Manchester United which meant that in order for us to advance 1st out of group, we would have to defeat ManU. Certainly a tall task for any team to pull off and much less a non-professional soccer academy team like ours from the US. To top it off, Cristiano Ronaldo's son, Cristiano Ronaldo Jr. was on this team.
Both teams were victorious in their first two matches where they would now face each other in the third & deciding game to see who would advance 1st out of group. As the game began it was apparent that our boys were up for the challenge. Over the next 50 minutes, they played ManU toe to toe and eventually came away with a 1-0 victory on a superb goal by Max Vallejo that came off a perfectly crossed ball from Nathan Vazquez. As you can imagine the emotions were flowing out of control since none of us could believe what we had just witnessed. However, out of respect to our ManU brothers, our celebration needed to be kept in check.
By advancing out of bracket in 1st, we were now on a slightly easier pathway to hopefully advance to the quarterfinals & perhaps beyond.
In the round of 16 our boys came away with a 2-0 victory over a local Catalonian Club. It was now on to face a friend and fellow American team from Norcal, DoveSport, in the quarterfinals. In this epic battle, regulation time ended in a 0-0 tie which meant it was now onto to pk's to decide the outcome. Pk's are never good for any team least of all with the pressure of trying to advance to the semis of MIC. Both teams seemed destined to come out victorious however each goal keeper did everything in their power to prevent the other team from advancing. In the end it all came down to the last shot and fortunately for us, Joshua Espinosa, our keeper, was able to read & react in time to get down and deflect the shot from going in. Let the celebrations begin again as we now had advanced to the semi finals of MIC!
Advancing to the semi finals of this tournament is an achievement all on its own, especially for a Club like ours. To put things into perspective, the four academies that advanced to the semi final round were as follows:
- FC Barcelona (Spanish La Liga Giant)
- Real Madrid (Spanish La Liga Giant)
- Atletico Madrid (Spanish La Liga Giant)
- Total Futbol Academy (American Youth Soccer Club)
Pretty significant accomplishment to say the least for our Club to be among some of the most prolific professional European Youth Soccer Academies of the world.
No rest for the weary as it was now on to face FC Barcelona in the semi's. As mentioned earlier, we watched them play while in Barcelona. All I could think of was hearing comments from some in our group about how Barca was just an average team. Well we were about to find out how average they were. And seeing as how they had not allowed a single goal in the tournament prior to this point, it was going to take a miracle & divine intervention to pull off the upset.
Coaches Greg & Vicente spent all night preparing in order to come up with a game plan that would try to limit Barca's ability to play freely and inflict their will on us. For the first 25 minutes of the first half as well as 10 minutes into the second half, the score was 0-0 and their plan was working to perfection. However, a Club like Barca has the ability to adapt & find ways to penetrate your defense and make you pay no matter how you try to defend them and just like that they did. We now found ourselves down 0-1 so the game plan had to immediately change since we were down a goal. However, Barca being Barca, they capitalized on our adjustment and got in again to go up 0-2. Once the final whistle blew, we had been defeated by the eventual Champion of MIC, 0-2.
In reality, it was not a defeat but a wonderful experience. What our kids & families were exposed to will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
As the celebrations were coming to an end, we were notified that Elliott Jahng, one of our TFA players, was named as one of the TOP 11 Players of MIC 22 in the U12A category. Congrats Elliott on an outstanding achievement as well as a fantastic tournament performance.
We'd like to recognize everybody that was instrumental in this trip including our friends in Barcelona & in L'Estartit that always help to make these trips a success: Jordi R., Hans, Jorge, Xavi, Danny, Miquel A., Miguel, Alyona, Yana & David. See you all in 2023!
Also, a big thank you to all of our Sponsors for their tremendous support as this could not have been possible without your help.
And lastly, special recognition to the following people who were responsible for preparing the team for success as well as making sure everything was coordinated & managed:
THE TEAM BEHIND THE TEAM:
Greg Prado (Coach)
Vicente Caparelli (Coach)
Christine Jahng (Admin)
Linda Arriola (Admin)
Vanessa McCafferty (Admin)
Javier Vallejo (Video Services)
Xavi (Scouting & Transportation)
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