Jules Undercover Journal - Fourth Entry
MANCHESTER, England (Friday, August 8, 2003) - Julian “Jules” Valentin has added the fourth entry into his journal as he continues to provide you with an inside look at the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team during their preparation matches in England, and as they compete in the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland. In this installment, Jules talks about the team’s trip to Old Trafford, their unbearable ice baths, how he got to meet Manchester United’s Tim Howard, assistant coach Peter Mellor’s “Play of the Day,” and gives the inside information on forward Jacob Peterson.
Aug. 8, 2003
A Man of My Word
Hello and welcome! Thank you very much friends, for joining me again for the fourth edition of my undercover journal. I would like to start off today by fulfilling an old promise. Ever since I was a little tyke, I told my mom that if I was ever on TV that I would wave to her. Although this is not TV, it is a screen with pixels, so I would like to be a man of my word: (waving) "Hi Mom!" I will also take this opportunity to say hello to the rest of my extremely extensive family, who live all around the world – "Thanks for all of your love and support!" Sorry World, but I had to mention my loved ones. Now I will get on with my journal.
Yesterday we had a tough game against a strong Manchester United side, winning 2-1, but now the team has switched its focus on playing Nigeria tomorrow. While our team’s mood is pretty serious at this point, the comedy never ends with us as today’s journal is another hilarious, action-packed journey with the U-17 MNT. Now I recommend that you kick back and enjoy today’s episode of Jules’ Undercover Journal.
Another ‘Keeper Treat
Our team has been receiving an increasing number of celebrity visits as of late. Before we left for England, we met with Jacksonville Jaguar’s quarterback Byron Leftwich and earlier this week, we got to spend some time with Brad Friedel. Yesterday, after our success against Manchester United we were once again surprised as American rising star and Manchester United’s newest addition, Tim Howard was standing casually on the sidelines as we battled. After the game Mr. Howard greeted his former New York/New Jersey Metro Stars teammate Eddie Gaven and they talked shortly. Then, Mr. Howard, coach Mellor, and our three goalies: Phil Marfuggi, Quentin Westberg, and Steven Sandbo had a rather lengthy chat. I saw a grand opportunity to meet Mr. Howard, which would give my Undercover Journal a shameless plug, so I shyly interrupted their "Goalkeeper’s Union." He kindly smiled at me, shook my hand and said that he would make sure to check ussoccer.com for my article. So, Mr. Howard, if you are reading this I would like to say a couple things: First, you are really big and have an extremely strong handshake – my hand still hurts. But seriously, from all of us here at the U-17 MNT, thank you for coming to our game yesterday and good luck with your future in England and with the full team.
Yesterday, as we savored our brilliant meal of traditional English Fish & Chips, co-captain Corey Ashe stood up and informed us that Trainer Jacob Joachim had instituted mandatory ice baths to help our legs rejuvenate. Everybody stopped their chewing and there was a silence. A sarcastic round of applause for our trainer’s unpopular declaration quickly broke the awkward silence, as ice baths are one thing that we love to hate.
With frozen cubes already bobbing in the tub, Danny Szetela "broke the ice" as he was the first one in. Szetela let out a blood-curdling cry that served to frighten the rest of the team. Memo Gonzalez was the next polar bear to take the plunge, followed by Jamie Watson and Mike Harrington as they each gave their own rendition of Szetela’s girlish shriek. Next it was time for Undercover Jules to hop in (sorry everyone, I promise to never speak in the third person again). I hopped in fearlessly, thinking that my teammates were simply being weak – but I was never more wrong. Goosebumps quickly arose to the skin’s surface and my legs transformed into a deep red color. My leg muscles burned and ached as the near sub-zero temperatures ate away at my skin. I tried to have a conversation with Watson and Ashe to take my mind off the pain but that didn’t have the effect I’d hoped. Finally my agony was through, and it was time for Ashe to hop in the tub. I dried off and headed back down the hallway to my room. As I opened the door to enter I heard another scream come from Joachim’s room. I chuckled.
The Dancing Machine
Today I chose Jacob David Peterson to be the feature of my Undercover Jules segment. Jake is from Portage, Michigan and will be off to Indiana University in the fall. On the pitch, Jake is one of the fastest players in our team’s arsenal of players. His blinding pace and never-ending fuel tank causes great problems for opponents on their flanks or up top. He is brilliant when he has space to run at defenders and when it comes time to finish, Jake’s a quality finisher as well. A worthless note on Jake is that on and off the field, he prefers the "Fist Pound" to the customary "High-5."
Peterson is by far the most amazing dancer that I have ever seen. He specializes in Techno dance maneuvers including a masterful rendition of the famous "Moonwalk" and "Robot," along with many other ridiculous moves that I have never seen before. In Bradenton, Dance Revolution on Playstation 2 (with matching step pad accessory) was a huge hit with Jake and some of the other guys in their free time. Jake is one of the kindest and most generous guys on the team, who is willing to do anything for his teammates. He is usually smiling and happy.
Sadly, he has a "Mr. Hyde" side, which comes out only on a limited basis, often overshadows the true, goodhearted Jake. When he gets angry, his voice changes, his hair seems to suddenly stick up, and his body posture suddenly hunches over, as it loosely resembles Kwazemoto (sic) from Notre Dame. Jake’s sudden explosions of madness have also earned him the nickname The Incredible Hake, as his outbursts resemble those of the green comic book star Hulk. "Hake" is the Spanish pronunciation of "Jake". We usually see this side when Jake is woken up from a nap or over a trivial matter that gets the best of him.
For further proof of this, I resort to a story in real time. As I was writing this segment on Jake, my hotel room swung open. Startled, I gasped and looked up to see Jake, with hair sticking up and his laptop in hand. He began to yell as he could not get his computer to turn on and didn’t know why. I tried to calm him down, saying that it was because of the European voltage, but he wasn’t too receptive of that idea.
"I’ve already read two books," Jake yelled at me, "I’m SICK of reading!"
I wish I had been a turtle so I could have drawn back into my shell for refuge, but I unsuccessfully suggested some things to Jake. He said thank you anyways and stormed out of my room to get more advice from fellow team computer geeks Eddie Gaven and John DiRaimondo. Later that night, I went to check on Jake, whose was letting his laptop rest. I got him to smile again as I cracked a joke, then he got up from his bed and gave me a "fist pound." That’s the Jake that we all know and love.
Ladies and gentleman, there is the dynamic truth on Jacob David Peterson, the man. I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s Undercover Jules and stay tuned to see who will be featured next.
Terrific Trafford Tour
Today after training, the team took a trip to Old Trafford, which is the esteemed home of Manchester United. Seating over 64,000 screaming fans, Old Trafford, which is hardly old, is one of England’s largest and most famous stadiums. We began our visit at the gift shop. The prices were a bit steep, but some of our guys still purchased some red and black goods. Peterson bought a scarf, Watson bought a snow hat and John Spector, who actually receives a player discount, bought several caps. The store was so extensive that it carried everything from Man U jerseys to razors, from lunchboxes to birthday party supplies, to even toothpaste. Yes, you read correctly, toothpaste! I wonder if the ADA would approve that one. Anyways, every player was also given a free cap when we arrived to the complex, which was an unexpected treat.
As we waited for our tour to begin, many of us were getting increasingly hungry and restless so we made sure to mob a nearby ice cream truck. After we devoured our treats, we were welcomed in for our safari through Old Trafford. The tour started off at a breathtaking view from the corner of the bleachers. We could see a huge white Nike Swoosh on the far side and "Manchester" boldly written on the adjacent section. We were then escorted to the old players entrance and the box seat section where we got a close look at the pitch. There, we spent nearly three hours taking photos with everybody’s respective cameras. Sadly for us, the field had just been reseeded and relayed so we could not touch the infallible emerald green grass.
Then we took a walk to see the player’s locker room. We all admired the lovely facility and as we were getting ready to leave the locker room, our tour guide pointed to where Ruud van Nistelrooy sits and where David Beckham used to take the weight off his million dollar feet. At that moment, there was a pause and then a mad dash for that corner of the changing room as Peterson, Brandon Owens, Freddy Adu, Mike Harrington, and Steven Curfman fought to simply brush their hand against that area of the bench. Maybe if the tour guide had said that Beckham’s wife, "Posh Spice" or my future wife "J-Lo" sat there I would have sprinted there too, but it was only the seats of sweaty "footballers," so I was satisfied simply marveling at the sight. Then as the tour wound down, we went to the player’s entrance and gazed onto the pitch once again from the tunnel as a recording of screaming fans played, trying to create the mood of walking out into the stadium on game day.
As we walked back to the bus we were informed that there was one final surprise for us on our tour. We walked into a large museum that housed tons of memorabilia. At the end of this room there was a trophy case that glistened in the dim room. Inside the large case lived Man U’s 1999 UAEFA (sic) Champions League Cup along with many other very prestigious awards that they had collected over the years. It was a grand finale to end a great tour, leaving all of us with smiles on our faces as it gave us something to dream about as we continue on our soccer careers.
Play of the Day
Today at practice we had a recovery day after our hard fought match yesterday and in preparation for our Nigeria game tomorrow. Saying that, we had no games playing to goal as we did only a warm up, technical ball work, and then 15 minutes of individual free kicks, long balls or anything else players might want to do. Therefore, today’s "Play of the Day" comes from our staff’s game of soccer golf. In soccer golf, one player chooses a target and all of the participants try to kick their ball nearest to that designated area.
Okay, now the play: the target for this particular shot was simply to hit the crossbar from the edge of the 18-yard box. Because the team was stretching at midfield, we saw the whole play go down as we watched our elders, as if they were the team and we were staff. It had already been a couple of rounds and nobody could hit the thin bar. Then it was time for coach Mellor to give it a try. He calmly jogged up to the ball and instead of striking the ball, he violently stubbed the ground, creating a huge divot and sending a slab of grass farther than the ball, which gently rolled wide of the net. To top it all off, the impact caused coach Mellor to tumble to the ground, using his knees to break the fall.
Most men would have crawled into a figurative hole with terrible embarrassment, but coach Mellor, who has a great sense of humor, was able to take this incident and joke about it. The whole team was more than willing to do the same, as we laughed so hard that we couldn’t even stretch at half field. So there it is folks, today’s rather hilarious "Play of the Day." I would personally like to apologize to coach Mellor for using this as my "Play of the Day" but I had no other choice. I hope that he still likes me because I like him and I wouldn’t want this small incident to come between us. J
Well, that is about it for today’s chapter of Jules’ Undercover Journal. I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s account of our team’s life as told by me. Please wish us luck as we take on the giant Nigerians tomorrow and remember to keep checking ussoccer.com daily for updates on our team as we, in the words of John Lennon, continue on "the long and winding road" to Finland. That’s all for today mates. Peace.