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Jules Journal - At the 2006 Milk Cup


As the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team attempts to defend its Milk Cup title in Northern Ireland this week, defender Julian Valentin will return to his journalistic ways with a daily journal. A former U-17 international, Jules is well known by U.S. Soccer fans for his “Valentin Chronicles” which he provided during the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Championship and during his time in U.S. Soccer’s Residency Program. It’s been some time, but Jules has since moved up the national team ladder and jumped at the chance to once again provide ussoccer.com with a behind-the-scenes look into the daily activities of a youth national team. So without further ado, here’s Jules unique and entertaining daily log of the U-20’s 10-day trip in Northern Ireland.

THURSDAY, AUG. 3
Today I did nothing.  No, I don’t think you understand.  I really did nothing:

Woke up
Ate Breakfast
Took a Nap
Woke up
Hydro-therapy for regeneration
Took a Nap
Woke up
Watched TV (more Power Rangers)
Took a Nap
Woke up
Ate Lunch
Solved (most) Sudoku puzzles
Watched TV (Malcolm in the Middle)
Took a Nap
Woke up
Ate Dinner
Attended Team Meeting
And now, writing about my uneventful day

That’s all I’ve got for today.  I can’t wait for the Paraguay game tomorrow night!!!  Hopefully we can bring the Milk Cup back to the States again!

Today I learned that: A group of kangaroos is called a “mob.”

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 2
We had a light session this morning in preparation for our game against Demark at night.  Then, my roommate, Mike Gustavson, and I watched Power Rangers on TV until pre-game meal.

We came out firing again against Denmark and bagged two early goals – Preston on a header and a brilliant volley by Robbie.  Right before the half, they managed to steal one on a set piece against the run of play.  The second half was more of a battle and they scored again late in the match to tie it up at 2s.  The final score was 2-2 but it was enough to put us into the final with four points total.  We play Paraguay on Friday night for the prestigious Milk Cup.

FYI for my reading audience: At the beginning of the week, I promised my teammates that if we win, I’ll chug a quart of milk on the field after the game.  We’re 90 minutes away from that.  I’ll make sure to have it documented for your viewing pleasure if we get a “W” on Friday.

It’s late so I’m out of here, kiddos.

Today I learned that: If you stretched out a slinky, it would be 87 feet long.

TUESDAY, AUG. 1

The session today was light – a recovery day for the guys who started last night and a bit more of a training day for the guys who came off the bench against Wales.  Demark is clearly in our minds now as a win gets us in the final of the Milk Cup.

Our hotel is on a golf resort here in Northern Ireland, so today we had a team golf challenge after training. There were short, middle, and long range competitions to see which team boasted the superior golfers.

The team convoy was split up into three groups: the staff, the "golfers,” and the "caddies.” The “caddies” were a group made of those who lost a competition at training the previous day and had to carry gear.  We also had to clean the clubs and balls during the golf competition. 

For the putting competition each player was given five balls and took their strokes at one of three holes.  Each hole was worth more points based on its distance away.  Half a point was given for hitting the pin.  A quality putt from Robby Rogers, plus two half-point pin hitters put the "golfers” in the lead with two points after the short game competition.  The staff and the "caddies” were tied, each with one-and-a-half points.  Bottom line: we all need work on our short game.

For the mid-range competition each golfer attempted to chip a ball into big baskets that were used as targets.  This one was too hard and the contest was pretty uneventful – except for Dr. Scopp sticking a shot.  Props to him.

The real action was in the long ball competition.  Each player was given three balls and a point was given for every time they hit a ball 200 yards or more.  Going into the driving competition, the "golfers” were in the lead with four points, the staff was in second with two-and-a-half points, and the caddies were last with two points.  It would surely be a tight race to the end.

My team, the "caddies” stole the show in the driving competition.  We had a hard-hitting team consisting of Mike Gustavson, Chance Myers, Sal Zizzo and myself, among others.  John Daly’s got nothing on us.  We made up some major ground, jacking seven balls over 200 yards and taking the championship for the day with nine points total.  The staff came in second place with eight points and a strong driving performance by coach Dave Dir.  Brining up the rear was the "golfers” or should I say the "LOSERS” who finished with seven-and-a-half points, showing their lack of long-ball skill.  Remember “losers,” it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish.  Also, keep in mind that chicks dig the long ball.

Notable performers on the day:
Good: 
1) Mike Gustavson: Jacked two balls out of the driving range (300+); fan favorite
2) Chance Myers: All-around player of the day; country club superstar   
3) Johann Smith: Never touched a club before in his life but showed promise; a natural
4) Dr. Scopp: As mentioned before, landed the only ball in the basket for the mid-range competition; crowd went nuts
5) Ryan Maxfield (equipment manager) – I love where his heart’s at

Bad: 
1) Johnny Villanueva: Registered a combined 10 yards (on three drives) in the long ball competition; must improve; needed left-handed clubs
2) Chris Seitz: Registered a negative drive on the long ball that went backwards into the crowd, hit the back wall, and almost killed everyone
3) Amaechi Igwe: Poor overall performance on the day; added nothing to “the caddies” team
4) Ofori Sarkodie: Worst swinging form that I’ve ever seen before, yet still managed to hit the ball some how
         
Today I learned: The impact of the Irish potato famine in 1800s.  I don’t know what the Irish would eat if it wasn’t for potatoes!  I realized the gravity of it when I woke up for breakfast and had two chunks of potato bread, followed by mashed potatoes for lunch, and both French fries and mashed potatoes (again) on my plate for dinner.  It’s been like this all week.  I wonder if they ever get tired of potatoes…

MONDAY, JULY 31

Today we had our first match against Wales.  We won 3-0.  We came out firing and scored three goals in the first half.  The second half we were able to maintain the lead and decisively keep “the zero” for the day.  That’s my “two sentence version” of the match.  I’m sure there’s a match report on here somewhere so you can that check out for more sentences about the game. (editor's note: Fans can also watch a replay of the game at BBC online.)

We really did nothing notable before or after the match – sorry for not-so-good reporting today, fans.

Today I learned that:
1) It would be really easy to be a weatherman in the Northern Ireland (or the UK in general) – “Today is going to be cloudy, ugly, and bad.  It’s going to rain.  Then the sun will come out and tease everyone for about an hour.  Then clouds will cover up Mr. Sun and it will eventually rain again.  It will be windy and overcast once the rain stops and pretty much all day really.  Then rain again.  At about 9 PM it will get chilly and dark.”

Oh, also – today was Mike Bradley’s birthday.  Happy 19th to him!

SUNDAY, JULY 30
Today was the day before our first game.  We had a light session in the morning and just kind of hung out the rest of the day.

At night we had the annual Milk Cup parade/opening ceremony in downtown Coleraine, the town that we play our first game in.  I know that a parade sounds kind of cheesy but it was actually really cool.  It would have been even better if it wouldn’t have poured half way through the parade.  Regardless of the weather, the streets were lined with hundreds of people and all the teams from the tournament walked through downtown.  The locals were cheering the whole way through.  When we got to the stadium after the long walk, The Boss welcomed us into the stadium as "Born in the USA" blasted from the loudspeaker in the stadium.  It was really cool experience but I guess that it kind of “rained on our parade.”

Today I learned that:  
1) English in Northern Ireland is basically a foreign language
2) Breakfasts are awesome here
3) Everyone in this country looks like Dax.

THURSDAY, JULY 27 - SATRUDAY, JULY 29

Part I
Getting to the Milk Cup was the worst travel experience of my life - hands down.  For me, it started in Greensboro, N.C., where I boarded my plane and sat on the runway for two hours.  Many other guys did the same on their respective runways because there was supposedly bad weather in Newark and air traffic control wouldn’t let anyone take off.

When I finally got to Newark, we all met up as a group, ate, and boarded our plane to London.  We pushed back and headed for the runway.  Then, the pilot said that we could not take off because of more bad weather and we proceeded to sit in the plane, on the runway.  We waited for four hours before we were cleared for takeoff.  We could have been three-fourths of the way across the Atlantic by the time we took off.

Since we got in to London late, we missed our connection to Belfast.  Getting ASAP flights for 18 players and seven staff members isn’t the easiest thing.  So, most of the team was put up for the night in the Hilton at Gatwick Airport.  Five of our camp tried to catch a standby flight to Belfast in order to increase the chances of everybody else getting a seat the next day.  I stayed in the airport and rolled the dice for a standby flight later that day.

The “lucky” five were Chris Seitz, trainer Ben Black, Dr. Jason Scopp, assistant coach Russ Payne and me.  Luckily, we were all entered as “first priority standby passengers,” moving us to the top of the list.  They said this virtually guaranteed us a flight that day.  We all boarded a standby flight to Belfast.  Just as I sat down in my seat and got comfortable, the flight attendant said “passengers Black, Seitz, and Valentin please ring your call button.”  Darn.  We got yanked off the plane after sitting down because of some nonsense about too much weight on the plane.

Seitz, Ben, and I had to go all the way through customs again, sort out getting ticketed for our next flight, and wait another few hours for the next flight to Belfast.  At the ticket counter we were told that we were definitely going to get on this flight and had “confirmed tickets.”

We went through security again and sat in the waiting area to board.  Apparently we weren’t confirmed passengers because we never got on that flight either.  Rather, an old lady and some tool with a cheesy Euro Mohawk got on the flight even though we were “confirmed passengers.”  Lame.

So we had to go all the way back through customs for the third time of the day and meet the rest of the team at the Hilton for the night.  Everyone there was comfortably napping while Seitz, Ben, and I walked in tired, dirty, and dripping sweat.  Gross.

As if we hadn’t been tortured enough, the three of us (I like to call us “The Three Musketeers”) had the privilege of waking up at 5:45 a.m. to check in at the ticket counter in the hopes that we could finally make standby on the new team flight.  We were given “confirmed boarding passes” but I wasn’t holding my breath.  To end this long, terrible saga, we made it on that flight and finally made it to Belfast.  I had a middle seat.

Quick stats:
Hours actually in the air: 8.5
Hours waiting on runways: 6+
Hours waiting in airports: 12
Times frisked in security: 4
Angry customs officers met: 3
Hours of sleep: 8
Hours of comfortable/satisfying sleep: 0

Part II
Due to the travel fiasco, we missed two training sessions – one on Friday, one on Saturday.  This left us with only two sessions before our first game.  Therefore, we had to make our only session on Saturday a hard and sharp one in preparation for Wales on Monday.  Legs were a bit heavy, but it was a pretty good session.  We got back to the hotel, ate dinner, and crashed in our rooms right away.

Today I learned that:  
1) Customs officers are all very unwelcoming and scary
2) FLYbe airline is bad and lies to Americans
3) Newark airport always means a delay of some sort
4) Sudoku puzzles are the best way to get through a horrendous travel day(s).

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