He may not be as cute as E! Entertainment’s Jules Asner, but our own Jules (Julian Valentin) will do his best to serve as your host, providing 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. At 16, the Lancaster, Pa. defender is one of the most vocal players on and off the pitch and every few days will give a rundown of what went on in practice, on the bus, during the meals and on the field during games. He’ll also include (starting in the next journal entry) a special segment where he will keep a keen eye on one particular teammate for a couple days and "uncover" his every move – good or bad – on and off the field.
Back in Bradenton
It was actually pretty strange to be back in Bradenton. I mean this time it was only for three days instead of three months. Usually I’m aching to get back home to good old PA but this time it was a bit different. Maybe we could have stayed there a little bit longer. I never thought that I’d say that. After all, we did stay in the amazing IMG Lodge Hotel, which is usually off limits to us. It really does hurt me to say it, but our rooms were a bit too big and way too nice. I wish that I could say the same about the food. That’s one thing that I didn’t miss.
We trained a couple days there, which seemed like playing on the surface of the sun with temperature approaching 900, but I have to say that the highlight of our return to IMG was our Christmas in July. Little did I know that Team Coordinator R.J. Noto (He doesn’t like to be called "Equipment Manager") had secretly been putting together quite a surprise. We walked in our new trailer to see a huge Nike travel bag filled with more gear than I could ever need. Shoes, shirts, shorts, sandals, socks – the 5 main "s" words in terms of gear. Honestly, what am I supposed to do with 5 new bags? Nonetheless, all the guys and I are very grateful for our very generous gifts from our excellent sponsor Nike (your welcome Mr. Nike for the free advertising).
Travel Day Tale
Our short stay back in Bradenton was nice. But I speak for all of the guys when I say that we were more than ready to leave and get the big show on the road. Little did we know that we were in for quite a traveling experience. Luckily for me, I had a middle seat to ATL nestled safely between goal scorer Jamie Watson and fellow ’87 Danny Szetela. I sat down quietly and peacefully and was glad that I wasn’t sitting between an overweight businessman and a brawny construction worker. Actually, maybe that would have been better.
I sat down, got comfortable, put on my headphones and started a crossword. Before long they’re both asleep leaving me in the middle of two big kids. I fill in 25 down with "KERMIT" and Jamie starts taps my shoulder. I had forgotten that Jamie has some odd sleeping habits. Then Danny’s smooth leg bangs up against mine. I had roomed with Danny before and knew that he twitches. So there I am, stranded between Danny and Jamie who are both violently twitching - for an hour and a half. Then add an 85-degree cabin temperature, uncomfortable seats and you get a pretty uncomfortable flight to Hotlanta.
We get to Atlanta and the first thing that the guys do is rush the magazine store. The September issue of YM is out and there is a swarm to buy the teenage girl magazine because not only are we good soccer players but we are also YM’s "Boys of the Month." Plus, anything with the Olsen Twins on the cover is worth the $5.00. But, try to get over those beautiful young women and turn to page 97 because I’m sure that everyone reading this has a YM on the computer desk right now.
The front page features Danny Sz’s beautiful blue eyes as he does a header. I wonder if he’s twitching to get extra power. Turn the page to see Steve Curfman’s gorgeous smile. Look at that hair, it’s so long and beautiful. I guess YM likes that. Then there’s Memo (Gonzalez) as he gets ready to do some kind of staged move on Curf. Freddy is right under that picture as he graces yet another glossy page. It must be kind of a let down to go from People to YM. Sorry Fred. Actually I take that back. I’m sure he’d much rather prefer pretty 14 year old girls admiring him rather than 34 year old stay-at-home moms. Why would YM be so mean to Mike Harrington to make him do the not-so-good pose on page 100? It’s a little known fact is that the "shot" that Mike is taking is actually being saved by our right back Curfman who put on Phil Marfuggi’s mammoth sized gloves. By the way, Phil has possibly the biggest hands that I have ever seen. I can’t say anything bad about Kyle Helton’s picture…he’s just so cute. I may sound a bit bitter right now – maybe that’s because I feel that I was good looking enough to be in YM. I guess that I’m just not. But that’s okay…beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which I say as I look in the mirror. The final photo is John Spector, who YM called "Prince Charming." I feel bad for Spec. He is quite the bruiser on the field and a genuine nice guy off. But it must be an insult to everything that he has worked so hard for to be called "Prince Charming" by a little girl’s magazine. Spec’s trip to Manchester, his future home (he signed with the Manchester in May and will join the U-19 and reserve teams in Sept.), would have to be put off a couple hours as our tale continues.
We had a great dinner at Chili’s, that consisted of burgers, chicken, and Boneless Buffalo Wings (everyone’s favorite). I ate with Eddie Gaven and Chris Germani. Eddie, who usually eats way more than his stomach should be able to hold, had a disappointing outing as he left half of a sandwich and many fries. I had to help him out a bit but I was nonetheless disappointed with his effort. The Brian Grazier, Memo Gonzalez, Mike Harrington, and John DiRaimondo table played cards as they waited for their food.
We got on the plane, settled in, with coach Ellinger sitting in seat 1B, and awaited take-off. I was sitting next to Jamie again. The seats must be in alphabetical order with Valentin and Watson (and earlier Szetela). I got myself mentally prepared for the long haul and a lot of random movements from my buddy. There seemed to be weather problems that were keeping us on the ground. Then the weather cleared and our flight still didn’t budge. There seemed to be a gauge problem that needed to be fixed before we left. Finally the fixed the problem and we were cleared to takeoff. We pulled out of the gate and just didn’t move. We must have been like 85th for takeoff because after about an hour the pilot goes on the loudspeaker and in the typical pilot voice says "Ladies and Gentleman, we are number 8 for takeoff." Our plane finally took off about 2 ½ hours late.
Jolly Old England
Manchester’s sunny skies and warm weather welcomed us into Great Britain (I hope that you got that sarcasm). The team went through the normal bag scavenger hunt and customs rituals and then went straight to the hotel. We checked in at about 11:00 and none of the rooms had been cleaned (except for mine and my roomie Corey Ashe). So we were welcomed with messy beds, full ashtrays, and towels thrown about the floor. Oh well, not much that we can do. Australia is staying here too, whom we play later this week. Our training sessions are at Man U’s training facilities, which are very nice. Overall the people are treating us pretty well except for the 10-year-old boy who tried to throw a brick at our bus J . Right now many of the guys are walking around town or playing cards and some are just chillin’. So tomorrow we play Blackburn, the home of our American great Brad Freidal.
Wish us luck as we go up against the Rovers and officially start the Road to Finland. Remember to stay tuned to ussoccer.com every couple days to keep up with the rather hilarious off-the-field event of the U-17 National Team.
- www.ussoccer.com -