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Jules' Undercover Journal - Fifth Entry

As My Ears Pop…

Hello World and welcome once again to “Jules’ Undercover Journal.”  As my ears pop, this part of today’s installment is being written from a mile above the UK!  Right now we are finally on our way to Finland. The past 10 days in Manchester were great for our team as we played well in some last minute games. It was also a good week in that it gave us some quality time to recuperate, clear our minds, and take care of some chronic injuries that may still be lingering before we leave for Finland. But, I know that I speak for our whole camp when I say that we are more than ready for Finland and the big show.  It’s comparable to watching the previews at a theater ... the previews are entertaining, but before long you just can’t wait for feature presentation to begin.

I would like to start off today by congratulating Finnair for a very neat feature that they have on their planes.  Maybe I’m just ignorant and have never seen this before, but I think with all of the traveling that I do I would have seen this marvel by now.  I would even say that it could possibly be the 8th Wonder of the World!  On the runway before takeoff and landing, there was a camera on the front of the plane that gave the passengers a view of the track, as the pilot would see it.  It was like I was sitting in the cockpit!  Then we became airborne and as we took off the camera was angled to the gray sky and I began to weep thinking that the show was over.  Then, to my surprise and great delight, the camera switched to a direct view of the fertile green ground and I could watch the terrain underneath me.  It was so great!  Sorry World, but I get excited over little things but it really was a nice little (worthless) feature.  Now I’ll get on with today’s chapter.

Finally in Finland

Well, ladies and gentleman, now we are finally in Finland.  The final members of our staff are beginning to arrive and we are in the final days of preparation.  Our scout/new coach, Keith Fulk, our co-trainer, Michael White, and our team security officer have all arrived.  There is even more staff on the way to Lahti.

Our Security Officer, Gene Williams, travels with U.S. National Teams of all ages on many overseas events to ensure the safety of our athletes at all times.  It makes me feel like Whitney Houston from “The Bodyguard,” knowing that “Mean” Gene, who is ironically extremely nice, is there for us.  We almost have as many members of staff as players now!

The day started off, as usual, with breakfast.  Little did we know that all four teams in our Group D (South Korea, Sierra Leone, Spain, and the USA) would be eating side-by-side in the same cafeteria!  The Sierra Leone team has not arrived yet, but breakfast was still awkward as three different languages cluttered the room.  Our teams' rooms are also stationed on the same floor as the Spanish team and we regularly walk past the Spaniards, trying to avoid all eye contact with our future opponent.

Following breakfast was a lot of paperwork and we had to go to the stadium and get credentials.  A credential is a pass that allows only certain people to enter the field area including players, coaches, trainers, etc.  After we got our credentials, we returned again to the hotel where we had our passports, birthdays, and jerseys checked.  This was the first time that we were allowed to see our new uniforms with our surnames screened on the back.  I excited when I saw the “Valentin” with my preferred “14” across the back.  I was also thrilled to see that John DiRaimondo’s game jersey read: DiRAIMONDO, with a lower-case “i.”  DiRa and I have long dreamed about the minor detail of a little “i.”  Once again, I get very excited over little things – sorry.  One last touch to our jerseys was the patch that was added to left sleeves showing this championship’s official logo.

The Lahti Lowdown

Lahti is a modest, quiet city in southern Finland where everything is within biking distance.  It is about an hour north of the capital, Helsinki.  It is nicely nestled on the banks of a large lake that serves to beautify the whole town.  Finland, and Scandinavia for that fact, is covered with evergreen trees and the stadium that we will play in is actually cut directly into a nearby tree-covered mountain.  From what I take, the weather here is often chilly, even in August, as today was rather brisk.

Our hotel is in downtown Lahti’s “main drag.”  I don’t know exactly what the name of the road is because the name has about 19 consonants in a row and 4 of those letters are that “a” with two dots over it.  We don’t use that one in America.  Anyways, there are many shops along the street including a flea market and a skateboarding store but the old-fashioned road design with individual bricks gives Lahti a colonial look similar to Williamsburg, Virginia.  The city swarms of shoppers and people just walking or riding bundled up in jeans and overcoats.  All in all, Lahti seems to be a quiet, safe town with good people to host an event such as this.
Captain Owens
I choose defender Dwight Brandon Anthony Owens to be the focus for today’s Jules Undercover segment.  Yes, his full initials are DBAO, but we simply call him Brandon or “B.”  I secretly did some undercover investigation work to find out the story behind Owens’ rather lengthy 25-letter name.  He explained to me that it is due to his parent’s indecision on whether to name him Dwight Jr. or Brandon.  To accommodate both Mr. and Mrs. Owens, they decided to name him Dwight Brandon.

Brandon is one of our team’s co-captains and he is a great leader on and off the field.  Owens is from Marietta, California and he’ll proudly be a UCLA Bruin in the fall although he already boasts for his team.  On the pitch, Owens is one of our team’s most solid performers and he is perhaps our most athletic as well.  With his extremely long legs, he has great speed for running down opposing attackers.  Like cartoon star Inspector Gadget, when Owens opts to use his “go-go gadget legs” feature he has the vertical leap of an Olympic high jumper, causing him to be quite a dominating force in the air.

Away from the game, Brandon is a thrill to be around.  Always smiling, he rarely turns down the chance to share a joke or to laugh with his teammates.  B works very hard to keep fit as he lifts weights regularly and does pushups and a “core” workout every night.  According to his long-time roommate Kyle Helton, Brandon does all of this work in an effort to someday look like Helton.  Please note Helton was the one who gave me this information as I consulted him for information on Owens, so I question its validity.

Like much of the team, he’s partial to rap and hip hop music – especially his favorite Jay-Z.  I recently asked B to explain to me the difference between the two.  He thought for a little bit and then rattled off an outlandish response that I could not comprehend.  As long as he knows, I guess that’s okay – I’ll just stick to my rock and roll!  Well ladies and gentleman, there is a synopsis on Dwight Brandon Anthony Owens.  While my segment on Brandon may have been brief, his name certainly is not.  Please stay tuned to “Jules’ Undercover Journal” as I will dissect yet another one of my teammates in the near future.

Gentleman, the Gatorade Has Arrived

Today, when we returned from training at a nearby field our FIFA provided tour guide, Craig, informed us that our Gatorade shipment had arrived.  Expecting to be only a few cases of Gatorade products, trainers Jacob Joachim and Michael White, Jonathan Spector, and I went to the basement to load the shipment on the service elevator.  A quick side note is that Spector prefers his full name. Not Jon or John, but the full name.

I was nothing short of breathless when I saw the sheer quantity that U.S. Soccer’s Director of Sports Medicine, Hughie O’Malley and the Chicago office in general had sent us. In my estimate, the two large crates may have weighed about 1,000 pounds each. We now have about 40 cases of traditional Gatorade, 30 cases of Power Shakes, 20 cases of Energy Drinks, and about 15 cases of Gatorade Power Bars.

I was sent by Trainer Joachim to take the service “lift” to our floor and drop a lot of the Gatorade off there for the awaiting guys to unload. I nodded with a cocky grin expecting the mission to be simple. Getting the heavy cart moving was bad enough, and then I got onto the small service elevator. Remember that I was alone so there was no witness to the following event but it would have been traumatizing had somebody seen it. The elevator door opened as I got to our floor and I pushed the cart to get off the lift To my surprise, the elevator stopped one-inch short of the floor. The wheel hit the one-inch barrier, jerked the cart, and four cases of Power Shakes became projectiles as they struck my chest.  I was immediately thrown back against the cold elevator wall and to add insult to injury, I bumped my head.  I reloaded my cart and struggled to bring it to the hallway but when I got there I casually walked out, acting like nothing had even happened.

The whole unloading process took about 30 minutes with the whole team helping.  Now we have enough Gatorade products to last us until maybe Thursday morning.  So, for the U-17 MNT, I would like to thank Hughie and our outstanding sponsor Gatorade for providing us with the fuel that helps to be successful.

Play of the Day

Today at practice a “Play of the Day” was very difficult to chose so I will take the cowardly way out and not give this prestigious award to one individual. Today our team’s finishing, as a whole, was clinical and no one play stands out in my mind. We played a short game of 5v5 with close goals followed by a finishing exercise. Even with quality defending there were a plethora of great goals by Memo Gonzalez, Brian Grazier, John DiRaimondo, Steven Curfman, Jonathan Spector, Mike Harrington, Brandon Owens, Jake Peterson, Kyle Helton, Danny Szetela and Jamie Watson. There was everything from brilliant “crackers” to pinpoint benders. So, today my “Play of the Day” goes to everyone on the above list. Yes, I am aware of the gutless loophole that I’ve taken on choosing today’s play, but I don’t feel that it would be fair to award just one person with the trophy for today. Great job guys. Now is the time to be hitting full form. Lets just make sure we put that on the field Thursday!

Ladies and gentleman, I would like to thank you for being with me again today as I’ve hopefully comically shared with you another day in the lives of the Under-17 Men’s National Team.  Remember to keep checking for additions to my journal because at this point, there will be an inconsistent pattern of entries due to games and my rapidly fleeting free time.  But I’m sure that I’ll be back in your computers soon with a new chapter.  So remember to keep your Internet locked to  Bye World!