Come On In!
Hello and good day to you! Please don’t be shy and come on in to "Jules’ Undercover Journal" as I would personally like to welcome you to join me. If you are a returning reader, possibly even a fan of my column, I would like to welcome you back and thank you for joining me once again. If you’re a first time visitor, I would like to welcome you to my journal for the first time. I hope that you enjoy it.
I would like to start off today with an entertaining story from training the other day. During a small-sided game, I ambitiously took a 22-yard shot with my left foot – which was actually a quality strike on goal – and lost my footing on the soggy field, crashing to the ground. During my fall, my shoulder went one way while my head went the other direction and I stretched out muscles in my neck, disrupting a nerve as well. I could not move my head and I had to sit out the final minutes of training in horrible pain.
I guess it was some sort of karma. Seeing that it was only a day-to-day injury, my teammates could do nothing but laugh and crack jokes at me as I had so comically embarrassed myself. I guess they all loved seeing me get what I deserved for exposing all of them in my journal. "There’s your ‘Play of the Day’" they all remarked while I was in agonizing pain with my "stinger." For the rest of the day I walked around with a neck brace on, getting countless grins and half-hearted sympathetic remarks.
My neck is feeling pretty good now but it’s still pretty tight and feeling about 93%. My sense of humor about the topic has also returned and now I can laugh about it because I’m sure that the whole thing looked really ridiculous to everyone else.
I just had to share that story with you to prove that I use my column to embarrass not only my teammates, but myself as well. I’m just glad that nobody got a picture of me with that terrible neck brace on! And now on with today’s chapter.
Two Games Down, One To Go
I will start off this next segment with a little background from our game against Sierra Leone. We defeated this feisty team 2-1 on a penalty from Memo Gonzalez and a last minute finish by Freddy Adu. Now we have clinched a spot in the quarterfinals. However, our next game against Spain will decide whether we win the group or take second. We’d much rather prefer to win the group, playing the second place team from Group C. That’s where we’re at right now.
During our first game, the U.S. cheering section heavily outnumbered the Korean fans, but the opposition was still much more vocal with balloons and horns than our own fans. With injured egos and not wanting to be outdone again, our troops regrouped for their next cheering battle against the Sierra Leone percussion section.
My mom, Mrs. Szetela, Mrs. Watson’s, along with some other parents, took trashcans from their rooms and used them as bootleg drums. Families got everything from pots and pans to a potato masher to support us. The Germani family somehow conjured up a cowbell, using that for support. That cowbell reminds me of back home in rural Lancaster, Pa., which is the land of cattle, Amish people, shoefly pie, and the never-ending smell of manure. Many families also managed to get noisemakers making today’s game seem like a New Year’s Eve party. There were stars and stripes waving, banners on railings, and constant chants of "U.S.A." all throughout the game. The atmosphere was great.
Eddie Gaven’s mom, whose personality is much different than Eddie, has naturally assumed a role of "cheerleader" for the 80+ relatives that have joined us. Eddie enjoys reading silently, as he is rather reserved and quiet. His mom, on the other hand, is quite the opposite as she is naturally outgoing and does a great job of rallying up support for our team. Eddie must take more after his dad – they sure do look alike! All in all, our parents had a great showing in their second game as all indications showed that they outdid Sierra Leone.
Special Report: Amazing Ashe
As advertised, this special report is called "Amazing Ashe" and may resemble one of my famous Undercover Jules segments at first, but the format is much different.
Corey Allen Ashe is from Virginia Beach, Virginia and will be headed to the University of North Carolina in the fall. Corey Ashe is distantly related to tennis great Arthur Ashe even though he doesn’t know exactly how. Corey, one of our co-captains, is a hefty 5’5" and about 140 lbs. but he sure knows how to use every pound and inch of that modest frame. He also boasts blinding speed which often leaves opponents standing and staring at the "15" on his back.
Being Corey’s roommate I have a great deal time with this blue-collar young man – his collar is Carolina blue if you will. So, I asked him a couple questions before we went to sleep the other night. After each of Ashe’s responses (in italics), I will comment on his answer (in regular text) so sit back, relax and enjoy the show:
When did you play for first international game and against whom?
"My first international game was (pensive sigh and whistle) Brazil in Brazil. It was March of 2001, I believe. It was a game that we ended up loosing, but it was a great experience because we played against the ’85 Brazilian National Team and it showed me the next level."
That’s a pretty tough way to enter the international stage if you ask me! My first cap was much easier as it was a 0-0 tie against Costa Rica.
Do you prefer yourself with an Afro, in cornrows, in braids, or clean shaved bald?
"I gotta say the rows."
I personally prefer Corey bald because then I get to be his barber and cut his hair. Corey and I have a great time while I’m cutting his hair – kind of a male bonding thing I guess.
Who is the female celebrity who you would most like to kiss?
"I will have to go with Halle Berry or Ashanti."
After Ashe answered Berry or Ashanti, I jokingly asked him which male celebrity he wouldn’t mind kissing. He smiled at me and laughing, said, "Jules, you’re such an idiot!" Then he calmly replied, "Denzel Washington," with a sarcastic tone.
Who would you credit most for getting you to the point where you’re in your life right now?
2 .My parents
3 .My brother
Would you like to give any shout-outs to the world?
"My parents would obviously first, but they are here. So, I would like to give a shout-out to my brother Dre and my girlfriend Taylor (E.T.)."
Corey and his older brother Andre (Dre) are extremely close. Also, don’t ask me why he’s giving a shout-out to E.T. Maybe Corey’s name is really Elliot from the early ‘90s hit film – that happens to scares me. But, I think it’s just an inside joke. I’m happily on the outside of that one.
Ladies and gentleman, I hope that you’ve enjoyed my special report on Corey Allen Ashe.
In a long tournament such as this one, after every game our trainer Jacob Joachim leads a pool workout to help our aching muscles to recover. With no swimming pool in our hotel we are forced to use a local health club for this workout.
We were greeted at the club by being told that we must wear Speedos. Bluntly refusing to wear the embarrassing style of bathing suit, trainer Joachim managed to pull some strings and the club allowed us to wear our training shorts and simply shower before we entered pool. We happily obliged to the stipulations even though I had no problem wearing the Speedo.
We quickly rinsed off and then entered the pool area to see countless chubby, old, hairy men proudly wearing their Speedos. We hopped in the brisk water and started our exercises, which include jogging, stretching, squats, lunges, and jumps all under water.
These workouts always seem to have a way of getting a bit rowdy as we quickly renew old rivalries with splashing and dunking. Trainer Joachim then has to show his muscle a bit as he stretches his voice to the limit to yell at us and keep the workout going smoothly. We finally finished up our pool exercises with a little fun as we played Marco Polo, which is one of our favorite games back in Bradenton.
Then like Cassius in Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar," Danny Szetela headed a plan to assassinate trainer Joachim. Well, maybe not literally assassinate our trainer, but throw him into the cold, choppy pool. First, Chris Germani and Jamie Watson distracted trainer Joachim as they carried on a "normal conversation" with him. Then Kyle Helton, Corey Ashe, Brandon Owens, and a host of others did their part as they blindsided trainer Joachim. I was poor Brutus because I did not really want to be a part of the conspiracy, but I gave into the peer pressure and helped in the mission. After a long and tiresome struggle trainer Joachim realized that he had no chance against the six conspirators as he gave up and let the gang pull him into the pool.
Today for my customary Undercover Jules segment I have selected Steven Gregory Curfman. Curfman, or Curf, as we refer to him, is from Raleigh, North Carolina and he will be a Wake Forest Demon Deacon in the fall. The Wake Forest family will be getting not only a good player, but a great student and person as well.
Curfman is a very smart player, making good decisions on and off the ball much more often than not. But perhaps his best asset is his versatility, making him very valuable for any team and distinguishing him as a solid starter us. In the past year, Curf has played every single position on the pitch for our team (excluding goalkeeper). He doesn’t just take up space there either. Whether it’s forward or right back he performs well on the international level. Wherever he is asked to play, he confidently uses his right and left feet.
Off the pitch, Curfman is one of the smartest guys on the team. According to YM magazine, his thoughts are even as deep as his voice. Sorry Curf, but I had to add that to embarrass you. But seriously, he is one of the brightest kids I know, receiving a perfect score on the math section of his SAT. Curf often comes across as extremely "nosey" to the guys on the team because he is constantly ease dropping and trying to join everyone else’s conversations. However, I stick up for Curf as he is only trying to gain more knowledge – there’s nothing wrong with that!
Curf is Freddy Adu’s roommate for this event. Freddy brought his video game system but Curf does much more playing than the system's rightful owner. He also likes to play cards in his down time, but it seems like every time I walk by the Curfman/Adu room, I see Curf with his eyes glazed and black controller in hand. Whether it’s EA Sports FIFA 2003, EA Sports Tiger Woods golf, NBA Live, or their new hit, Getaway, Curfman and a host of other guys can be found in their down time sitting on their rumps hypnotized by the flashing lights.
Maybe playing video games for 4 hours a day is Curfman’s secret to math prowess. Well, that is Steven Gregory Curfman, beyond the pitch. Please don’t miss my next edition of Undercover Jules as I will pick apart yet another one of my unsuspecting teammates.
Tonight was honestly one of the top 10 best nights of my life. Now I am going to be serious here for this segment, so try to bear with me. If there was any question on whether or not I loved my teammates it was answered tonight. We had a tremendous dinner with all of our team, staff, and our families. It felt like a true family reunion with a feeling of love and companionship that just simply radiated.
We had a fabulous dinner at a secluded little restaurant in the middle of a lake with Lahti in the backdrop. It was a long hike across several bridges but, the taxing walk was well worth it. And it wasn’t just the quality food that made the night special. It was the feeling of family and true friendship that will stay in my mind. We were at the lodge for only a short three hours even though we could have camped there into the night in fellowship. There were no egos or "my son plays more than your son," which is far too often heard in this game. Rather, it was like a family reunion that brought people together who see each other only on a limited basis. It felt like each separate family was my own as I mingled with everyone. I laughed until my gut split and took pictures until my smile became plastic.
Some of the parents have already left to go back home, and many are leaving after our next game. Some troopers are even planning on staying as long as the team is here in Finland. But I just hope that each family walks away with as much from this trip as I have already taken.
The more I think about it, the harder it is going to be to walk away from my teammates after this tournament is over. There is soccer and there is life. On this team we mix the two and get that special feeling that I sensed tonight. We here on the U-17 National Team are not just soccer players, as the media often perceives us to be but we are people. And they are not just my teammates. These guys are my brothers – including the 11 others from residency who are not on this trip. So, I hope that this wild ride continues as were are playing well here in Finland, but I’m not looking forward to that lonely plane ride home from Atlanta as we’ll all go our separate ways from there.
Play of the Day
Sorry for that touchy moment. We’ll lighten things up with today’s play, which comes from my pal Kyle Helton. Helton’s display of brilliance came in a game of short-sided 6v6. There isn’t really much to set up about the situation today, so here is the play:
Helton was isolated on the right flank in a 1v1 situation with Mike Harrington, I believe. Helton did a sweet little stop-and-go hesitation move with a little shimmy of his shoulders for some extra flare. He beat Harrington’s solid defense with his unstoppable move, turned the corner and headed for goal.
Then, from no angle, Helton let the ball ride with his right foot. Miraculously, he somehow bent the ball to beat giant ‘keeper Steve Sandbo on the back post as the ball dipped perfectly into the left side netting. The staff and some of players who were sitting on the sidelines had a great view of the play, as there was an instant eruption of cheers and "whoo’s," not only Helton’s brilliant move, but his astounding finish as well.
So, great work goes out to Kyle Helton. Even though this play was against my team and put them up by a goal, I have to tip my hat to him for this entertaining play. So there it is folks, today’s "Play of the Day."
I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s chapter to my journal. I had, yet again, a great time bringing you the news from the U-17 MNT. You can expect my next installment after our Spain game on Wednesday but in the meantime, please make sure that ussoccer.com is bookmarked! Also make sure to visit it every 20 minutes to check for updates on all of our great country’s national teams. Well everyone, that’s it for today but make sure to wish us luck as we face the Spanish on Wednesday and try to clinch first place in our group. Take it easy until then!