What's up? We are on an island called Madeira off the coast of Portugal that is easily one of the most beautiful countries I've ever been to. There are hills and mountains everywhere, with smaller islands off in the distance. There are only three grass fields on the island, so they only let you use them for games. But the fields we've been playing on have been surprisingly good.
Our first game against the Madeira select team was on the other side of the island, where the scenery is even better than the area around our hotel in the city of Funchal. It's so weird to be walking to the locker room after the game and just be surrounded by mountains with houses built almost all the way up into the clouds. It's a lot like California, like maybe Los Angeles with all the hills and valleys, but Funchal is alnost identical to San Francisco in the way that the city is right on top of the water and houses are built practically on top of each other as they spread up into the hills. The narrow, winding roads are also very San Fran.
Anyway, the game against the Madeira team was a battle. It wasn't pretty -- they were a hard-working, scrappy team. I know I'm probably a little biased, but the referee did his little bit to help the home team. Our next game against Slovakia was so high up in the mountains that we were practically playing in the clouds. We played a much better game and were dangerous offensively, but we ended up with a 0-0 tie. Also, we had the same ref and he took back a goal we scored in stoppage time, but it was probably a fair result.
Like coach has said, we've played better each game that we've been together, and I think today's game proved it. Portugal has won both of their previous games, and we knew they wouuld be a lot to handle, especially in their backyard. We came out kinda flat, but I think it was just because it was our third game in four days. It was a bummer giving up the goal in the first half, but when Bobby and Beaz came on in the second half, we picked up our intensity and really started to go at them. We had some really good chances to get the game-winner, but we just couldn't get another one by their 'keeper, who was a total stud.
All in all, the trip so far has been incredible. I've been playing pretty well, and the weather, the hotel, the competition, even the food at the hotel have all been really good. My only complaint would be all the times that our bus practically drove off a cliff on the tiny roads that wind up the mountain. Everyone has these tiny cars because the roads aren't wide enough for two normal cars, and there are no sidewalks, so it can be a little dicey. If I had a Euro for every time we had a near miss with a parked car or someone jumping across a street, I could buy a cappucino for the entire team.
I think we'll be heading to Italy tomorrow with good spirits, knowing we did well in this tournament and will be looking for another good result against a great team like Italy, but it will be tough.
U.S. Under-23 MNT midfielder Kyle Beckerman is a former member of both the Under-17 and Under-20 Men's National Team's that qualified for and competed in the respective FIFA World Youth Championships in 1999 and 2001. After signing with the Nike Project-40 program, the native of Crofton, Md., spent last season with the Miami Fusion, but has since been picked up by the Colorado Rapids.