Welcome from the Far EastGreetings friends! You may have forgotten about me by now, but this is your old pal Jules and I would like to thank you for joining me at ussoccer.com today. It is my pleasure to welcome you from one of my favorite places in the world: Busan, South Korea. I am still trying to fight off a 13-hour time difference and my roommate, Danny Szetela, and I have been up since 3 a.m. The U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team is currently in the orient for a tournament in Busan, where we will play South Korea, Brazil, and Poland. I have some surprises in store for you this week as I hope to put out a three-part special, so make sure to stay tuned to ussoccer.com throughout the week. Today’s installment will serve as both the final official issue of The Valentin Chronicles and a special report from our tournament in Busan.
Out With the Old, In With the New
I will start off with first things first. My Under-17 teammates and I are now official graduates of the Edison Academic Center and the U.S. Soccer Residency program. Graduation in May was an extremely bittersweet time for many of us, as it signified both an end and a new beginning. It was a final farewell to teachers, friends, coaches, and each other who have played such a major role in our lives.
Graduation was our last chance to thank coach Ellinger, coach Hackworth, coach Mellor, and coach Fulk, for all that they have done to develop us both on and off the field. They gave us a chance to excel, and put us in an environment to do so. It is simple to see how we have all developed as players and people. I will be forever grateful for all that you have done for me.
It was our final chance to thank our trainers, Jake and Michael, for treating all of our aches and pains and for putting up with all of our games. You guys are truly the best.
It was the last time to thank Braden for his beautiful smile and for always giving us our new Nike gear – even if we had to beg for it.
It was the last time to say thank you to Mrs. Iannarelli and all of the Edison Academic Center staff for allowing us to graduate early and proving a first-class education.
Graduation was a time to say goodbye to the place that we had become so accustomed to and eventually called home. It was time to say goodbye to Bradenton, but more importantly, all of the people there that will be greatly missed.
“Goodbye” is such a powerfully harsh word isn’t it? It is so final. Denzel Washington’s movie “John Q,” puts such a situation in perspective as I try to remember that, “this is not goodbye, it’s see you later.”
Now we all go on our separate ways, but I know that I will see many of my teammates (my brothers) again, hopefully on future national team trips. Many of us will be enemies in the ACC for college soccer. We will keep in touch via cell phones and the Internet. I will surely be back down to Bradenton to visit the coaches, Jake and Michael, and my friends. Things may not be the same, but we will always have our memories to carry on. New memories will come as well.
I look back at myself a couple years ago when I was filled with indecision as to whether or not I even wanted to go to Residency and myself now, and know that I am a completely different person. First, I have more facial hair, as I need to shave at least once a week now. I’ve put on 25 pounds of muscle and burned off pretty much all of my baby fat, except for those feisty love handles. I’ve taken leaps and bounds as a soccer player both technically and tactically. My development as a player is easy to see. I have learned how to think for myself, without my parents micromanaging my life. But most importantly, I have learned what it means to be independent and now I know that I am ready for my future. I feel ready for anything that life throws my way.
Thank you to all the people who have played a role in preparing me for life. Your contributions will be forever appreciated. You helped to make the best two years of my life.
When we woke up on the morning of June 19th in Busan, we headed downstairs for a big breakfast. Our hotel served everything from pancakes to fried rice to smokes salmon for us to eat – quite an interesting array, I must say. Hey, that rhymes!
Anyways, after we ate, coach Rongen took us for a walk around the surrounding area to help get the long flight out of our legs. Our hotel is right on the water, so we walked on the beach of the Sea of Japan. As we all walked together with our training gear on, we stuck out like a sore thumb and were greeted on the boardwalk by a mob of Korean schoolgirls. We strutted passed them to the sound of cheering, crying, and the loud noise of Korean conversation as we were all mobbed for pictures and autographs. The main “chick magnets” had to be Jamie Watson, Stewart Holden, Will John, and Kamani Hill, as there were swarmed several times by Korean teens armed with picture phones and ballpoint pens. I jokingly blew a kiss to a group of Korean girls and they nearly broke into tears, melting in joy on a nearby staircase. Sorry for the tease girls, but I’m already happily taken.
After we all managed to escape the crowd of girls, we took a hike on a beachside mountain trail. The long trek took us through puddles of mud, small creeks, over mounds of rocks, and between countless bushes. As we scaled the terrain we randomly stumbled upon and outdoor fish market on the rocks of the sea. Under circus-like tents, women displayed their weird looking, and rather smelly catches of the day. They had everything from baby squids, to mussels, to slimy tube things that I had never seen before. After seeing these sea creatures, I have a newfound respect for the Korean people as I would have quite a hard time forcing such organisms down my throat.
After a brief stop at the market, we walked on to find a temple at the top of a steep hill. There, we were greeted by more screaming young girls and we stopped for a group photo in front of a giant statue.
We continued to walk on after that, only this time the group of girls followed us. We now had a following as we continued to walk through the town, only drawing even more attention than before. It began to rain and some of our guys became pretty close with some of the umbrella carrying Korean girls. Andrew Kartunen and teen heartthrob Watson each walked extremely closely to a girl to share an umbrella. It was cute to see Karty and Jamie making friends so easily. We were finally able to escape our followers and reach our beautiful hotel safely.
Goodbye For Now
I regret to inform you that today’s fun has to end now. It’s about time for our team dinner, so I’ve got to get going. I hope that over the past year you’ve enjoyed The Valentin Chronicles as this marks the end of my long running column. But I have to take my own advice: “out with the old, in with the new.” It was my pleasure to bring you the news from Residency and our time on the road. Thanks.
Make sure to stay tuned to ussoccer.com over the next week to see what’s going on here in Busan. We play South Korea on Tuesday so make sure to wish us luck. I have a couple little surprises planned here and there and I’m sure that there will be tons of amusing anecdotes over the next couple of days. Thank you and I hope to see you soon.