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Bulldogs In Italy Blog - Final Edition

Graphic designed by Kristina Kim
Graphic designed by Kristina Kim

The Yale men's soccer team is spending spring break in Italy. The Bulldogs, who are scheduled to play four exhibition games, will visit Rome, Florence, Pisa and Milan. Periodically during the trip, the players and coaches will provide updates on their adventure.

The final two installments of the blog are from Andy Block '61, who along with his classmate John Pearce made the trip possible, and head coach Kylie Stannard. Block and Pearce both joined the team on the adventure.

Kylie Stannard:

Wow!  It's hard to put into words what we just experienced over the last 10 days (really eight total days not including travel).  What I can say very confidently is that I don't think we could have picked a better place to visit for the first foreign trip for YMS since 2001.  Italy has it all…and then some.  The history, art, architecture, people, fashion, food…and of course, the calcio, combined for the best possible experience for a college student and college soccer player. 

Despite the months of planning and organizing what we hoped would be a great experience for our players, nearly every aspect of the trip surpassed our lofty expectations.  Even a couple of the areas I hoped would be better, such as a couple of the fields we played on, truly added value to the experience in learning how to adjust and adapt to the circumstances. 

The players were absolutely incredible with how they adapted to every situation and didn't let anything faze them or get in the way of performing on the field and having a great time.  I'm actually happy that we had to deal with some minor "adversity" because these things are especially normal when you're in a foreign country and many things are out of your control.  We are often "spoiled" by having perfect fields, conditions, and other details meticulously scheduled that we take these things for granted. 

I'm amazed at how our players responded in our games to some difficult circumstances which included some very busy days, lots of moving around, some less than ideal playing surfaces, lots of questionable referees, some rainy days, and some feisty competition…and yet we performed better each game we played—remarkable!  There will be so many moments from this trip that we will be able to look back on and use as great learning experiences, as well as build confidence and motivate.

As a coach, I'm obviously very happy to win all four games, but more importantly, I'm extremely impressed with how we improved each game and with our overall team performances and so much individual improvement from every single player, as well.  The experience, chemistry, and depth improved dramatically and will pay dividends as we play out the spring season and enter the fall.  The growth of the team in that time period, both on and off the field has been invaluable. 

Not only did the players represent themselves and their families in a first-class manner, they represented Yale University, Yale Athletics, and American college soccer about as positively as one can imagine.  The Yale name is a lot to live up to, but not only did our players live up to the name, they surpassed the highest of expectations as gentlemen, scholars, and soccer players.  

Personally, this trip was the most rewarding soccer experience with a team in my 18 years of coaching club and college soccer.  I couldn't have asked to go with a better group of young men, coaches, administrators, and alumni. 

I remember talking with Andy Block about this possibility three years ago during my first spring at Yale.  Andy had been wanting this to happen for years and the excitement in his voice was contagious.  I'm extremely grateful and honored to have been able to be part of his vision and help put some of the pieces together.  Andy is an incredible person and a model alumnus that was determined to provide this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Hopefully, this will serve as a catalyst to get other alumni together and make this happen for YMS every four years.  Sincerest thanks and gratitude, Andy!  Bulldogs on 3…1, 2, 3, BULLDOGS!!

Andy Block:

John Pearce (Captain of '60 Team) and I (GK of '60 team) had the great pleasure of accompanying the team in Italy last week. We were so impressed by the players who in a very short period of time made us feel that we were part of the family. The team was extraordinary on the field and off the field. In both arenas, they were selfless, inclusive and together. They were truly a team 24 hours a day. I told them they reminded me of Spain in the 2010 World Cup with their endurance, teamwork, ball control and opportunistic play!

It was energizing just to observe how they cared for one another, the fun they had with each other, the genuine interest they had in all the ancient Italian marvels, the spirit they showed all day every day, their impressive appetites for Italian cuisine; their discovery of many gelato flavors and their warm engagement in conversations with John and me. Even though we are closer to their grandparents' age, being in their presence definitely narrowed the two generations' gap!! In games, the team was a brilliant 4-0; the whole touring group including coaches, trainer, administrators and two members of the '60 team was 8-0 as everyday was a W!

Of the frequent daily highlights, the most touching was Kylie's arranging for John and me to suit up for the game in Lucca. Early in the trip, we were given uniforms with our names and numbers (no talk of those being retired yet!), but didn't know that we would be putting them on well before Halloween. In the locker room before the game, Will Emerson, who wasn't dressing, offered me his boots when he noticed that I was wearing plain running shoes. I was then able to walk onto the field in full battle gear.

In the pre-game pep talk, Kylie told the team to treasure the moment with John and me in the starting line-up. I think John and I will treasure the moment even more! As Lucas Kirby mentioned previously, the ceremonial kick-off went from John to Captain Cam to me for a side kick back to Cam who booted the ball out of bounds. We left the field for probably the last time in our unexpectedly long careers of 61 years to hugs, high fives and a standing ovation as there were no stands to sit in! When told that the starting keeper gets credit for the W, I smiled and thought that I am now unbeaten and unscored upon for three consecutive games dating back to Princeton and Harvard in 1960!

Steve Griggs, our Italian translator and Yale's successful soccer coach in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s, was able to compare the team to some of his and concluded there is something very special about this group which definitely bodes well for the future. I can only add that I felt that I was witnessing a remarkable group of young men who will continue to make Yale very proud. The team also reflects the goodness of the coaching staff whom we witnessed from very close up. Kylie, TJ, Jon and Nate are wonderful educators: dedicated, respected, caring, trusting and skilled. I look forward to the fall season with great expectations and hope that I can get to a few games. I did promise at our farewell dinner, I would go anywhere to see them play in the first round of the NCAA post season!!

I can say without hesitation that Yale soccer is back!

Mar. 19 – Nicky Downs breaks down the Bulldogs latest and most impressive victory of the trip.

We perhaps saved our best day of football for last in Italy. Sunday began with an early wake up followed by yet another scenic drive to a rustic Italian Calcio facility about an hour and a half outside of Milan. We were greeted by cloudy skies and biting rain, though overcast skies have been par for the course for us on this trip.

After walking the game pitch, we changed and warmed up on a muddy practice field opposite the stadium. Despite the cold there was a certain energy about us as we prepared for our final and most difficult test of the trip and our first against a Serie A opponent. Soon enough kickoff had arrived, ushered in by a final walkout alongside our Torino U19 counterparts. Torino were certainly the most technical and tactically astute side we faced while in Italy, which made for the most enjoyable and testing match we played.

After a fairly even opening quarter hour we started to construct some of our most impressive play of the trip, combinations were coming off despite the slick conditions.  Eventually we broke the deadlock, courtesy of Addison and shortly after by a Ronnie-esq header from Leisman.

The second half proved a bit more of a test as Torino struck from the penalty spot to cut into our lead. However, minutes later we were able to find another goal through Jimmy. We defended staunchly and possessed intelligently which helped us eventually come out as 3-2 winners. Beating a Serie A opponent in a tightly contested and high quality match was the most satisfying footballing moment of the week for all of us.

We then set course for the San Siro to catch the afternoon match between AC Milan and Chievo Verona. We were treated to a back and forth match which saw Milan go ahead in the opening minutes only to be stunned by two successive goals, including an absolute worldie, from Chievo. Down 2-1 at half, Milan fans were a bit restless, though ultimately they were not to be disappointed. Milan drew level shortly after the break by way of a VAR (video assistant referee) reversed decision which changed the call on a goal initially ruled out. Gattuso's men found the eventual winner in the 85th minute through substitute Andre Silva off a corner as the San Siro erupted. Though it was Milan's magical Spanish maestro, Suso, who was the star of the show and certainly the fan favorite amongst our group. In brief, it was a pretty remarkable day of football and a fitting way to end what has been a fantastic week, a week none of us will soon forget.

And finally, on behalf of all the players, we would like to thank Andy Block, whose vision and great generosity made this incredible trip possible.

Mar. 18 - Lucas Kirby details the Bulldogs' day at Luca and Pisa

On rested legs and after yet another satisfying hotel breakfast, the team departed for Pisa. Despite suggestions that the famous tourist destination might not live up to our expectations, the tower and the surrounding structures were truly astonishing. A perfect complement to the architecture, our tour guide Anna explained the rivalry between Pisa and the nearby town of Lucca. 

Born in the pristine Tuscan town herself, Anna exuded local pride; before saying goodbye, she offered her prediction that Lucchese would defeat us! However, before meeting our opponents, we visited Lucca for lunch and brief exploration of the fascinating Roman town. For what was undoubtedly the loveliest pregame meal of our lives, we explored the area in small groups, each eventually settling at small cafes and restaurants. One group of players stumbled upon the shops and restaurants surrounding an enclosed, circular plaza, invoking the form of the Roman amphitheater that once occupied the site. After only an hour in Lucca, the town had won many of us over; however, we would soon face one of the most physically taxing, emotional, and memorable experiences of our time in Italy. 

We arrived at a muddy field to play AS Lucchese Libertas, a Serie C team, and we quickly fell into our pregame routine. However, something was not the same. At some point along this incredible journey, our roster and our family had picked up two world-class signings. As Andy Block and John Pierce dressed for the game alongside us, excitement filled the locker room. After participating in the warm-up, John and Andy took the field. The whistle blew. After a precise pass from John, Captain Cameron Riach headed the ball back towards the goal. Andy effortlessly gathered the ball and struck a perfect side volley back to Cam. 60 years after Andy and John began their Bulldog journeys, the lifelong friends did not miss a beat. As they trotted off the field to roaring applause from both teams, I could have sworn I saw a single tear from one of the Lucchese players.

Inspired by Andy and John, the Bulldogs jumped ahead to a 3-0 lead in the first half, with two incredible goals from Kyle Kenagy and a clinical finish by DJ Palmer. Emotions ran high in the second half, as the deteriorating pitch and an aggressive Lucchese side forced the game into periods of chippy disarray. After a hard fought 90 minutes, the Bulldogs delivered Andy his third straight clean sheet (Harvard, Princeton, and AS Lucchese Libertas), taking home a 3-0 victory. Sorry Anna! 

A wonderful dinner back in Florence at Ristorante Bargello allowed reflection on what was the most extraordinary day of the trip. Andy and John, the men whose legacies we carry, I thank you for your wisdom, your humor, and your generosity. We were honored to take the field with you, and we are honored to call you family. 

Mar. 16 Miguel Yuste and some of the boys took part in a bonus game in Florence, which brought back quite a few memories.

After almost a three-hour ride from Rome to Florence and a short tour around the city center, we checked in to our hotel to drop our bags. The team grabbed a couple of balls and runners and went for a jog through the streets of Florence. A small group of us (Aldo, Sady, Leisman, Mike Gibbons, Jeremy, Kylie and me) took an alternative route and ended up finding ourselves in a big park with basketball and soccer courts.

Because we were not practicing on the field that day and we got separated from the group, we felt like playing a bit to stretch the legs. We saw that in the caged turf soccer field, there were a bunch of Italian teenagers kicking the ball around. Thanks to Sady's Italian fluency, we asked them if we could join them and play a short game. The Italians decided after we started the game with a 5-2 lead that the game would be to 10 goals.

John was in goal for most of the game, trying not to get hit by the hard shots from our opponents. Mike Gibbons put on a class performance on the wing feeding the strikers with several assists, while Kylie came on as a sub to score a late goal and to put in practice the famous doggies and relentlessness. I was able to score the last goal to end the game 10-9 and extend the YMS European record to 3-0-0.

After the game, everyone was excited because it was a unique experience playing with some random boys in the streets of Florence. To me that felt pretty natural, as I started playing soccer in Spain in a very similar way, but some of the guys in the team had never done anything similar. When I was younger, I would play in the playground at school and after school in the park, with older kids, in a very informal way. It is in the streets where the soccer culture in countries like Spain and Italy comes from, where kids have no pressure and are able to express themselves. On our way back to the hotel, it was very interesting listening to the different experiences we had of our childhood and how we started playing the beautiful game. 

Mar. 16 – Will Emerson recaps the first day in Florence

After a few surreal days in the capital, we packed up our belongings and embarked on a seemingly endless, yet beautiful journey north to Florence.  Along the way, we stopped at arguably the largest gas station in the Western World and grabbed a bite or two for the remainder of the drive.  

Upon arrival, we sat down at a cozy restaurant near the Basilica di San Lorenzo and enjoyed another wonderful Italian three-course meal.  Then, we began our walking tour throughout the historical center of the city.

First, we walked to one of Florence's main tourist attractions, Il Duomo di Firenze.  Decorated with green, pink, and white marble, the cathedral was something out of a fantasy movie.  It is difficult to really absorb what you are looking at, as the famous Renaissance dome towers over you and the city.  You could spend an entire day poring over the lavish detail on the outer walls of the structure and still not fully process its beauty. It was the perfect way to begin our personable tour of the "cradle of the Renaissance."

The second part of the tour took us through the streets of Florence to the esteemed Galleria dell'Accademia, home to Michelangelo's David.  This 17-foot marble sculpture rests under a dome of natural light, and it exudes perfection at every angle.  The gallery, filled with many more sculptures by Michelangelo and paintings by Florentine artists, was a very relaxing way to end the tour before we went to the hotel.

With evening approaching, as the team took a light jog to a nearby park for some juggling, myself and few other injured guys did a bit of rehab in the beautiful courtyard of the hotel.  

To end the night, we marched across the Arno river for a lovely dinner of lavish meats and cheeses, before heading back to the hotel for the night.  Settling down to bed, I very much looked forward to the few days to come before continuing to Milan.

 P.S.  Happy Pi Day

Mar. 15 - A photo gallery from Florence

Mar. 14 (night) – Justin Lobe recaps Yale's 5-1 victory and a trip to watch an Italian professional match.

We started off our day with some of the most interesting sight-seeing yet. We walked through the streets of Roma, enjoying the sights and sounds of the everyday bustle of the city, before stopping at and climbing the Spanish Steps. I think just about all of our camera rolls now have plenty of panoramas of the wonderful views of Rome that the Spanish Steps offered.

We then made our way to the Trevi, a fountain celebrating the Roman aqueducts with beautiful marble sculptures of mythological figures. We all gathered to take pictures to keep the structure in our memories forever. 

Next up was the Pantheon. On our way, we stopped for gelato that far exceeded anything that I have tasted in the States. Definitely one of the things I'll miss most about Italy. When we made it to the Pantheon, I was struck by how amazing the Roman engineers must have been to have created such an impressive structure. I think the reason why I have come to love Rome so much is that wonders such as the Pantheon are scattered throughout the city for anyone to stumble upon. I am convinced that every square in Rome holds some architectural treasure. 

Afterwards it was game time. We made our way to the fields unsure of what to expect from our opponents. What we got was a great performance on our end. It was match that was nothing if not entertaining, thanks to goals from Jimmy, Kyle, Aldo, Massaad, and DJ. Final score: America 5 - Italy 1. We celebrated our second win with impressively large platters of meat and appetizers.

The Roma vs Shaktar champions league match was an incredible experience. Just walking to the stadium, hearing the songs and chants resound throughout the streets, was a thrilling experience in and of itself. Everyone's Snapchat stories were filled with us singing along to the Champions League anthem, which I think we all had only heard on TV. The game itself was fast-paced and exciting, a far more interesting game than any MLS game I've seen. The match culminated in a late goal by Dzeko, which sent everyone in the Stadio Olimpico, including ourselves, onto our feet, cheering wildly and uproariously singing Roma songs. Overall, not an experience that I will easily forget. 

As we bussed back to the hotel, I was a little saddened by the fact that our time in Rome was almost at an end. So far it has been a truly unforgettable time. 

Mar. 14 (night) – Andrew Sady Kennedy was awed by The Sistine Chapel and impressed with the Bulldogs' performance in a 2-0 victory in their first game.

After a rainy morning on Monday, the team got to visit the Vatican museums and Saint Peter's Basilica. The Sistine Chapel was definitely one of the highlights of our experience here in Rome. Seeing all of Michelangelo's and Bernini's creations first hand was truly amazing. It is truly incredible how Michelangelo could have painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, how Bernini constructed the symmetry of Saint Peter's Square, and even how Raphael was able to create so many beautiful paintings within his Raphael Rooms.

Being able to witness all of this and the place where Conclave takes place, in which Popes are elected, is breathtaking. In my case, since I am Catholic, as others on the team are, this experience was particularly beautiful to come to the center of our faith.

Resting up after our tour of the Vatican, we went to LUISS University, who treated us to a wonderful day. After a welcoming opening ceremony, we played our first match in Italy at their home field and won 2-0 with goals from An and Miguel. After the game, we had an awards ceremony and dinner with the players and coaches from LUISS.

This was such a great day and I would really like to thank everyone at LUISS for the opportunity to visit the campus and making us feel so welcome! We are looking forward to seeing the players from LUISS in August for a preseason match and continuing our relationship together!

Mar. 14 – 2018 team captain Cameron Riach recaps the first day in Rome.

After years and years of planning and an exciting buildup, the Italy trip has finally come to fruition! The first day in Italy was a busy one, but it's amazing to finally be here. After two flights (with a brief stop in Frankfurt), we arrived in Rome in the morning with a full day ahead of us.

Despite the long trip, our excitement propelled us forward. We went directly from the airport to the Colosseum, where we enjoyed a great tour from our guide, Simone, that covered the amphitheater's history. After just about filling up our storage with pictures, we headed back to the bus and then on to the hotel. However, our stop at the hotel was only brief, as we headed to the practice fields after about 15 minutes, just enough time to get into our rooms and get changed. Although our energy levels were low, and the beautiful weather that had initially welcomed us turned wet and chilly, we managed to push through. The training session was kept light and proved to be greatly beneficial.

Our heavy legs were restored, and the exercise provided some newfound energy. To cap off our first day in Rome, we enjoyed an incredible, classic Italian dinner. We were treated to bruschetta, two pasta dishes, fish, and tiramisu. By the end of the meal, we were sunk. And with no energy left, we collapsed back onto the bus and sent ourselves to bed for an early night and dreams of the amazing things that day 2 in Rome might bring.

March 13 - A photo gallery from the first few days of the trip

[March 11] First up is Kylie Stannard, the 5K Corral Head Coach of the Bulldogs:

Ciao (just learned that is used for hello and goodbye in Italian)!  We are currently somewhere halfway across the Atlantic Ocean as I write the first blog entry.  The past couple of weeks have been great to have some extra time with the team in preparing for this trip.  The guys have been doing an incredible job of balancing their midterms and preparing for this great opportunity.  Thankfully, they can now relax and truly enjoy the experience. 

This is the first foreign trip for YMS since 2001 so it's long overdue and I'm not sure there is a better place to visit to get so much culture, history, amazing cuisine, and of course, the unparalleled tradition and passion of soccer in one of the elite world soccer powers.  Only Italy, Brazil and Germany have won the World Cup five times.  It's the biggest and most prestigious single sporting event in the world.  Coincidentally, the World Cup is this summer and neither the US or Italy qualified for the World Cup in 2018.  Italy had a tough group and then ended up losing to Sweden in a qualification playoff.  I'm really hoping the Italians are not going to be too grumpy about this!  Unfortunately, we can share their sorrow and commiserate with them during this trip.  Regardless, I'm sure we will see their unparalleled passion for calcio (soccer)!

We have a great group going on this trip, which includes a fairly good size junior class (rising seniors), led by team captain, Cameron Riach.  He and the older guys have done a very good job building on past years and growing a passionate and competitive group.  In total, we have 23 players, four coaches, two administrators, our athletic trainer, and legendary former YMS coach, Steve Griggs.  It's exciting to have Steve along to bring some great experience and many stories from his time as head gaffer…not to mention he speaks near fluent Italian!  :-)

The stars of the trip, though, are YMS alumni Andy Block ('61) and John Pearce ('61).  This trip doesn't happen if not for Andy's vision and determination.  We are forever indebted to him for providing this priceless experience—thank you Andy!!  Andy and John don't know this yet, but I brought a couple extra uniforms for them to suit up…I won't make them pass the fitness test. :-)

There have been hundreds (if not thousands) of e-mails, phone calls, and countless hours in preparing for this trip since last spring and yet I still sit on the plane and it doesn't feel quite real yet.  However, I did speak with the guys again last night to be ready to relax and have fun…and to also have an open mind and be ready for curve balls, which are inevitable on a trip like this.  Well, the first curveball came this morning while having a cup of coffee and watching the Liverpool vs. Man United game and I get a text from one of the players that he became ill in the early morning hours and ended up heading to the ER.  Most importantly, he ended up being okay!  The bad news is that he and one of my very understanding assistants weren't able to make the team bus, and despite a VERY close effort to get to JFK on time, they weren't able to make our flight.  They got re-booked on another flight and will only be a few hours behind, fortunately.  The guys are still in great spirits and we are sending positive thoughts to our missing teammates.

We are currently about three hours from Frankfurt and then have a couple of hours to transfer to our new gate and then depart to Rome for what will be a very busy day…tour of sights in Rome, team lunch, team practice, team dinner, and what I imagine will be a very good night of sleep.  With that, I will end this entry, plan for a light practice and hopefully get a little shut eye.  Stayed tuned for more blogs and entries by our players…they will be much more exciting and eloquent, I'm sure!  :-)  Ciao!!