With summer in full swing, college soccer players are staying busy, by whatever means necessary. Whether it's the NPSL, PDL or wherever they can get a game, players are spread across the country.
One team stayed together a bit longer after school let out. Before heading back home, the Akron’s men’s soccer team jetted down to Brazil, for a development test hard to come by on these shores.
At the end of May, Akron spent ten days in Sao Paulo and Rio De Janeiro, playing four games, and offering a chance for Brazilian Zips Victor Souto and Dener Dos Santos to travel back home with their college team.
“I always try to go back to where we recruited kids,” head coach Jared Embick told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “If we recruit a kid in California, I try to setup games at least one time. So it makes sense, we have two Brazilians, came up on our four year [trip] and thought it would be a great trip for the guys.”
During those ten days, the team played four games, against U20 teams from Sao Paulo, Palmeiras, Fluminense and a side from 2SV Sports, an organization connecting players from Brazil to college soccer opportunities in the United States.
The first couple of games in particular provided an eye-opening experience for a young Akron roster.
“You learn real quickly there if you’re going to be attacking and you don’t put some chances away, they’re going to take advantage of it when they get the chance,” Embick said.
Site-seeing and cultural opportunities were sandwiched between those games and training sessions. A trip up storied Sugarloaf Mountain and the opportunity to see Rio de Janeiro up close made for a hectic trip.
But the opportunities to learn were endless. The team stayed at the same resort as the Brazilian women’s national team, who were in the midst of World Cup preparations at the time. Akron players had the chance to talk to the coaches and players. They saw a first team Sao Paolo match, and experienced Brazilian soccer culture firsthand.
And when they stepped on the field, the pro players on each U20 team pushed them in a way that few college teams can. The trip opened with a 3-1 loss against Sao Paulo 24 hours after arriving. In the second game, Palmeiras jumped on top of them and were ahead 4-1. A deficit like that one is rare for Akron, and it gave Embick the chance to see players but their foot down and try and lead a comeback.
“You saw a couple of guys say, no, no, guys like Adam [Najem], Richie [Laryea] and Victor [Souto] just took it up to a notch I hadn’t seen before, the next thing you know we’re knocking on the door, coming back,” he said. “You find out who maybe has the competitiveness to step in there and go for it. We don’t really get beat like that. We haven’t been 4-1 in a game in a long time, so you may see us go down a goal, but you don’t see us on the verge of embarrassment and score lines like that.”
Eventually, the Zips pulled the game back to 4-3, missing a chance late in the dying moments to tie the game. Akron managed to win the final two games of the trip, coming from behind to top Fluminense 3-2, and topped the 2SV Sports side 2-0.
The four games packed into the ten days in Brazil became a significant learning experience.
“We were impressed by how athletic, tough those players are and just ruthless in the front half,” Embick said. “You get away with stuff in college sometimes that you shouldn’t get away with, and then against some of those players, they don’t let you off the hook. We end up scoring nine goals, gave up nine goals, won two, lost two, it’s pretty even.”
Ambitions are high in Akron as the 2015 season closes in. Embick is hopeful that when the team returns for preseason, that video can assist in reminding players what they learned from the trip.
He’s hopeful that if they can start the season right, a second star could be in reach.
“I feel like this team is right there, on the right path to being able to make a final four, compete for a championship,” Embick said. “We’re still going to need to get over the hump in some of these big games early on, the Georgetown, the Maryland [games], we’re going to need a result from that to get the confidence we need still, but I think we’ll have more confidence because of the trip going into these games than if we didn’t do it.”
Photo credit: gozips.com