Saturday, August 25, 2012

Red Nation Online - Post 4

Below you can read my latest column for RNO. You can also find my column on: 

RNO - Column 
In These Boots:
Putting on the Red and White

Columbus Crew, Canadian Soccer League

I’m currently on my summer break, following my recent trip to Central America with the Canadian Men’s National Futsal team. A month or so has passed since the trip and I’ve had some time to reflect on my recent experiences. There are so many great memories I can take away from the trip. Playing for Canada is something that I’ve dreamt about for as long as I can remember. The opportunity to represent your country is such an honor and I’m so proud to say I’ve had that chance. Growing up I used to imagine what it would be like to put on the Red and White Jersey and look down and see the Canadian Maple leaf on my chest. I will never forget the feeling of doing that for the first time. I’ve never felt as much pride and feeling of accomplishment, as I do when I walk out on the field and sing the Canadian National Anthem.

My journey with this team began earlier this year, when I was invited to attend a training camp with National Futsal team in Richmond, BC. I had a great experience at that camp and learned so much from the coaching staff. At the time we knew it was a possibility the next time we would be seeing each other would be for the World Cup Qualifiers later in the year. While I was in Norway, this was always in the back of my mind and it was a goal of mine to be in the best shape possible when this trip came a long. I was working hard while trialing with various clubs, but I also did a lot of extra training on my own to prepare for this trip. When I got the news that I was called up for this trip, it was a very exciting moment for me.

We met up in San Jose, Costa Rica for a weeklong training camp. I had met lots of the players before at the training camp earlier in the year, but there were also some new faces on the team. I flew in from Norway and the other players came in from all across Canada, as well as USA, Germany and Portugal. The team was an interesting mix of players young and old, with varying degrees of Futsal experience. We had to gel together quickly. With little time to prepare for qualifiers, we were thrown straight into things, with intense double sessions everyday. We had so much to go over and so much to learn. There are so many differences from outdoor soccer to Futsal. Player rotation and set plays are key to success in the indoor game. After a few days of training together, we had our first game together as a team, an International Friendly against Costa Rica; one of the top teams in CONCACAF. It was a great first test for us and we did very well. We lost the game 2-1, but were still happy, as there were many positives to take from the game. The following day, we played Costa Rica again and played a very good first half. Unfortunately the game finished with a 4-0 loss for us, but we knew what we needed to work on going forward.

The next chapter of the trip was a very exciting one. After a hard week of training and games in Costa Rica, we were off to Guatemala City for Futsal World Cup Qualifiers. Going into it, we knew we had a tough task ahead. We had to beat El Salvador in a two-game playoff, in order to qualify for the 2012 CONCACAF Futsal Championships the following week, also in Guatemala City. The top four teams from the CONCACAF Futsal Championships qualified for the World Cup in November. We knew that we couldn’t even think about the CONCACAF tournament until after beating El Salvador. The first game against El Salvador was a very strange one. We absolutely dominated the match in terms of possession and opportunities, but we didn’t finish our chances. El Salvador had very few chances, but capitalized on the ones that they did have. We ended up losing the game 4-1 and were extremely disappointed after the game. However we knew that we didn’t have much time to dwell on the result, with the second game the next day.

There was a great sense of belief in the team and we had the confidence in one another to beat El Salvador and reach our first goal of qualifying for the CONCACAF Futsal Championships. In the second game, we came out flying and were up 4-0 (5-4 on aggregate) in the second half. Again we had completely dominated the game and thoroughly deserved to be in the lead. We conceded a sloppy goal with two minutes remaining and another goal with thirty seconds left on the clock, to put us down 6-5 on aggregate. We stayed calm and went down the other way and scored to tie it up with fifteen seconds left. We then went down the field and scored again with five seconds remaining to take the lead 7-6 on aggregate. What a moment. The final five seconds of the game were the longest imaginable, and when the final whistle went it was one of the greatest moments of my career. This game was full of emotions on both sides and the contrast between the two teams at the final whistle said it all. We were running around celebrating and congratulating each other, while most of the Salvadoran players were lying on the field crying. My parents were waiting for me in the stands and to have them there to experience this moment meant everything to me. It was such a special moment for us, and a very emotional night; I’ll never forget it.

In the CONCACAF Futsal Championships, we were drawn in a group with Guatemala, USA and Panama. From there, the top two teams in each group advanced to the tournament Semi-Finals, but more importantly earned a berth at the Futsal World Cup. It doesn’t get much more difficult than playing Guatemala, the hosts and defending champions, in your first game. But we were ready for it. Another moment I will never forget from this trip, was standing in the tunnel before this game. The noise inside the arena was electric; it gave me goose bumps walking out onto the field. We went out and battled and went up 2-0 early on, and went into half time with a 3-3 draw; which not many people expected us to do. We ended up losing the game 7-4, but once again there were many positives to take from the game. The following day we played USA, and took the lead again. We lost the game 3-2, however I believe we deserved a result from this one. It was a tough tournament to play in, with games every day and the trip definitely started to take its toll on our bodies after a while. For the last game, we knew we still had a chance of qualifying for the World Cup if Guatemala beat USA, and if we beat Panama by three goals or more. Unfortunately we ended up losing this game 8-5.

Although it was very disappointing not to qualify for the Futsal World Cup, there were so many things that we could be proud of ourselves for. We will always be able to remember our victory over El Salvador in the playoffs and reaching our first goal of qualifying for the CONCACAF Futsal Championships, becoming the first Canadian team to ever do so. On a personal level, it was a dream come true and an honor to get the chance to represent Canada. I hope that it will be the first of many times. Going forward with the Futsal team, we have something great to build from and I hope to be an important part of this team in the future. It was a great trip and one that I will never forget. The Canadian Soccer Association did a great job putting together this team and making things run as smoothly as they did. Everything was done in such a professional manner, that we didn’t have to worry about anything on the trip, other than our jobs on the field. The coaching staff was great to play for and they taught us so much. I also couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to go on this trip with; I hope that I’ll get the opportunity to play with them all again soon. Now that I’ve had a taste of what it’s like to represent my country, I want it to happen again. I hope that in the future I will also get the opportunity to represent Canada in outdoor soccer and I will keep working hard to develop as a player and work my way up the ladder, until that chance comes.

In the final game against Panama, I picked up an ankle injury in a collision with my own keeper in the first half. Luckily it happened in the final game of the tournament and not the first. My summer break in Norway happened to fall right after this tournament, so following the tournament, I had some much needed time off at home in Vancouver. As I’m writing this column I’m currently in London, where I have spent the last week checking out the Olympics. It’s been a fantastic experience for me and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to come and see London during this time. I want to take this chance to congratulate the Canadian Women’s National team on their Bronze Medal performance. The team is a truly special group and I know they have inspired the next generation of Canadian footballers to achieve great things. I managed to get tickets to the Women’s Football Gold Medal game at Wembley and I was very proud to have the chance to see the Women receive their Bronze medals.

I’m looking forward to getting back to Norway and getting established in my team. There are only around two months remaining in the season and I want to finish the season strong. After having some time to rest and let my body heal, I’m feeling great and ready to go. As always, I’m looking forward to my next adventure, and seeing what this game brings my way next.

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