After a quiet arrival in Santos, we woke up Friday ready to undertake some serious futebol activity. We left the hotel at 815a to catch the warmup of the Santos U15s as they prepared for a match vs. the visiting Diadema club. I was unable to find my camera in the morning so photos will have to come later from others. We sat in the stands at the Rei Pelé Training Center and were witness to a match of astounding skill and passion; Diadema opened the scoring in the 3rd minute on a goal-mouth scramble and Santos pressed hard for an equalizer but never got one. Our group was amazed at the speed of the players on both sides of the ball, as well as the quick intelligence of the players. The game finished with the required phases of hard tackles, remonstrations to the referee and time-wasting antics but the scoreboard remained unchanged.
We watched a second match immediately after when the U17s took the field. Diadema was no match for this Santos eleven and spent the first half sitting back in its half, trying to absorb attack after attack from the home team. They treated Santos with a combination of fear and respect that the game was more an exercise in unlocking a packed defense than a spectator event. We left at half to get ready for our match, 3pm at Santos’ Meninos da Vila training complex.
Located a little further away from the heart of the city, Meninos da Vila boasts two full sized fields, the “Lucas” and the “Robinho” each marked with giant images of the home-grown superstars. Our hosts allowed us the use of the visitors locker room where we changed and went over our last-minute instructions. On the field, a mix of grass and fine sand, we went through an abbreviated warm-up while watching our little opponents out of the corner of our eye. Santos lined up its U13 teams, 22 small but mighty café com leite terriers.
After meeting with the coaches and agreeing on a 3 x 20 m format the game was on. Santos agreed to use one of our balls for the game but it was immaterial as we rarely got a touch. The tiny Santos players were all fast and fit enough to run all game long. But what was even more difficult for us was their impeccable technique and commitment to maintaining possession. The fields at Meninos da Vila were large by American youth soccer standards; I paced 17 yards in each channel from the penalty area to the touch line, meaning the field was almost 80 yards wide while measuring about 110 yards long. Today we visited Santos stadium and I think this is the exact same dimensions of the professionals’ field, which would not be an accident. From the first day, a Santos player learns to play on these dimensions; if he is lucky enough to get a call up to the senior team, he will be at home there.
On a field 25% larger than we are used to, we chased shadows for an hour. Santos walked through our defense and scored as easy goal in the first five minutes, but we held them after that until the second period. Then we made substitutions and Santos replaced all eleven players with what would turn out to be their first squad. They easily scored three in this period, passing us silly. In the last period, we started to catch the rhythm of their play and pressed into their half a couple of times but still gave up two more for 0-6.
After the game a spontaneous swap meet broke out Our boys had met a couple of the Santos kids in the morning and they talked about exchanging shirts so everyone was well prepared.
In the locker room we reviewed our notes from before the game. We’d agreed on the following points:
- Change how we play
- don’t dive
- Keep our shape
- Stay Positive: encourage each other
- Give Effort
and we agreed we’d done pretty well in these areas. This is where the value of the PCA’s “Redefining winner” comes in. I think the boys were able to develop and maintain mental resistance to adversity because we invested 20 minutes back at the hotel reminding ourselves of the difference between controllable and uncontrollable goals. We couldn’t define our performance in terms of whether we won this game because we were playing young professionals on their home field, and a victory was never in the equation. But by creating a simple list of effort goals, we were able to play a lopsided game and feel good about our performance.
I especially liked that someone put up the bullet about “Adapt.” Creating this goal requires us to be alert and dedicated to learning which is job one on this tour. After the game we reviewed what we had learned and the boys generated a good number of points:
- they valued and maintained possession
- they ran quickly especially in defense
- they played almost exclusively two touch ball
- they had impeccable technique on the ball
- they were small and slender but strong
- they were excellent and getting their bodies between us and the ball
- we could match them when we played our best
- running with the ball was not a good idea
- our old techniques and methods were not serving us
This game marks a huge chapter in our trip and our development overall. Sunday we will tour start tr professional stadium in the morning (Santos) and watch a game in another (Corinthians in São Paolo). Then we transfer to Lindoia and double up our training and playing with morning and afternoon sessions. I think we’re in a good place.