Here is a quick recap of the game against Ecuador including my “commute” to San Juan, Argentina along with the usual pre and post-match behind the scenes stuff. Hopefully, some info and pics below are useful for future USYNT generations. Otherwise, if you are the casual reader, try to enjoy the content.
Dallas to Buenos Aires
My flight left Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International airport at 9:20 PM on Thursday, May 18 (Match Day – 2). For an international trip, I normally like to leave at least three days before match day but it was impossible this time. It was a 10 hour direct flight to Buenos Aires; I arrived around 11:20 AM local time (2 hours ahead of Dallas). As we landed, my T-Mobile device took forever to receive a signal and I was beginning to panic. We rely so much on those mobiles and the trip to San Juan was going to be a long one without a working phone. As I made my way to customs, my phone service was restored. At last, panic mode was turned OFF.
Buenos Aires to San Luis
I quickly proceeded to the rental car counter (where I also exchanged currency -1 US dollar is approximately 460 pesos). By 12:30 PM, I was out of the airport driving to the province of San Juan. Due to the length of the trip (1118 Kms -~800 miles), it consisted of two parts. When I left, I honestly didn’t know how long the first leg was going to be…always love the adventure especially when I’m traveling by myself.
San Juan is about 14 hours away from Buenos Aires since 90% of the trip consists of one lane roads with very low speed limits (100 – 120 Km/hr). The first leg was a very dull drive of about 10 hours from Buenos Aires to San Luis (a different province/state) crossing 3 provinces (Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and San Luis) in the process. It rained (sometimes poured) for at least 8 out of the 10.5 trip hours. Leg two of the trip crossed two additional provinces (Mendoza and San Juan). FYI Argentina has 23 provinces/states.
San Luis to San Juan
I spent the night in San Luis and the next morning, I left to San Juan around 6:15 AM for the last 3.5 hours of my trek. It was a bit of a treacherous drive as the first two hours were up in the cooler and foggy mountains, early in the morning (no coffee) and more one lane roads.
As in any tournament, the most important game is the first one. The team knew it and they were mentally prepared for it. Ecuador is a solid team with excellent individual talent and speed at every position; however, they sometimes lack cohesion and discipline in the last third. To be fair, the roster they took to the South American qualifiers was a tad different than this group for the world cup. It was imperative that we won possession in the midlfield.
I arrived at San Juan’s AirBnb around 10:30 AM, took a quick shower and went straight to see Jogo at their hotel. It was 12:15 PM (game was at 3 PM) when I was picking up my ticket to the game from the front lobby and I used the opportunity to wish him well and possibly calm any nerves.
It was reassuring that he was perfectly mellow about his potential WC debut. He had known that he could be playing in a different role for a few days, practiced accordingly and was tactically ready.
As I was leaving the hotel, I said farewell to a few of the players as they were making their way to the bus. It was very moving (and emotional for me) to see how the non-coaching staff one by one lined up from the hotel exit all the way to the bus entrance, to high-five and wish each team member a heart-felt, encouraging farewell. The majority of the non-coaching staff rides separately from the players and coaching staff. This was another sign of the family environment that Mikey has created with this team in his short term as the coach. As I made my way to the car, I was hesitant to return to the AirBnb to rest a bit fearing that I’d fall asleep through the game since I was so tired so I made my way to the stadium instead.
I arrived at the stadium where I sat in the US section. Our section was pretty much empty except for one additional player family, the rest of the non-coaching staff, and two players who could not participate in the first match. Given the excitement, I really didn’t take any pre-match pictures until after the match.
The beauty of this game is that we all can have a different view point and that’s okay; thus much analysis is not needed as most of you witnessed what transpired. I’ll venture to say that we dominated the first 20 minutes or so and then Ecuador settled in and finished the half stronger than we did. Jogo had a good challenge with Nilson Angulo (#10) and I am glad they faced each other for their own development needs. It won’t be the last time they face each other. Did you all catch #19? He’s a 2007 born!!!
Ecuador played a better second half with the crowd behind them all the time; fortunately, they never presented a real threat to our GK. The temperature was not extremely high; however, the sunlight hits differently here in San Juan. Our boys seemed a bit tired and the Ecuadorian players, accustomed to that climate, had the momentum especially in the last quarter of the game. Our subs came in, adjusted well, provided a much needed energy spark and they certainly made a difference. At last, we had won the first game of the 2023 U20 WC.
I only saw Jogo for a brief moment after the game. Ironically, when he tried to approach me near the sturdy fence separating fans from players, the same fans who were strongly rooting against the US throughout the game were the same ones trying to fetch a jersey, selfie or even an autograph from the US players. In the end, I was glad we did manage to snap this selfie below.
I stayed after our game to watch the double-header game between group rivals Fiji and Slovakia. It was good to scout the level of the competition our team will be facing today. On Friday, the second header game after our match with Slovakia will be sold out as Argentina will be playing against New Zealand. It should be a good one to watch.
It was a hostile environment where 95% of the 14k in attendance were naturally rooting for Ecuador. Our boys were mentally prepared and had an importantly good first showing; they know that the task at hand will should become more and more challenging.
As they continue their journey in this tournament, please remember that no matter what happens in the next games, these boys are giving their best for themselves, their teammates, their families, their communities, their clubs, you fans, and last but not least, their country. At the end of the day, this is a game, the beautiful game. Let’s keep it that way. The outcome of a football match (tournament) does not define us as individuals and much less as a country, nor should it define their careers. After each world cup game, Jogo will still be buddies with players from Ecuador, France, Slovakia, or whoever they play in the competition. As fans, we need to understand that there will be good games and not so good ones, that’s football and we can’t do anything to change that dynamic. However, how we react to their performance is within our control. Let’s not become the type of fans who use the outcome of a match as a justification for questionable behavior (ex. Valencia vs Real Madrid, El Salvador) physically or online. We owe it to the betterment of the game in this country to act responsibly.
That said, thank you for the tremendous outpouring of love and support received in the past couple of days. It will never be forgotten but we must keep a leveled head there as well. It was a great first win but there are far greater challenges lying ahead. Only few will probably know that, unfortunately, in this ephemeral, competitive profession, the good days are hard to come for a footballer. As I share that with you, please be sure to reach out to all US players (especially those abroad away from their families), when things may not be going well during their seasons. I’m sure they will appreciate hearing your unwavering support during challenging times as well. In the process, you will be contributing not only to their mental well-being but also to the betterment of the sport in this country. Every bit makes a difference in the life of a footballer. As you know, the summer will have a few important competitions for the USMNT; start reaching out to some of those players now if you can with words of encouragement.
As I wrap this post up, I’m heading to the second game against Fiji. They will feel your support from afar and the other two families and myself will do our best to permeate the good vibes onto the field. As always, thanks for reading. Let’s go boys!!! #theGomezway
PS Before I head into the stadium, I will stop by the Red Bull Skateboarding Tour Event taking place in San Juan, Argentina. This event is a qualifier for next year’s Olympics in Paris. Football does take you to unexpected places and events sometimes. I am so grateful to the sport…
2023 marks my 19th consecutive year as a certified US Soccer Federation (USSF) referee. It has been a progressive journey; I have had the pleasure of officiating anywhere from U4-U19 recreational games, competitive 3 vs 3’s, competitive club leagues/tournaments, public high school, Development Academy, to men’s college matches. Note: I have never officiated a futsal match.
As I wind down on my involvement on what appears to be my last year, I can say that most of my officiating years have served the following purposes: 1. Develop a greater respect, appreciation and empathy for refereeing profession 2. Understand yet another facet of the beautiful game. 3. Share acquired knowledge (through organic playing, refereeing, coaching and parenting education) via mentorship of young referees (ages 13-17), players (fans and coaches included) and last but not least 4. Fitness/exercising.
I officially started refereeing during my college years; I only refereed one indoor season as it was very seasonal and realistically, engineering consumed most of my college time. After graduation, I took a 6 year break before I rejoined the ranks and became one of the 100K+ registered soccer referees. However, I quickly understood that moving up the referee pathway (below) was going to take time which I didn’t have much of due to my other academic and corporate endeavors. Unfortunately for the sport in this country, soccer officiating is a profession that very few pursue as a career for many reasons; some of which we will try to root-cause below.
It is important to understand that the best part of officiating is flexibility. Soccer referees are independent contractors; as such, the duration of their work is short, and they normally have the freedom to officiate at times, places and fees of their own choosing. That said, most young referees pursue soccer officiating to generate a stream of income with flexible hours starting as early as 13 years of age. Another advantage is that referees can earn up to $600 (tax-free) in a calendar year without having to report it to the IRS. The below recreational (rec.) referee pay scale (albeit from 2020) can be very attractive to a young referee.
Let’s be honest, pay scales like the one above won’t be sending any adult referees into immediate retirement either. Caveat: Recreational refereeing pay scale is at the bottom of any pay scale. As such, adult soccer referees normally do not enter the profession hoping it become the single source of income. Even for college level soccer referees, the hourly wage (once travel is factored in) is nothing to write home about. In the majority of the cases, adult referees enter the profession by being forced to be around the sport in some capacity: coaching youth, volunteering, having a child playing in the local rec. soccer association or just wanting the best seat in the house while earning some (albeit little) cash. Some use it as a hobby and in some rare cases like mine, we end up pursuing it as a permanent way to give back to the beautiful game. There is however, an in-between temporary category of soccer officials where “hobby meets income source” and that normally belongs to referees whose English is a second language. They tend to pursue the profession wholeheartedly at the beginning of their arrival to the United States but that dedication only lasts until some higher income source comes along.
A few years back, there was a small perk for referees; at the conclusion of the assigned games, a cash payment was rendered at the fields. There’s just something satisfactory about being paid immediately after a service is rendered. However, times have changed with technology. Most soccer associations have now adopted an automated payment system where referees no longer get paid cash at the fields. Instead, they have to wait up to three days to be electronically compensated for their services. Unfortunately, there are adult referees whose personal finances depend heavily on the revenue they generate refereeing over the weekend and having to wait to be paid is just another entry barrier to the profession or its progression. One time, at my local association, it took about 6 weeks for three games refereed to be deposited into my bank account due to a “glitch” in the system.
Those situations described above lead us to conclude that the best hope to have future competent referees resides in the youngsters (ages 22 – 30) whose college soccer playing days are over, still have a desire to be involved in the game, progress through the referee ranks, are financially stable and despite the constant criticism, choose pursue the career.
Unfortunately, the brave and ambitious young referees who consider advancing in the profession face the constant criticism from the experts (ex. coaches and fans) which ultimately proves too much to endure at such low wages. The below statement comes from the yearly Grassroots training that all referees must undergo during recertification.
Officiating public high school soccer is more attractive financially due higher wages and a travel per diem. In theory, fans are more knowledgeable about the game since they have been around it longer but the sad reality is that high school soccer is the twitter of soccer; anonymous spectators hiding behind crowds (screen) easily become coaches and experts of the game. The constant disrespect towards the refereeing crew is even normalized by other adults at the stadiums as “teenage behavior”. Spectators from all walks of life become loud critics of the officiating crew showing constant dissent. It’s common to listen to criticism from students, family members, etc. whose background may not even include ever setting foot on a soccer field (other than to kick a field goal). Statistically, constant criticism is the main contributor for younger (more experienced) referees to trump their progression in their careers.
To play devil’s advocate, not all the blame can be placed on “know-it-all” spectators though. Many soccer referees may not possess the adequate soccer background/instinct to maintain the flow of the game or even establish credibility in a game. When it comes down to it, it’s a chicken and egg dilemma. How can more potential referees be recruited if the few brave ones face the constant criticism of the experts? Therefore, anybody (and I mean anybody) willing to undergo a few hours of training is often recruited (family members/friends) by assignors (ex. KSA) and thrown to the fire without the proper preparation. Unfortunately, the lack of playing/watching experience for a referee is immediately evident and the fans pick up on it and magnify its impact on the game. This aspect is exacerbated at the professional level as ex-professional referees are normally hired by tv networks to critique their former colleagues’ performances.
The low retention rate of referees unfortunately leads to the desperate recruiting of unqualified individuals. Most referees I officiate with did not grow up playing, coaching or even watching the beautiful game. In fact, here in Texas where American football “is life”, on a typical Saturday fall morning at the referee tent, most referees often converse about American college football games in between soccer games while a simultaneous football derbies (ex. Real Madrid vs Barcelona, Inter vs AC Milan, Man City vs ManU) are being played. Soccer has a long way to go to be mainstream in the American culture to reach the popularity levels of other American sports. As a result, most soccer referees are more knowledgeable about other sports but become soccer referees for a spectrum of reasons but none really for career advancement or even the love for the game.
The flip side sometimes is that not having played or watched the game growing up, could be an advantage as these inexperienced referees only view the game in a binary way. They then become more purists applying the laws of the game per the textbook. In my opinion, referees who played the game have a more intuitive feeling and appreciation for the game and as a result, allow a greater fluidity of the game. Unfortunately, most referees who did not grow up playing or watching the game do not pursue the profession at a higher level as they do not feel properly equipped (protected) with the tools to succeed.
Another reason that deters individuals from pursuing officiating as a career is the growing recertification requirements. Associations do not make it simpler to desire any serious involvement in it. Furthermore, it’s a profession pretty much monopolized by the referee assignors. In my local soccer association (Keller Soccer Association), if you are good friends with the assignor, he will assign you competitive games; otherwise, referees may be doomed. I get it, assignors need reliable referees and in some cases need to prioritize repaying favors to referees who were promised games during recruitment.
US Soccer requires each referee to undergo an annual recertification process. The online education consists of seven modules with an approximate total duration of about 5 hours if taken back to back. However, realistically speaking, nobody takes all this training in one sit-down, therefore, for a working adult, the training could easily take 3-4 days.
Intro to Safety
Laws of the Game Changes Review
Grassroots Referee Refresher Assignment
Appropriate training needs to be taken (and test passed) corresponding to the current referee level desired at the end of the calendar year. The most basic recertification level is called the “Grassroots Referee License Fee”.
There is an initial equipment cost to become a referee. Between uniforms, a reliable watch, whistle, flags, etc. a beginner young referee could easily spend $200 to get started. This startup cost is very steep for a young teenager who is trying to make some quick cash. If in addition to that, the youngster has to put up with constant criticism from the experts, it can easily be justified why so many quit within the first two years.
There’s a cost associated with the recertification of each officiating grade in the previous section (and a late fee if registered after mid December). The lowest recertification cost is for the Grassroots Level. That annual cost is about $60
Official Sports International (OSI) has a USSF approved monopoly on referee gear. US Soccer has allowed this throughout several decades. As a result, OSI has a huge market share of the referee equipment market domestically. Their merchandise is constantly being pushed/advertised by USSF. The gear is not inexpensive. For example, a short sleeve yellow pro referee shirt is about $50 (the economy version is about $30). You then add socks, shorts, tennis shoes, whistle, flags, cards, etc. and the startup costs for a young referee can easily add up to $200 – $300 in between different color referee shirts (short sleeve vs long sleeve). All that is “conveniently” provided by OSI.
In the North Texas Association, anybody 18 years of age or older is subjected to a mandatory annual background check. Successfully completion is a requirement for eligibility to either recertify or become a referee for the first time.
The background check does not take any training time; instead, it requires the submission of some personal information so that the State Soccer Association uses that information to process the background check. If the background check is passed; the training required for recertification can begin.
Safety Certification Courses
Introduction to Safe and Healthy Playing Environments
US Soccer requires a yearly certification of the “Introduction to Safe and Healthy Playing Environments” online module with an approximate duration of 45 minutes. The training is available for coaches, referees, and staff over the age of 18 to ensure adults give some consideration to having an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). The EAP would be triggered in the unfortunate event of a medical emergency. Specific scenarios like concussions, cardiac arrests, heat strokes, and more are covered. Similarly, action items such as CPR, AED, calling 911 are described in detail.
Although the training is a great tool to have (not only for football related emergencies), it does place a good deal of responsibility on adults who may be in an emergency situation. That said, the yearly requirement, which doesn’t change from year to year, is a deterrent for some referees (especially the young ones) to recertify.
In addition to the “Introduction to Safe and Healthy Playing Environments” training above, US Soccer also requires individuals 18 years of age and older to be “Safesport Trained”. The course contains information about fostering a safe and positive environment for athletes while preventing the different types of abuses/misconducts.
For the very few interested in advancing their officiating careers through the different refereeing grades, annual fitness tests must be paid for and passed in order to prove physical fitness proficiency. There’s an additional cost to undergo that physical assessment during the annual certification periods. Aspiring referees must undergo the fitness assessment on a Saturday morning and preparation is key. Otherwise, it could turn out to be a harsh reality check for those older/heavier set referees. Let’s be honest, it’s no ninja warrior type of course but it’s no cake walk either. Fitness proficiency helps referees’ credibility as they are trying to keep up with 18/19 year old players. Few individuals want to stay fit to advance their officiating careers though.
For those interested in advancing in their careers, there are annual referee assessments (at a cost of course) to make it to the next level. These are yearly assessments that referees must undergo in order to re-certify at their current (or higher) level. Honestly, it really helps to “know” the assessor as some referees, given their mobility on the field, knowledge of the game, etc. have no business passing their corresponding assessments.
Different laws of the game
One of the main complains that you will hear from soccer referees is that IFAB annually approves revisions to the laws of the game (ex. definition of a handball). FIFA then, in an effort to make the game more attractive and easier to understand, approve those changes. As the revisions are cascaded down to each countries’ football associations, they complicate the learning of the laws of the game which few referees care to keep up with. As a result, constant education is key to the success of the soccer referee but many fail due to the inconsistent application of the law changes from their peers. To exacerbate the inconsistent application of the laws of the game, the laws of the game also change based on age group, and competition type. Law changes are the only constant in refereeing.
The entry level for young soccer referees is recreational youth soccer. Starting with the little ones (U4, U5), it’s by far the easiest level to officiate where innocent referee mistakes can be made and they won’t impact the outcome of a match. Unfortunately, more often than not, you find the parent (not coach) who wants fouls be called because their son was tripped “on purpose” by a 4-year old when their team was already winning by 10 goals.
As older age group games are officiated, the main challenges in recreational soccer become learning the different rules (ex. no heading of the ball) AND trying to position yourself correctly on the field. A wide spectrum of playing experience often cause random and unexpected ball touches/bounces which are just unpredictable for the unprepared referee when seeking best positioning. It takes a lot of experience and focus to position (not so much to officiate) these types of games as the player and ball movement is not logical. I have always found that more competitive games are easier and more fun to referee; however, with greater fun comes more responsibility and required knowledge and certifications.
High school certification has its own annual costs, assessments, and of course rules (outside of USSF) which in Texas are dictated by the University Interscholastic League (UIL). The rules are very similar to college level NCAA rules. Everything that you can imagine that shouldn’t be changed with regular FIFA football laws of the game is changed in high school soccer. For example, officiating with one, two or the regular three referees is allowed, stopping the clock is permitted and frequently used by the referees, different card colors are allowed, in case of a tie at the end of regulation, overtime is an option, etc. Those are only a small sample of rules that are different that most referees must stay current on to establish credibility.
The annual revisions in high school soccer rules (and FIFA too) justify the recertification process but it’s a deterrent. Simultaneously refereeing club soccer and high school soccer can be confusing for referees as their seasons overlap. This potential confusion could make a referee look like a novice if rules switching is not applied properly. The annual revision of rules (the system itself) makes it very challenging for referees to learn all the different sets of rules of each competition level.
Similar to high school, college NCAA soccer rules are very different than regular FIFA soccer’s. At least the referee remuneration for officiating any level of college soccer is generous but nothing to write home about. However, that doesn’t justify the different rules. I wrote the above post about that topic a few months ago so I will not rehash that discussion.
Officiating club is a level above recreational. The laws of the game are similar; however, the environment is more competitive and the fans are more involved. The american “pay to play” model puts additional pressure on parents and players to win at all costs so typically, club players, even at young ages, push the envelope on the application on the laws of the game. Despite that challenge, competitive club is my favorite level to officiate.
Let’s be honest, soccer is not the most prestigious sport in the United States; that combined with being a profession that is constantly scrutinized by the “experts” due to its constant decision making (no time outs) do not make it very appealing for pursuit. As a result, the United States has very few competent referees that represent the country at the highest level. Hats off to the trailblazers who paved the way for others to follow despite the many challenges cited above.
US Soccer is gradually growing and has established a well-structured referee program with mentorship programs, quarterly newsletters, continuous education, and other tools to better equip aspiring referees. I am confident that with the right support, the US will see a greater amount and more competent referees not only at the MLS level but also at the world stage level. Will this effort keep up with the rest of the world? We shall see…
The sport has given our family so much that it would be unfair to not give back in some capacity. In full disclosure, I have selfishly used refereeing as a tool to grow my leadership skills in my other life endeavors. It does require a lot of patience, and more importantly thick skin thereby building character. Unfortunately, the perks are quickly offset by its challenges making it a tough profession to progress in for a great majority.
Personally, I have found these 19 years so fulfilling as they have provided me a different understanding of the game. As a result, both Johan and Jonathan pursued refereeing for many years which proved to be not only a great way to make decent money but doing so in a field they were passionate about. Unfortunately, at some point it became difficult to refereeing along with their academic and dynamic soccer schedules.
In my current home association, we have an excellent core of experienced referees who have established a young referee mentorship program. Maybe my next phase is to become a full-time mentor. Unfortunately, the current shortage of referees, is forcing recently-recruited referees to behave and officiate like experienced professionals soon after recruitment. The higher expectations played on young referees is yet another reason, that soccer associations have such high referee turnover. Just like the sport itself, refereeing requires a lot of repetitions to become competent. High expectations from the fans linked to high expectations from the Director forced upon on newly recruited referees/assignors are common deterrents. Therefore, most teenage referees normally find alternative sources of income through high school and young adults are very unlikely to start their refereeing careers especially after they have finished a college degree and are entering the “corporate world”.
As I wrap up this post, our high school aged daughter is expressing a strong interest in becoming a recreational soccer referee. Who knows? I may stick around for at least one more year (20?) to help her decide whether refereeing is for her or not. BTW, if you know anybody interested in refereeing, visit this page. Until next time…#theGomezway
Yesterday marked three weeks since Jogo played his second USMNT game and his first 90. We are grateful for the opportunity; it was truly a blessing and an honor. That moment will occupy a very special place in our hearts as a family (and definitely for young Jogo). Documenting moments like these often helps relive them in the future when details become blurry..it also could be informational and motivational for others.
Note: In the following paragraphs, we hope to provide some behind the scenes transparency (mostly the arrival and departure journey for Jogo) without revealing potential sensitive information about the federation, their protocols or other players. On the other hand, it’s inevitable to neglect sharing details about the short amount of time that most players have together before they are expected to perform at a high level. Maybe it will set expectations for fans, friends and family members, and future USMNT players. None of that should be secret anyway. Here is a summary of how things transpired for Jogo…
League game prior to trip
While most January USMNT players had arrived to camp on Friday January 20th, Real Sociedad (RS) requested Jogo to stay in Spain for a Sunday, January 22nd, noon game despite the fact that he was not partaking in the game. Why you may ask? Two main reasons. The first is that he had sustained an injury/knock during the previous week’s derby against Amorabieta and he needed to rest in preparation for camp. The RS doctors wanted to monitor his progress for as long as possible while in Spain. The Amorabieta game, where he sustained the injury, was a rollercoaster of emotions.
Check out the highlights below; Jogo scored a goal and almost had two assists. However, shortly after his goal got called back, he sustained a non-contact re-injury due to the field conditions forcing him to sub out at halftime.
Despite the fact that Jogo would not play against Intercity on Sunday, the club informed the US federation that he would arrive Monday, January 23rd, morning (Match Day – 2 days) to camp in LA. The second reason for needing his presence for the Sunday league game was to fulfill one critical task the club delegated to Jogo. See, up to that point, he had accumulated four yellow cards in the season and a fifth yellow card would make him miss the next game. His mission, -which he was “strongly advised to accept“- was to earn a fifth yellow card from the bench in order to miss the next game that he was going to miss anyway due to USMNT camp.
Therefore, Jogo dressed up that game against InterCity with the sole purpose of earning a fifth yellow card to miss the next game against Rafa Márquez’s (and now Julian Araujo’s) Barcelona B. At halftime, Jogo figured out a clever way to earn a yellow card and voilá, he had accumulated his fifth yellow card of the season and now, he would serve his suspension game during USMNT camp.
San Sebastián to Los Angeles trip
At the conclusion of the Intercity game (around 2 PM San Sebastián’s time) where he *proudly* earned his fifth yellow card, Jogo showered -sweated his rear off earning that yellow- and within minutes he was transported along with his luggage from the RS’s facilities to Bilbao’s airport.
San Sebastián to Bilbao
The drive from San Sebastián to Bilbao is about an hour and on a late Sunday afternoon, there was hardly any traffic. Jogo reached the airport around 4 PM (One hour total trip time so far, Six hours since he left home).
Bilbao to Amsterdam
He showed his passport without any complications (more on this later), checked in his luggage, and off he went for his three leg, 27 hour journey to USMNT camp in Los Angeles. He was boarding a small plane around 4:30 PM for a 5:20 PM flight that would take him to Amsterdam. He then arrived in Amsterdam around 7:35 PM (Four and a half hours total trip time so far).
Amsterdam to Mexico City
In Amsterdam, he had a two hour layover. Around 9:44 PM, he was onboard the plane that would take him to Mexico City.
He arrived to Mexico City at 4 AM CT (11 AM San Sebastián’s time) on Monday morning. There, he met mom and his uncle to receive some important documentation. (20 hours total trip time, 25 hours total trip time since he left home).
Mexico City to Los Angeles
After the necessary family pictures, Jogo had a three hour layover before he embarked on the last leg of his trip to LA. Prior to that, he had a very nice Mexican meal at the airport accompanied by mom. After a 5 hour flight, he finally arrived to LA at 10 AM PST. (28 hours total trip time)
First training session (MD#1 -2: Monday)
Jogo was picked up at 10:30 AM PST and transported to the training facility. He arrived, dressed up, performed activation with the group for 30 minutes and then had a light 45 minute session separate from the team. His integration with team members took place after training. Kellyn, as usual, welcomed him with open arms. Similarly, Zendejas, talked to him about the previous time they trained together (Mexican National Team camp). The convo turned very funny and the DTID connection prevailed with them as well as Jesus and Paul.
Second training session (MD#1 -1: Tuesday)
The second training session was a short one too by design since it was “Match Day -1”. Jogo was extremely jet-lagged but integrated well and was very happy to meet up with his U20 teammates again.
He learned that he would be playing (and starting) against Serbia on match day. We could tell it was unexpected and he was anxious. Honestly, what exacerbated the situation is that we all thought he wouldn’t play Wednesday and as a result his family wasn’t going to be around for the game. See, I assumed he wouldn’t be seeing any minutes against Serbia due to his recent arrival but that was not the case. I believe that part of the reason for playing the Serbia roster is because some of those players were in-season and Serbia, in theory, was a lower ranked opponent so it made sense.
US vs Serbia (Wednesday)
We would like to assume that most readers of this post watched the game so there’s not much to add. The game had its moments but at least initially, it was obvious that most players had not played together ever (or for a long time) and the lack of chemistry showed at times. Jogo himself grew into the game and went the full 90. Honestly, at one point, it seemed like Serbia would end up losing by a few goals but that’s why the game is played.
US vs Colombia (Saturday)
We learned that RS suggested USMNT staff to have Jogo sit this one out which was an easy decision due to rotations. RS was not expecting to see Jogo play in the first game and much less go the distance against Serbia. Easy decision, everybody’s happy.
We had booked tickets already for Saturday’s game so we took this opportunity to go watch a game full of passionate Colombian fans knowing that Jogo wouldn’t be participating. At the game, we met up a lot of people whom we had not seen in a long time. It was also good to return to the same stadium where Jogo had made his USMNT debut against Bosnia-Herzegovina 13 months earlier. The game itself was very winnable with both sides having opportunities with US probably having more and clearer chances. In the end, the draw was probably a fair outcome and the atmosphere was very good. At the end of the match, we were able to snap some pictures with Jogo and some of his teammates.
Trip back to Spain
Jogo left the hotel on Sunday along with Paxten and the FC Dallas players (Jesus, Paxton, and Paul). They all ended up traveling together to Europe (Frankfurt) and then to Spain (minus Paxten). FC Dallas was doing pre-season in beautiful Marbella, Spain.
The return trip was a bit shorter due to the two leg trip (and of course the rotation of the earth). Jogo and the crew departed LA on Sunday at around 3:30 PM PST, arrived to Frankfurt around 10:30 AM Monday morning (12 hours approx.) local time. Ultimately he reached RS’s training grounds (to pick up his car) at 7:30 PM (21 hours total). He was home by 8 PM with enough time to get ready for an early training session on Tuesday.
At the writing of this publication, his knock has improved slightly. He still has inflammation but is able to play consistently on it. Doctors say that inflammation will eventually go away. At this point, I think he’s about 85% – 90% back. We’ll keep sending him good vibes for a full recovery. Thanks to those who have reached out to check up on him. Below is a clip of a highlight from last week’s game (after he returned from camp). You can find these videos in our YouTube platform or Instagram.
What is next for Jogo is his club obligations. We are hoping he stays healthy and continues playing consistent good minutes in order to be considered for future National Team activities. For now, onto the next practice. #theGomezway
Well, 2022 is now history so it’s time to recap the last 365 days…2022 started with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly worldwide; fortunately, a higher global vaccination rate helped combat its widespread. As a result, the death toll decreased dramatically from its predecessor the Delta variant. Optimism was rampant but measured.
Just like 2021; last year was a very tumultuous year from various view points: political, economic, socio-cultural, and technological to name a few; there is always the silver lining and we are grateful for the many lessons learned. Our family was blessed in many ways but not without overcoming some anomalies. Celebrating success is a must. Reminiscing about last year’s events is a reminder to seize the day (carpe diem).
Claudia and Joana accompanied Jogo a few days to San Sebastian, Spain for his permanent move. His football registration with La Liga was delayed significantly but al last, he was allowed to play. He made his debut with Sanse in a friendly a few days later.
On January 15th, a few miles from where we live, a 44 year-old British gunman Malik Faisal Akram, took 4 people hostage in a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Rabii Charlie Cytron-Walker, a regular teacher at Fort Worth Christian School (where Joana goes to school), was one of the four hostages. The Rabii threw a chair at the gunman and the other two hostages escaped. At the end of the ordeal, all the hostages ended up safe and the gunman dead.
On January 6th, Novak Djokovik was denied entry to Australia by the government after having acquired a vaccination exemption. The denial was supposed to cause him his participation in the Australian Open. In a turn of events, on January 10th, a judge reversed the order allowing him to enter Australia and participate; however, in a logical application of Australian vaccination laws, Djokovik ultimately not only was prevented from participating in the Australian Open but also deported from Australia.
On January 30th, against all odds (see my post from 2021), Rafa Nadal became the first man to win 21 Grand Slam titles by overcoming a two set deficit against Russian Medvedev in an epic 2022 Australian Open final.
On February 14th, Jogo decided to give us the best Valentine’s present ever…his debut in Europe in La Liga 2 against Ponferradina. In a hard-fought game that was lost in the last second, Jogo draws the PK that leveled the score 1-1. Boy did I love that maroon uniform. We now have a few of those jerseys if you are interested, reach out.
Normally under the global category but given February’s global events, this will remain in the National category. On February 13th, the LA Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals by a score of 23-20 in Super bowl LVI (56th). Tampa Bay native and Highland Park HS attendee Matthew Stafford, won his first super bowl with the help of 42 year old, Andrew Whitworth. This is the second time that a super bowl (2021 was the first one) team plays in their home stadium.
To me, the best part of the game was the halftime show featuring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, and Eminem. If not the best, it’s top 3 performance in all the years I have been watching the game.
On February 24th, Russia launches an invasion on Ukraine. and everything else that followed had a tremendous global social, political and economic impact. More importantly, it is very hard to put into words the number of lives that were lost. As of the writing of this post, the war continues…
Two notable events took place in March. First, while I was visiting Jogo, he started training with the first team and even made the trip to Mallorca where he met up with fellow American Matthew Hoppe. Although he didn’t get to play, his inclusion to the first team was noteworthy. To his dismay, he was assigned #39 (not #42).
Mom made it out to Germany (by herself) to visit Johan for the first time. She spent about a month with the oldest sibling while Joana and myself managed to survive back home. All good. During that time, she found time to visit Jogo in Spain as well.
On March 10th, the MLB stopped its strike no longer jeopardizing the 2022 season. All the games were played; however, the start of the season was delayed by one week. The Houston Astros would go on to win the world series once again.
On March 5th, in an embarrassing display of the most violent emotions that football can elicit, Mexican fans drew attention to the Liga Mx game between Queretaro and Atlas. In the 62nd minute of the game, the referee decided to stop the game due to a continuous engagement between fans of both clubs. The violent exchange would go on for hours in what some would define as the worst day of Mexican football history. Beware, the below video shows very graphic actions that took place on the pitch. Outside of the pitch violence escalated to unprecedented levels.
On April 4th, the NCAA March Madness tournament came to an end. Like in 2021, a big XII team came on top. The top ranked Kansas Jayhawks rallied from a 15-point deficit to defeat the 8th-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels 72–69 in the national championship game. This was the 4th championship for the Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team.
On April 30th, in a home game Real Madrid won a record 35th La Liga title, following a 4–0 victory over Espanyol. Coach Carlo Ancelotti became the first coach to win titles in all of Europe’s top five leagues. Real Madrid would go on to also win its 14th Champions League in the same season.
May was an emotional roller coaster for our family. There were some great events that took place and other lessons that we learned the hard way…
On one hand, Sanse was relegated to the 3rd division and unfortunately Jogo was unable to help the team since he was nursing an injury for several weeks. Bragging aside, his team had a very solid numbers every time he started and/or played. That definitely didn’t go unnoticed by the staff.
On the bright side of things, Johan came home after his first successful season in Germany. Being the second youngest on the team, he finished the season as the team’s second leading goal scorer despite playing out of position half of the time. In his last game of the season, he assisted twice to finish the season strongly.
On a more academic note, after many years of sacrifices, my sister received her PhD in Spanish Linguistics from the University of Houston. Claudia and myself accompanied her in this special day. We could not be any prouder and happier for her academic achievement.
Continuing with a unfortunate tradition of school gun violence, on May 24, in Uvalde Texas (a small town west of San Antonio, Texas), teenager Salvador Ramos opened fire killing nineteen elementary students and two teachers. The former student of Robb Elementary also wounded seventeen others making the mass shooting the deadliest in Texas history.
Academic accolades are always celebrated in our family especially in Jogo’s situation. After receiving a Christian education for over 10 years, we came to terms with having him finish his last three years of high school online when he moved to Louisville. It was a blessing in disguise as the pandemic hit shortly after forcing everyone to adapt to the virtual classroom which Jogo had already started three months prior. He finished his HS years while living in Spain making it challenging to attend live sessions while seven hours ahead. He somehow made it work.
In June, Jogo finished his high school years with honors and due to this event and the injury he sustained in Spain in May, he could not attend the CONCACAF U20 Qualifying that took place in Honduras. The US team ultimately won the championship game defeating Costa Rica by a score of 3-1. Meanwhile, in a surprising turn of events at this level, Mexico was unable to advance to the semifinals missing out on the 2023 U20 WC and the 2024 Olympics.
On June 16th, in the sixth game of the NBA finals, the Golden State Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics. The Western Conference Champions won their fourth championship (7th overall) in the last eight years. As most would expect, Steph Curry was named MVP of the finals. He was, once again, unstoppable.
2021 had marked what some of us had considered the end of Rafael Nadal era in major tennis tournaments. He had lost at the 2021 French Open for the first time. Then, in January 2021 (see above), he won the Australian open becoming the winningest Gran Slam male tennis player ever (21 major titles).
Then on June 5th, at 36 years of age, Nadal with his chronic aching body, yet again, managed to win the French Open for a record 14th time. In a dominant performance in three sets (6-3, 6-3, and 6-0), he defeated Norway’s Casper Ruud to solidify his “King of Clay” status. In doing so, he reached his 22nd major titles separating himself from Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic who were currently at 20 major titles.
Jogo played several pre-season games with Real Sociedad first team. On July 16 he played at Real Arena against Toulousse (where he played against former USL colleague: ), a week later on July 23rd (as a birthday 21st gift to his brother), he played in Germany against Joe Scally’s Mönchengladbach and had a direct impact on the only Txuri Urdi goal of the game.
Can’t remember what happened here of national relevance…
On July 10th, 35 year old Serbian Novak Djokovic won his 7th Wimbledon title and 21st grand slam overall. He continues to be one short of 36 year old Rafael Nadal’s overall grand slam record. 2023 should likely see the end of one of their careers unfortunately.
Jogo continued part-taking in playing pre-season games with RS first team. On August 5th, they played against Athletic Bilbao and he was fortunate enough to mark Iñaki Williams (Ghana’s National Team forward) and Qatar WC participant.
Joana, our daughter started her freshman year of high school…and with that other events are currently taking place (ex. driving permit, etc.). Embrace yourselves folks. On the bright side, we are now closer to retirement 🙂
For the life of me, I cannot think of a event of national relevance. I’m aging…
England’s Women’s Football team (aka Lionesses) won the Euro’s in a convincing fashion by defeating Spain (2-1), Sweden (4-0), and Germany (2-1) in the quarters, semis, and finals respectively. They had the support of the home fans and set the bar high for the men’s team.
Also on August 10, Champions League champion Real Madrid defeated Eintracht Frankfurt by a score of 2-0 to win the UEFA Super Cup adding another title to their trophy case.
Jogo is added to Real Sociedad’s A roster for the upcoming UEFA Europe league competition. He was part of several rosters but did not see any playing time…baby steps and we need to continue improving.
More importantly, in September 1st (Jogo’s birthday), Jogo’s twin cousin was born. Lucca Maldonado was born and yet as of the writing of this post, Jogo has not met him yet…
September was a memorable month for the world of tennis. On September 2nd, Serena Williams played her last official career match at the US Open. She lost to Ajla Tomljanović in 3 sets. Tomljanović after the match said, “I’m feeling really sorry, just because I love Serena just as much as you guys do”
Three days later and despite having a great start in the US Open, Rafa Nadal was ousted, on September 5th, in the 4th round by American Frances Tiafoe in 4 sets . His 23rd major title will have to wait.
10 days later, on September 15th, Roger Federer unexpectedly announced his retirement after having dropped out of the top 50 ranking for the first time in his career.
On September 8th, Queen Elizabeth II dies at 96 years old. She was fortunate enough to have live through all World Cups (at the writing of this); however, she will have missed the Qatar WC when this post is finally published.
Jogo traveled with Real Sociedad to a few league games (October 19th -Mallorca, October 22nd -Valladolid) and UEFA games (October 27th -Omonia) but his debut was put on hold. The carrot continues to be flashed off and on…and our work needs to continue.
On October 2nd, Sergio Pérez won the Singapore Grand Prix. He was starting to position himself second (just behind his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen) in the 2022 Drivers Standings. In the following race, in Japan, Max ended up winning the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship and in the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, the Red Bull team won it. Pérez finished the season with 305 points, with 2 wins, 1 pole position, 11 podiums and 3 fastest laps, his best season in Formula 1 yet.
On October 21, French footballer Karim Benzema received 89 out of 93 possible votes and finally won the Ballon d’Or for the first time in his career. He played an instrumental role in helping Real Madrid win the 2021-2022 La Liga, the 2021-2022 UEFA Champions League and the 2020-2021 UEFA Nations League with France.
On November 6th, Johan scored his third brace since he joined FSV Zwickau. The first goal came via a PK and the second goal is below. FSV Zwickau went on to defeat Joe Enoch’s former club Osnabruck at home by a score of 4-3.
On November 5th, the Houston Astros won the MLB World Series over the Philadelphia Phillies in a best of seven series. The American League Champions (Astros) defeated the National League Phillies in six games. The 118th series was notable for having the first World Series no-hitter since the 1956 World Series perfect game. Astro’s pitchers Cristian Javier, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero, and Ryan Pressly achieved a combined no-hitter in game-4. It was only the third no-hitter in MLB history. Personally, we were happy to see hall of famer, ex-Dodger outfielder Dusty Baker win his first World Series at 73 years of age.
On the same day, LAFC won the MLS Cup over the Philadelphia Union in an unforgettable and very dramatic come from behind game for LAFC. The championship game lived up to the hype and went to kicks from the spot thanks to a last minute 2nd overtime goal by Wales star Gareth Bale. LAFC would prevail in PKs before their home crowd. November 5th will go down in history as one of the worse days in Philadelphia’s sports history.
On November 20, the FIFA Qatar World Cup was inaugurated. In its 22nd edition and played for the first time in the November-December timeframe, the host nation played Ecuador to a 0-2 scoreline. Qatar, became the first nation to lose their inaugural match. In fact, they lost all three matches to Ecuador, Senegal, and Netherlands.
From a football perspective, December was a very exciting month for fans; most of the knockout WC games with record-breaking goals scored, took place in the first two weeks. Similarly, many other records were established in this WC. For example, the Qatar WC marked the first time an all-women referee crew officiated a WC game. There were many other records broken which made the games very memorable.
Both boys came home to spend Christmas with us for the second consecutive year. Even though, it was a short-lived visit, it was a blessing to have them with us. They headed back to their respective clubs for New Years and we hope they have very healthy and successful 2023 years respectively.
…oh and btw, Johan scored this beauty in a friendly.
On December 3rd, Netherlands eliminated the USMNT from the Qatar World Cup by a score of 3-1. Some US fans thought Louis Van Gaal gave Gregg a tactical masterclass and the game got out of hand early. Despite the loss, the USMNT was the best CONCACAF team in the tournament and left a good impression that accompanied with a lot of work, could turn into something special when the 2026 WC is hosted in Canada, Mexico, and the US.
Mexico continued its football decadence at the different national team levels: U20, U23, WNT, MNT, etc. The silver lining will be that Mexico beat the only team who defeated Argentina and only lost to the eventual World Cup Champion.
On December 17th, in one of the most dramatic FIFA WC finals, Argentina prevailed over France in a PK shoot-out and won its third (1978, 1986, and 2022) WC title. Messi, likely playing his last WC, was finally able to not only capture the MVP accolade but also the only trophy that had eluded him in his career.
Unfortunately, December, like last year’s when ex-NFL Hall of Fame coach John Madden passed away, once again brought us some notable deaths at the global stage:
Pele – December 29th
Pope Benedict XVI – December 31st
This year will be a year where I will personally focus a lot on my well-being. Tough decisions will be made but an overall focus shift will be made. On the children’s side, I am looking forward how their football journeys continue to develop. We as parents are more interested in seeing how they continue to develop good members of society and the legacy they leave behind.
2023 promises to be a year of new faces emerging as Nadal and Djokovic relinquish their long-time dominance of the sport. I am particularly interested in seeing whether Novak Djokovic can win a record-tying 22nd grand slam.
If you made it this far, congrats. Be sure to follow us in Instagram and Twitter where we are more active.
Two of the recently finished World Cup (WC) quarterfinal games reminded us that penalty kicks (PKs) shoot-outs are not the prettiest way to decide the outcome of a football match. PK shoot-outs are normally very dramatic, preceded by at least 120 minutes of intense (in most cases) action and some detractors tout them as the most unfair method to declare a match winner. Their argument is that the shoot-out relies heavily on luck rather than football skill. It has also been said that PKs are a dual effort instead of a collective team effort defeating the purpose of the team sport spirit.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Whatever your perception may be on overall luck and shoot-outs, a PK shoot-out is an approved method by FIFA laws to break a tie. Also, nobody can deny that being directly involved in the taking of even a single PK (more so a shoot-out) requires some level of technical preparation (sometimes years) and individual mental fortitude (aka nerve). Therefore, any edge that can be gained over the opponent to increase the chances of victory in a PK shoot-out is always welcome. Often neglected, that advantage can easily come from one’s bench. A coach’s experience is a very valuable tool if applied correctly and timely.
PK Shoot-out Preparation
I will not dwell too much on the pre-game efforts that the goal keeper (GK) coach, the team video analysis specialist, the team statistician, and the GKs themselves must undergo prior to embarking on a match that could be decided in a PK shoot-out. The preparation is not complex but indeed meticulous. It starts with trying to anticipate which five potential PK kickers will take a turn and study their PK kicking tendencies. On top of that, each GK has his/her own defensive diving tendencies to attempt to block PKs. Simply put, it comes down to video-analyzing the potential PK kickers to slightly increase the GK’s odds of stopping PKs.
Similarly, PK takers need to undergo a lengthier preparation which starts much earlier in their football careers than the upcoming game at hand. For example, in some youth leagues around the world, match ties are not allowed forcing PKs intentionally. Match outcomes are decided via a PK shoot-out with the underlying idea of developing better PK adult kickers who are not only more used to the added pressure but more technically sound in the art of PK taking via lots of repetitions. PK kickers rarely analyze GK tendencies as those diving techniques are reactive and situational.
All that pre-match preparation for PK kickers is indispensable and must be met at a minimum to be even considered as a genuine PK taker candidate especially at a world stage like a WC. However, there are meticulous decisions that must be made in the selection of the PK takers and the sequence in which PKs are taken by a team. Sure, luck (the coin tosses explained below) helps but the coach’s experience has a strong influence in the outcome of the shoot-out.
PK Shoot-out Execution
Some coaches will tell you that only those physically, and mentally fit prior to the taking of PKs should be eligible, listed and submitted to the referee as the initial five PK takers. Others will defer that decision to the players and captain. Ultimately, the coach knows his/her players best and it is best that those five PK takers are pre-determined and only changed in case of an unplanned event (ex. injury, red card, etc.). So, provided a manager has five physically and mentally capable PK kickers, then other decisions should be made by the coach and captain to maximize the chances of victory.
Normally, the referee will use two coin tosses prior to the taking of PKs. The winner of the first coin toss selects the side where PKs will be taken (Introduced in 2016). The winner of the second coin toss determines what team starts the PK shoot-out (Lloris won this one in the WC final). Yes, on this part of the procedure, there’s an element of luck but provided your captain wins both or either one of these coin tosses, instructions must be provided to the captain so that he/she choose the goal where most of your club’s supporters are; Messi probably conquered the Qatar WC the moment he won this first coin toss and selected the side that was plagued by Argentinian fans. On the second coin toss outcome, heed the following advice:
1.For advantages proven by simple statistics/research papers and psychological reasoning (beyond the scope of this simple post), a team captain, if able, should always elect to take the PKs first in a shoot-out. In a gist, it puts additional pressure on the players going second regardless of the outcome of the first kick. Therefore, ALWAYS elect to shoot first if you win the second coin toss. This is the way Morocco eliminated Spain from Qatar.
2. Always (I mean always) have your best PK kickers go first. In Brazil’s loss to Croatia in the WC quarterfinal game, Neymar was supposed to get all the glory by kicking last (5th). Unfortunately, quite the opposite took place. the team had the youngest (Rodrygo) of all PK kickers go first and that proved to be a decision they will regret forever. Neymar never had a chance to take his PK. It was possibly Neymar’s last WC game and to go out like that is unfortunate…Neymar and Tite (no longer the national team coach) will have to live with that decision.
As an additional data point, in the WC final game, both Mbappé and Messi went first. Both are no strangers to PK taking. Despite Mbappé having scored two PKs during the course of the championship game on Martínez, Kylian (and Didier DeChamps) elected Mbappé to go a third time (all kicked to the same side) against one of the best PK GKs in the world. He converted all three attempts and set the tone for the next PK (or at least that was the plan).
3. The first PK taker dictates momentum. Over 60% of the time when the first PK misses his/her shot, the following PK taker from the same team misses too. Therefore, carefully selecting the first PK taker is instrumental to the team’s success. If there are two medium quality PK kickers, do not, by any means, have them take kicks one after another in the round of five. In the WC final game, Coman missed his kick immediately followed by Tchouameni.
4. Managers sometimes forget that great players are not necessarily great PK takers. For example, in the Netherlands vs Argentina game, Van Dijk elected to take the team’s PK first; however, he’s not the normal PK taker with his Liverpool club (Mo Salah is). Unfortunately, the lack of practice became evident as his attempt was blocked by Emi Martínez. This proved to be a questionable decision by a very experienced Coach Louis Van Gaal.
The coin tosses are determined by an element of luck; beyond that, preparation pays off. In addition to field player and GK preparation, a manager (and his/her staff) has a lot of weight on the outcome of a PK shoot-out with careful thought-out decisions. Whether the manager and captain assume/want that responsibility is a different story. Either way, preparation is key and an initial 50% chance of victory in a shoot-out can easily become more like a 75% if preparation is taken seriously. As I was finalizing documentation to wrap up my post, I stumbled upon this article posted about 8 years ago titled “How to Win a PK shoot-out in soccer“. Ironically, a lot of the information presented in that article supports my post.
As I finish writing this post, I became aware of the passing of football’s legend: Pelé. Honestly, I can’t say this was unexpected as he had been hospitalized in Brazil for over a month and I tried to keep up with his medical progress which never seemed to improve. But even with that information, I can’t deny it was shocking; it’s hard to accept that in a little over than 2 years, the best two footballers, that in my opinion, have ever played the game now reside with the football gods…where they have cemented a place.
Until next time (tomorrow) when I will be posting our annual 2022 recap of events. Have a happy and safe New Year celebration. Be sure to follow us on Instagram below where we are more active. #theGomezway
Ya en una publicación del año pasado, les habíamos compartido lo complicado que había sido que en el verano del 2019 el club de Jogo lo soltara para una convocatoria de selección juvenil Mexicana. Inaudito pero verídico. En esta ocasión, la Real Sociedad nunca puso alguna traba y siempre mantuvo informado al jugador sobre la convocatoria. De hecho, casi le rogaron para que acudiera a pesar de que la convocatoria era para un partido amistoso en una fecha NO designada por FIFA y además se podría perder un juego de liga.
Uno como aficionado tan sólo puede imaginarse lo gratificante que es para un jugador ser convocado (y además acudir) a un llamado especialmente de “la mayor” (ó como dicen en España “la absoluta”). Tal honor, a veces, involucra una logística impresionante y friamente calculada que puede parecer apresurada especialmente si el jugador viaja una distancia continental. Aun así, los aficionados merecen todo el respeto de dirigentes, jugadores, y cuerpo técnico y por más complicadas que las condiciones puedan ser, hay que salir a dar el máximo por los colores de la playera que se porte. Aquí les compartimos un poco de los viajes que tanto Jogo como nosotros realizamos a Orlando, Florida para cumplir con su única convocatoria con la selección mayor de México.
Todavía en España, Jogo jugó partido de liga (importantísimo para el tema de descenso) el Sábado 23 de Abril en casa (contra Amorabieta) con la Real Sociedad B (Sanse) a las 9 AM CT y dos horas después de concluido el encuentro, ya tomaba un taxi para trasladarse a Bilbao (1 hora de distancia de San Sebastián). En Bilbao, pernoctó para que a la mañana siguiente tomara un vuelo a Londres (escala de dos horas) a las 12 AM CT y finalmente arribara a su destino final en Orlando el Domingo 24 de Abril por la tarde-noche. El coordinador (Daniel) de selecciones nacionales, se sacó un 10 con el viaje de España a Orlando. El vuelo de regreso fue diametralmente opuesto ya que estuvo muy tardado y bueno, fue aquí donde Jogo apenas alcanzó a llegar al siguiente partido del Sanse y con ningun día de entrenamiento, fue directo a la banca. El precio de la convocatoria.
Por los tiempos tan limitados con el resto del grupo, las prácticas fueron bastante ligeras, recreacionales y culminaron con reconocimiento de cancha el Martes 26 por la noche. Jogo apenas si tuvo tiempo de conocer algunos jugadores, y cuerpo técnico e integrarse lo más pronto posible para el partido del Miércoles. A veces nosotros los aficionados exigimos “química máxima” en la cancha desconociendo lo poco/mucho tiempo de trabajo que un entrenador (en este caso Tata Martino no pudo acudir) tiene con sus jugadores. Como también es sabido, hay algunos compromisos comerciales que la seleccion nacional tiene que cumplir por temas con mas planeación económica que de índole deportiva.
La familia cercana, como siempre apoyando, logró alcanzar a Jogo en Orlando hasta el Martes 26 de Abril ya casi a media noche. En realidad, nos arriesgamos un poco ya que cualquier contratiempo con nuestro vuelo desde Texas, nos hubiera obligado a salir el Miércoles, mismo día del partido, y alguna demora adicional nos hubiera obligado a perdernos esta experiencia única. Gracias a Dios, todo salió bien.
Arribamos al hotel donde se hospedaba la selección a las 11 PM hora local. Practicamente llegamos a saludar a Jogo, que justo terminaba sus clases de preparatoria del día y a dormir en otro piso. Brevemente le dimos las buenas noches ya que había que irse a dormir para estar listo para el juego del día siguiente. Las medidas de seguridad cuidando el entorno de la selección son excelentes.
Día del partido
El día del partido (Miércoles) nos levantamos relativamente tarde debido al ajetreo del día anterior. Bajamos a platicar con Jogo mientras gozabamos de un rico lonche en el hotel; en realidad, fue poco el tiempo pero memorable. Tan sólo pudimos convivir unos minutos ya que el equipo tenía actividades planeadas para el resto del día.
Ya por la tarde, así partía el autobús que escoltado por un dispositivo policial impresionante, llevaba al equipo y a Jogo al Estadio Camping World de Orlando con varias horas de anticipación al inicio del encuentro. Nosotros los alcanzaríamos horas después.
Ya en el estadio, así lucía el inmuelbe antes del partido. El encuentro, parte del MexiTour organizado por SUM, era el primer partido amistoso después de que México consiguiera el boleto para el Mundial Catar 2022 así que los aficionados estaban muy ilusionados de ver un cuadro joven y diferente. Por otro lado, Guatemala, comandado por el estratega Mexicano Fernando Tena, venía de 7 victorias consecutivas lo cual se apetecía como buen sinodal.
El partido en si resultó un tanto monótono por la falta de llegadas en ambos arcos. México dominó la mayor parte del encuentro sin poder ver coronada su mayor posesión. Al final del partido, ninguno de los equipos se hizo daño. Sin embargo, la familia la pasó muy bien en la tribuna con un ambientazo semi-familiar.
Jogo jugó pocos minutos como era de esperarse, especialmente porque hubo invasión de cancha en los minutos que estuvo presente. A veces los aficionados en un afán de divertirse, afectan a su equipo de forma indirecta (grito). Inclusive en la tribuna, la pasión de los aficionados se desborda a tal nivel que se torna en violencia no apta para familias. En fin, la idea de la convocatoria era para que Jogo conociera el entorno de la selección mayor y ese objetivo se cumplió.
Al culminar el partido, nos reunimos con Jogo para charlar antes de nuestro regreso a tierras Texanas ya que partíamos de Orlando el Jueves por la madrugada (4 AM). No lo vamos a negar, las despedidas siempre son complicadas pero en este caso, sabíamos que veríamos a Jogo un mes después asi que eso nos recomfortó. Por su parte Jogo no partió rumbo a España hasta el Jueves por la noche. Cuestionable la logística de regreso pero en fin, era lo que había. Dados los tiempos y las escalas, no alcanzó a practicar el Jueves en San Sebastián y sólo practicó hasta el Viernes. La falta de entrenamiento con el Sanse le costó tiempo de juego el Lunes 2 de Mayo contra Valladolid (ahora ascendido a primera) y un poco la titularidad lo que sobraba de la temporada. En fin, esas cosas contrastantes tiene una convocatoria para un partido amistoso…
Por nuestro lado y ya de regreso en casa, reflexionando sobre el viaje express, nos quedan muy claras dos cosas primordialmente: 1. El gran poder de convocatoria que sigue teniendo la selección nacional mayor a pesar de los resultados más recientes y 2. La reacción que puedan tener algunos aficionados para con Jogo (y nuestra familia) por solamente haber ido a jugar con la selección mayor de México un amistoso que a final de cuentas no decide su destino final.
Hay que recordar que el fútbol es tan sólo un deporte para aquellos que lo practican y un pasatiempo para aquellos que tan sólo lo observan. El fútbol nunca definirá nuestro nivel de nacionalismo, patriotismo y mucho menos nuestra personalidad. Afortunadamente, a través del deporte, podemos conocer a mucha gente y en ese proceso nos damos cuenta que las verdaderas amistades siempre trascenderán un encuentro de fútbol con selección X ó selección Z. Tengan por seguro que la camisa que Jogo porte, siempre la defenderá con honor y con el mayor deseo de la victoria. Por ahora hay cosas que están fuera de nuestro alcance y seguimos en esta lucha diaria y a la orden especialmente en días complicados. #theGomezway
No olviden seguirnos en Instagram para gozar de contenido más frecuente.
Now that international borders are pretty much open, I decided to pay Jogo a visit in Spain. It was a trip that had been in the works ever since Claudia and Joana returned from dropping Jogo off about seven weeks ago. They spoke highly of the Donostia-San Sebastián (from here on out, referred to DSB -for short) attractions so I had to come and experience it for myself.
For those of you who have inquired about the possibility of visiting Jogo, you may find this post useful or it may totally dissuade you from visiting him due to the logistics involved. Either way, it contains some relevant (somewhat detailed) travel information and some caveats. It’s worth noting that now, more than ever, airline prices are very competitive and you can easily book a $500 round trip to DSB as long as you plan it well. Jogo will gladly welcome you with open arms (especially if you bring him goodies) and likely even give you tickets to one of his games while you are visiting. This is how the trip to DSB and my first week is going…
Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
A week ago today, I left home in Keller at 2:20 PM CST for a 4:59 PM CST Delta flight to Atlanta, GA. For a Thursday afternoon, the TSA lines at DFW were busier than normal but I made it through security by 3:05 PM CST which worked well with my football agenda. I then found a quiet place to work for about 90 minutes while watching the Leipzig vs Real Sociedad Europa League game and once it finished (final score: 2-2), waited a few minutes to board the flight to Atlanta. Unfortunately, the bad weather in Atlanta delayed our take off until 6 PM CST. Could that be a sign of what was about to come my way? I mean, everything had been carefully planned out but God’s plans always prevail…
After a 90 minute flight, I landed in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport with plenty of time to spare due to an also delayed flight (things were not looking good already) to Amsterdam (more to come on the reason for the 2nd delay later) and although I had time to sit down to eat a full meal, I opted to just get a snack and work some more instead.
Our plane to Amsterdam finally took off around 11:10 PM CST (originally scheduled for 9:30 PM CST due to impending bad weather in the Netherlands) and off we went for 8 hours under very rainy Atlanta (not cold at all) conditions but at last, we were in the air.
The turbulence was crazy but that’s not the reason I didn’t sleep much during the flight. I even had the two available seats right next to me for extra space. The excitement of seeing Jogo perhaps was too much so I read, ate, and watched the second part of “A Quiet Place” for the second time.
Amsterdam is one of the many choices for a layover in Europe; others options are London, Madrid, Frankfurt, Paris, etc. To be honest, Amsterdam was a bit of a handful this time and I may not stop there in the near future.
We landed in Amsterdam around 1:30 PM local time (6:30 AM CST) and my next flight was on time and scheduled to depart at 2:25 PM local time (7:25 AM CST). As soon as I disembarked, I rushed to the other side of the airport, dashed through customs and made my way to the B terminal in about 30 minutes. All of this took place while the airport’s PA system was continuously announcing that all airport activities would be suspended for the day after 2 PM local time (7 AM CST) due to high wind tropical storm Eunice. Departing at 2:25 PM (7:25 AM CST) was very unlikely due to the announcements but at last, by the grace of God, they let us depart. We were literally the last plane allowed to take off out of Amsterdam and off we went to Bilbao…
It is worth noting that last time I visited DSB back in July with the family, we had a layover in Paris and that worked out well despite the spike in summer travel. Maybe I’ll try it again next time. Similarly, last month, when Claudia came over to accompany Jogo, their layover was in Frankfurt without any delays. Ironically, by making a Frankfurt stop, she was closer to Zwickau (Johan) than she was to DSB. She will be making a Germany trip to see Johan very shortly as well.
We landed at 4:58 PM local time (9:58 AM CST), and everything appeared okay initially until I was informed that the US is considered a high risk country so they had me take a COVID test upon arrival (I showed them all proper documentation of my 3 doses ). Fortunately, the test result was negative but we now had just added an additional 45 minutes to my already long trip. Honestly, I am unsure what the protocol would have been had I tested positive.
Once released from the airport’s COVID testing center, I quickly headed to the luggage carrousel to pick up my checked-in luggage. Unfortunately, I found a static conveyor belt with only one bag similar to mine, it had to be mine, right?…well, it wasn’t and a lot of thoughts crossed my mind. Ultimately, I knew the situation in Amsterdam was very critical and was very certain that my luggage had been left behind there due to the narrow time window and more so, inclement weather.
I then proceeded to the KLM customer service counter at the airport and sure enough, they were waiting for me with very specific instructions to receive my luggage. I then filled out some paperwork, submitted a claim (with Jogo’s DSB new home address) and was informed that I would have my luggage within 24 hours. They weren’t kidding. I got it the next day in DSB.
Luggage-less, I then made my way to the small Bilbao airport’s public transportation area. There’s no Uber in the city so my transportation choices were limited: finding my own private ride, or public transportation (a bus/taxi) to DSB. It’s about a 100 km ride to DSB’s bus station and a pleasant ride. The bus is a greyhound style type of bus whose cost is about €17 with plenty of room even if you are traveling with big suitcases.
It was a no brainer, since I only had my backpack to carry, I opted to take the bus. To purchase a ticket for it, there’s a kiosk outside of the airport but a debit/credit card is needed (caveat: you will need your card PIN to complete the transaction). Since I didn’t know my CC pin, I ended up paying cash to the bus driver. Make sure you don’t have large denomination bills (ex. > 50) to pay for your ticket as change may not be readily available. During the ticket purchasing ordeal, I saw the “bad guys” transportation parked outside the airport which was a little puzzling. Players fly but the bus still makes the trip? Interesting concept.
Donostia-San Sebastián (DSB)
I finally arrived to DSB’s bus station of the paradisiac area on Friday evening 8:30 PM local time (1:30 PM CST). I did not get to see the sunset since it was dark already but here is what I was able to witness the next few mornings. It’s breath-taking. From the DSB’s bus station to Jogo’s apartment, it’s a 30 minute walk which I was glad to embark on since I’d been sitting down for so long. Plus, I needed the Fitbit steps.
Jogo’s first game
The next day, Jogo got me a ticket to watch his game; it was very exciting to watch it live. Entertaining match for sure. It was Jogo’s home debut and I was able to watch him live which was my primary objective. He made the starting 11 so anything else didn’t matter at that point for me.
Much needed result by Sanse but we try not to emphasize results over journeys when our kids are part of the game. We have Twitter fans who provide plenty of expert football analysis. It was a great game for me to watch and the best welcome gift Jonathan could have ever given me. As some of you may know, watching the game live beats any other watching method as one is able to see the off the ball movement that cameras do not normally capture. Also, there are a lot of intangibles (ex. fans, weather, referee, etc.) that are not portrayed accurately on TV that ultimately impact the player and the game. Witnessing those live is priceless. In the end, Jogo had a hockey assist and a near goal-line save. It was the second time in the same week impacting the score line. Hopefully he can continue earning minutes this week.
Europa League knockout game
As I wrap up this post up, I am heading to watch the Europa League knockout match between RS and Lepzig at Reale Arena with Jogo. It will be the second time in the past three months that I will have watched Tyler Adams (if he plays). The previous time was against Neymar, Mbappe, etc. at Red Bull Arena in Lepizig for a Champions League match back in November.
My first time watching a Europa League game was a match between FC Porto vs Young Boys back in September of 2019 at Estádio do Dragāo. Porto beat Young Boys 2-1. Great football memories watching Tecatito et al with Johan.
Jogo’s next game
Sanse’s next game is in Oviedo. I am looking forward to this one as I will be riding the bus (6 hour drive) to get there. I’ll probably spend a couple of nights sight-seeing the Asturias area as well. For now, I leave you with some images of the DSB area. I highly recommend it. It’s a paradise down here and other countries (ex. France and Portugal) are very close as well to top it all off.
This week’s guest is Jogo’s good friend Kevin Paredes. He talks about his adaptation period, harder training in Germany so far, short and long term goals and somehow, I get mentioned in this episode too. Kevin also talks about things to fix in the US Soccer’s approach to recruiting players and closes out with his own definition of success and emphasizes the role his family has played in his journey. Give the Chums a listen, they are improving their content with each episode and best of all, it’s free. You will also enjoy the next two USMNT guests.
Thanks for the read and as always reach out with any questions, requests, etc. #theGomezway
As I wait for my flight in Gate B30 at the DFW airport, I can’t help but think this may be my last trip to Louisville (at least in a while). I know Jogo will want to return to the beautiful Kentucky Derby city at some point in the near future but for now, this may be it for me. I resist the temptation of any sad thoughts crossing my mind but it’s an inexorable feeling nonetheless.
My late-night regular arrivals at the Muhammad Ali airport will be, in a strange way, sorely missed. The excitement of strolling down concourse B late at night filled up my heart with joy as it was an indication that I was about to see Jogo again.
I must not complain; we played three playoff games after I started this post and I am grateful for that run. Unfortunately, OUR season fell short one game and while the club will have another opportunity for a third star next year, we will be *physically* moving on to a different setup. One that we hope is half as good as the one LouCity and everybody around it provided for us. Thus, in a weird coincidental way with Thanksgiving day (this post was supposed to be published Thanksgiving week), it’s time to publicly give thanks to some folks (in no particular order) who helped us in this process. Disclaimer: The omission of any names is by no means intentional, rest assured that Jogo will reach out (or already has) to you in some way but most importantly, you should know what role you played during his time in Louisville.
Thank you Brad Estes, John Neace and the rest of the ownership group. There is no doubt you are visionaries. Lynn family stadium just doesn’t happen out of thin air, the NWSL team requires meticulous planning and of course, the great youth academy just doesn’t form itself overnight. Yet, you have managed to successfully build all of that in a very short window and during unprecedented times. Now, the idea of developing talent from within is coming to fruition. It is just the beginning…as for us, we always knew we were coming to the right place. At the time, perhaps the idea of letting a 16-year old Texas boy be part of YOUR project, may have seemed as an outlier but you went along with it. Kuddos on trusting the technical staff’s recommendation and deciding to embark on this adventure with us. THANK YOU. We will forever be Louisville City FC ambassadors.
Coach Hack and Danny were the masterminds of this project with Danny the final executor and through thick and thin, we made it work. The detailed and targeted feedback (including frequent video analysis) helped Jogo become a better player. You pioneered a new pathway and now other young footballers see USL (and maybe LouCity) as a very viable option for their next football destination. You may not realize it but you started something special around the league.
We now part ways (for a while at least). Danny (and staff) will continue to amass victories and trophies while mastering new things with his relentless study of the game while Jogo will strive to maximize this new opportunity and represent us well. We have nothing but gratitude to the entire technical staff: Danny, Scott, Simon, George, Mario, Stu, Aurelio, Ben, Austin (all of you). Thank you for your patience while preparing Jogo for his next endeavor.
From the initial idea of serving as Jogo’s host family, to the first Easter, and even opening your home to Johan, you always made our family feel welcome. Through birthday celebrations and family dinners, to the talks we had at the LouCity Academy facility, you were always there for Jogo. Thank you. You are blessed in you lives because of the frequent display of these acts of kindness without expecting anything in return. Sanchez Family, your love and support was instrumental in Jogo’s adaptation period. We love you.
Garrett (aka G). You went beyond any self-imposed team *duties* with Jogo when you didn’t have to. You also didn’t have to drive Jogo to the grocery store every two weeks during COVID when he didn’t have a car or regularly check up on him, or keep our family up to date via texts. You, and your family, are God-sent gifts in so many ways and you have a unique place in our hearts. I hope you know how blessed we feel to have had the pleasure of meeting you and your family. We’ll be in touch.
Wynder Family. We never met your entire family but Jogo always spoke volumes of y’all. You were always very supportive of Jogo and he specifically asked me to include you in this post. Our family only had the chance to meet Josh and Elijah and through them we can see how special your entire family must be. They are two great players with great family values. They developed a brotherly bond with Jogo that will endure the rigors of time and distance. Maybe one day, we will meet all of you. For now, please know that we are thankful for all you did for Jogo (and Carl); one day, you will reap the fruits of your kindness.
Your support was relentless. It’s no coincidence the cathedral is a fortress. It takes A LOT for a team to go there and get a positive result. The impact you have on the players is understated. That 90th minute sprint is much easier with your support. We loved every moment of it and although we may have fallen short this season, more opportunities will continue to come. Jogo thanks you for always being there no matter the circumstances. Please know that every time Jogo went out there, he gave his best. Sometimes that may have not been enough but it was his best that day. Your support was always unconditional and we had never experienced anything like it even as fans ourselves. We will return to LouCity at some point of our lives in some capacity. For now, thank you and continue growing the beautiful sport in this awesome city. Thank you Coopers, Ledgehogs, LouCity Ladies, Scouse’s House, et al. You will all be missed greatly.
You blindly believed in our boy; he quickly became “Jogo”. You loved him and for that, our family loves you back. The continuous support on and off the field was felt every step of the way. You gave him a greater sense of belonging when it was most needed. From the guy at the Honda dealership offering him a free oil change to the little kids chanting his name in St. Petersburg wearing his jersey. Thank you for the unwavering support since day one until their last airport arrival.
No, deed ever went unnoticed. Thank you fans. For us, it now becomes a change where “Jogo” will not be known by many and he will be just another American footballer trying to pave his way into a tough European market. However, your support has given him the confidence to further believe in himself and do his best to go integrate with his new teammates halfway across the world.
You embraced our Texas teenager with open arms. At times, he probably didn’t do (or say) the right things but you were patient with him and helped him regardless. Napo, you were the best roommate he could ever have during very difficult COVID times. Thank you for helping him integrate to the Louisville life and his new teammates. Oscar: you undoubtedly made Jogo a better left back. Never forget that. The rest of the leaders and mentors on the team (Paolo, Pat, Sean, Lexi, Luke, Niall, Cam, George, etc.), you aligned him with the mature, winning culture of the club and helped him grow mentally. Antoine: you talked to him about finances and now the boy is ready to invest. In the process, you always found a way to make him laugh. Ownby: you made sure he was always having fun and bettering himself as a footballer. Oscar and Jorge (Los Gatos), you made sure Jogo didn’t forget his ancestry. Wes: Thanks for looking after him as if he were your little brother. Jogo probably didn’t say it enough: but he loves you back. Tyler and Kyle: You reminded him of God’s importance in our lives. As a father, I cannot be any more grateful to y’all for being his family away from home. It was very comforting witnessing that you had his back on and off the field. I hope our paths cross again in some capacity. Stop by if you ever visit Keller, Texas (Lexi). Our home will always welcome all of you.
Haley, Kyle, Logan and Jonathan. Not in our wildest dreams would we have possibly imagined anyone doing as much for Jogo as you guys did. We are indebted to you for life. A top class club hires top talent. Keep up the good work. Your social media work is unique, funny, and the content is not only very creative but engaging. Thanks for making Jogo part of it. Our family, scattered in different places around the world, enjoyed every second of it.
Personally, the pictures (and caption) below were my favorites of them all.
You also did a great job managing the numerous interview platforms provided for Jogo. Our gratitude permeates to them as well: Courier Journal, Chasing a Cup, ESPN Louisville, VamosMorados, The Coopers (Barrel Proof #274) and other regular LouCity FC coverage outlets like: WBNA 21, WDRB Sports, WHAS11, WBKY, WLKY, and of course ESPN+ just to name a few. To the multiple photographers who facilitated pictures of Jogo and the team: your support was invaluable. At times, you probably thought you were only doing your job but know that in the process you were positively impacting a teenager without even knowing it…thank you as well.
USL has solidified as a pathway to professionalism since 2011. These days however, young prospects are leveraging both USL-1 and USL-C as a platform to continue their development. Thank you for providing that pathway for Jogo for almost three years. We are forever grateful for the years in USL-1 and USL-C that Jogo (and Johan) spent in the league. Thank you for all the support. We will always be USL ambassadors as well.
See you soon
There are many folks I unintentionally left out. You know who you are. Thank you. Unfortunately, all good stories must come to an end and sadly ours ends now. We are happy to have pursued this path especially when it was unchartered territory for a young Mexican-American teenager but we ALL, together, made it work. We leave this temporary journey better than when we joined it.
Rest assured that we will always “vouch” for you, the city, and everything associated with our process. There are already other young Texas prospects interested in pursuing the USL path.
We leave behind strong relationships that will endure the challenges of distance, and time. However, it’s still tough (even at my age) to process this temporary separation. For now, we must say “see you soon” and start our next adventure. ¡¡¡Muchísimas gracias amigos!!! #theGomezway
Football takes you to unimaginable places locally, domestically, or internationally. This past summer, we took our first family trip to Germany. Today, I’m writing about our next football trip which happened to be to Spain (San Sebastián to be exact). We hope you enjoy it.
It was a surgically planned trip. There were many moving parts and if any went wrong, the trip could have been a bust. Thanks to the flexibility that COVID forced us into at our workplaces and being the middle of the summer vacation for Joana, the Gómez’s were able to spend the week prior to the Spain trip in Louisville with Jogo. Fortunately, Johan had already returned to Europe for pre-season with FSV Zwickau avoiding yet another moving part.
We left Louisville on a Thursday afternoon with Kansas City as our initial destination. LouCity was scheduled to play Sporting Kansas City II (SKC II) the next day and the plan was to go watch the game, pick Jogo up after the game and then drive all night back home to Texas.
Not a minor item but we also spent Thursday night in Kansas City fine tuning the last few logistical details of César’s (Jogo’s uncle) trip from Mexico City to Texas. He would be joining us in Dallas to make the trip with us to Spain on Saturday morning.
Night before Europe
It was our first time visiting Children’s Mercy Park so we took the obligatory pictures prior to the game. Ironically, a few days after our visit to Kansas, the US Men’s National Team played three games there during Gold Cup. Jonathan was supposed to be with the team but this trip prevented him from making the final roster. Tough choices sometimes have to be made…
The game went well and Jogo had another assist and after the game, he briefly caught up with his long-time friend Tyler. Meanwhile, us parents made some new parent friends too; it was there that we learned that Tyler was heading to Germany soon after.
The drive to Dallas
After the SKCII game, we waited for Jogo to shower, finish his normal dressing room ritual and embarked on an all night (8+ hours) drive back to Texas. Upon arrival at home around 5 AM, we met César, rested for a couple of hours and continued on to the next stop of our trip: Dallas Lovefield airport.
We left home riding an Uber Tesla (first time for me in one of those). The automatic pilot was nice and worth the occasion. The complete trip would consist of multiple stops. Dallas to Atlanta, Atlanta to France, France to Bilbao, and finally Bilbao to San Sebastián.
Layover in France
We left Dallas Love Field airport at 12:25 PM to Atlanta. It was a two hour flight. Once we landed in Atlanta, we literally boarded our next flight an hour later (we had to dash to the gate) to France. The duration of the flight from Atlanta to France was approximately 7.5 hours. We arrived in France at 7 AM (midnight Texas time) on Sunday morning. Our layover in France made the trip longer but anytime you are with family; it’s all worth it.
The layover in Charles De Gaulle airport allowed us time to take a quick nap, practice some French and meet up with Mike. These trips are difficult for our aging (and aching) bodies and thankfully, we don’t have to undergo many of them frequently. Note: I have spent the last month in Germany.
From France’s airport, we boarded a 90 minute flight to Bilbao (capital of the community Gipuzkoa) in the plane pictured below. Most of us were really tired by this time and could not sleep well due to the turbulence and the short duration flight.
We arrived in Bilbao and were quickly greeted by our ground transportation. He took us on a beautiful 70 minute ride to San Sebastián. By this time, we were so jaded that we were unable to truly appreciate the natural beauty of the entire ride. We did however, on the way back, have an excellent football specific conversation with the chauffeur. The Euros (UEFA European Championship) were in full swing and Spain was doing well upon our arrival.
What a paradisiac city. We were still very jet-lagged Sunday morning and slept for a couple hours. Later in the day, we found a way to make it out to dinner with team staff. They took us to a beautiful restaurant with the most astonishing views in town overlooking the Bay of Biscay.
In the next few days, we had a chance to sight-see a few things while we were there. The most impressing was the sea. San Sebastián is adjacent to the Bay of Biscay and sunsets are very picturesque.
During our stay, we had an opportunity to tour the training facilities, stadium, and of course talk with Xabi Alonso at length. Of course, at the end of our conversations, the obligatory picture had to be taken. Excellent guy who rides a Harley to Zubieta (the name of Real Sociedad’s beautiful facilities). Everything was explained to us and there was not a question that went unanswered.
After we had accomplished all our objectives in San Sebastián, we went back to the hotel and relaxed a little. Well, the Euros were taking place and what a better place to watch them. Spain was playing in the semifinal against Italy. I remember we had to cut our shopping day short as stores were closing early; the entire country was paralyzed watching the game. Unfortunately, that day, Spain was eliminated in PKs. Here is video of the last PK taken by Italy. We felt bad recording but apparently we weren’t the only ones…better times ahead for Spain.
A few days later, we were back home. Jogo was playing at Tulsa and life went on as normal as it could given the circumstances…well, almost so, except that we now had these exciting news that we couldn’t necessarily share with anyone outside the family. It’s an odd feeling but rules are rules.
Until next time San Sebastián…
In a few weeks, we’ll be back. This time, we will be better prepared than when we landed the first time in Portugal or Germany. We speak the language, not Basque of course. Jogo will be in his new home, with new teammates, living in a different time zone, etc. Some tears will be shed (points at self) but God is good. All will be well.
Our awesome present
For now, the grind continues and Jogo and team just finished their regular season and now onto playoffs tomorrow. Good luck LouCity from Zwickau, Germany. God knows how much we will miss your setup and the people associated with the club. We will always rep the purple #Vamosmorados.
Jonathan talks about his entire journey (including the trip above) from his time at FC Dallas in this interview with the Chums. Give it a listen. We always appreciate the support to our boys and the Chums. There’s a new episode coming out in a few days.