Tag Archives: traveling

First family trip to Spain

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.

Uncle César always repping LouCity and Racing Louisville

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.

César taking a quick nap at Charles De Gaulle airport -crossbranding-

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.

Jogo about to board his flight to Bilbao

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.

San Sebastián

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.

Dinner at Asador Alaia with team staff

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.

Claudia and myself enjoying a walk along the beach during a beautiful summer sunset

Xabi Alonso:

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.

Jogo and Xabi Alonso

UEFA Euros:

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.

Return home

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.

Introduction to Reale Arena 07.05.21

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.

The “process”

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.

First family trip to Germany

After an almost 18 month hiatus from European trips, we managed to celebrate Johan’s 20th birthday in Germany -a tradition we broke last year due to COVID. From the moment he joined FSV Zwickau for pre-season, the club has showed him plenty of love and we were there to witness it all. Caveat: this post contains many pictures for us “visual learners“.

The experience was superb. The 5260 mile trip (just to Frankfurt) from the Dallas Fort Worth airport was all worth it. It was a 9.25 hour flight plus a 4 hour drive from Frankfurt to Zwickau but anytime you go see your son, distance is never a factor. Upon our arrival, Johan had just returned from practice and welcomed us with open arms (and a spanking spotless clean apartment). Mom was proud.

Johan welcoming Joana upon arrival, Zwickau, Germany (07.23.21)

Frankfurt Airport

Renting a car was extremely easy from Enterprise; it’s normally very expensive but we found an excellent rate. We made a reservation for an automatic transmission and were given a VW Passat stick shift (which I loved). Driving in Germany is very fun other than getting used to driving in the autobahns. One needs to stay super alert especially while occupying the fast lane as there’s many no speed limit zones and there’s always a car going faster than you. That’s right, I was able to accelerate to 225 km/hr (150 miles/hour) effortless. Also, there’s no passing on the right lane. Absolutely none.

220 km/hr in the autobahn traveling to Berlin 07.26.21

Station wagons are extremely popular in Germany and that’s what we rented. We first rented a 2021 Volkswagen Passat until it gave up on us. After that, we got a 2021 Škoda Octavia which we loved because it had a lot of bells and whistles that you don’t typically find in American sold cars. Both did a great job taking us all over Germany and the Czech Republic.

Aldis

One of the first family activities we did was grocery shopping. Johan’s apartment is very close to an Aldi. We didn’t know that Aldi was a German company so these grocery stores are everywhere. Aldis got us out of trouble in a bind as their setup is very similar to what we have back home. Thus, even if you don’t speak German, it’s easier to locate items and navigate the store without needing to be fluent in German.

Having learned Portuguese the past couple of years has helped us learn other languages. Currently, we are learning some German but not at the same rate as Johan. He’s fully immersed in it day in and day out. Our first impression is that it’s not as difficult as people make it sound. Juan Carrera gave us some pretty good advice prior to our trip: the younger generation speaks English fluently due to their frequent social media interactions; however, the older generation doesn’t. It sets expectations when we were out and about. Some phrases that came in very handy:

  • Sprichst du English – Do you speak English?
  • Ich spreche kern Englisch – I don’t speak English
  • Nimmst du Euro – Do you take Euros?
  • Ich bin Amerikaner – I’m American
  • Wo kann ich ein nei taxi nehmen – Where can I take a taxi (they don’t have Uber service in a lot of cities in Germany)

Downtown Zwickau

Zwickau is the fourth largest city in the state of Saxony. Located in the mid-Southeast part of the country, it is surrounded by a lot of wind farms. Summers are beautiful, and the 60-70 degree Fahrenheit summer days are ideal for strolling through downtown which we often did.

Zwickau is one of the centers of the German automotive industry. While there, we were able to visit the renowned August Horch Museum.

August Horch Museum

The automobile museum covers the history of automobile making in the town of Zwickau. It takes us back in time when the company Audi was founded by August Horch. Note: The first part of the museum is described mostly in the German language while the more modern sections are in both German and English languages. There may be English speaking museum tours available but there weren’t any when we went. Allocate at least two hours to see it all.

The museum is a must see for automobile lovers (especially German automobiles). There are cars that date back to both World Wars just as seen in the movies. The museum is housed within the old factory where Engineer August Horch established Audi Automobilwerke GmbH in 1910. Audi was founded in 1909. The four rings of the Audi (now subsidiary of Volkswagen) logo each represent one of four car companies that banded together to create Audi’s predecessor company, Auto Union.

Stadium Pictures

Fortunately, we were there to accompany Johan for the obligatory club welcoming pictures. See Instagram post below. Good quality, wonder who took most of them.

Start of the season

First game

The first game was at home (GGZ Arena) against recently promoted Borussia Dortummund II. From the moment we entered the stadium, that experience requires its own post so we’ll leave it at that for now.

We are glad we got to see your pre-match European ritual and at the stadium were treated as VIPs. Thank you Johan.

Unfortunately, the outcome of the game was a 1-2 defeat but it was a great game to watch (Zwickau should have won it). It was his first official game as a professional in Germany in his new position, with the first team. Johan had a very solid game. Below are a couple of actions where he almost impacted the game directly.

Second game

For the second game, we drove to Köln. It was a five hour (481 Km) drive from Zwickau on a Saturday morning but the fan support was never lacking and the game against Viktoria Köln did not disappoint. It was Johan’s first game as a starter and the final result was a 1-1. We took the obligatory pictures at the end of the match and coach allowed him to drive back with us. We made some memories on the way back and even got lost…

Berlin

Mondays are normally off days for Johan and we always wanted to sight-see Berlin. The cosmopolitan city is not only Germany’s capital; it’s a must-see city with so much history. We decided to embark in the 300 kilometer trek in a one-day trip rolling down autobahn 4 from Zwickau. There’s so much to do and see, we’ll have to visit it again in the future.

Berlin Wall Memorial

We visited the Berlin Wall Memorial. It’s an incredible feeling when one is actually at the place where so much history took place. Quick trip but educational and meaningful for the “kids”. At a personal level, the Berlin Wall brings back so many -not so-pleasant memories.

Berlin Television Tower (aka Fernsehturm Berlin)

Erected at 368 meters in the midst of the East Germany superiority, the television tower is the main visible landmark in Berlin and the tallest in Europe. We now have visited towers throughout the world. Dallas, Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Seattle, etc. They all offer a unique perspective and view of their respective city. Unfortunately, an due to COVID protocols, we were unable to have lunch at the top of the tower.

Prague

Prague is beautiful. One must reserve several days to see it and truly enjoy it. Driving into it from the north, makes it seem like the old communist Czech Republic with its old coal power plans. However, once one reaches Prague, one finds a very cosmopolitan city with a contrasting of old European architecture everywhere. As any big European city, there are designer stores everywhere. We had an opportunity to visit Saint Charles Bridge, Town Square, etc. It was too short but we know we’ll be back to see Johan very soon.

Return to Germany

If the delta variant continues to spread in the US at the current rapid rate, it’s possible entry to Germany may be limited to non-citizens (us). There were changes made yesterday already (they are revised every two weeks).

Thus, we will return to visit Johan before October to ensure we regain entry into the country and stay with him an adequate amount of time to provide him family support. For now, we left him with his super equipped apartment (nice view), his car setup and more importantly, in great hands with Coach Joe and staff. Enjoy the time in Germany son. #theGomezway

Family at Johan’s apartment

Chumchat

Give Chumchat’s new episode a listen. Johan talks about his move to Germany from Portugal and how that is going. For those of you thinking about playing in Portugal, he compares the Portuguese playing style to the German playing style and sets some expectations based on his experience. Playing for the first team now is a different responsibility (player experience-wise); one that still carries the weight of a promotion/relegation eco-system but one that he has welcomed with open arms. Go show Johan and the Chums some love.

We moved to Louisville…

…Ok, not quite yet; however, one of the silver linings of COVID has been our family’s ability to work from practically anywhere in the world. Within the appropriate restrictions and guidelines, we have been very fortunate to be able to safely (and semi-permanently) visit some family members during uncertain times. See, since late January of this year, we have made Louisville our second home.

Bordering the state of Indiana, Louisville is a gorgeous city with a wealth of history to offer to all of its visitors. Strolling through the 85 acres of Waterfront park has become customary and prolonging our daily runs/walks through downtown Louisville is now a routine for the family. We have loved every minute of it. Here are some of the highlights of our time here so far.

Airport

We don’t always arrive to Louisville by plane but one thing is for sure; both the skies and the roads always welcome us with open arms. Every time we arrive at the Mohammad Ali airport, there’s a sense of calmness and hospitality. COVID indeed plays a role in that solitude; however, you all should see how crowded the DFW airport was when the below picture was taken (especially during Spring Break).

Mohammad Ali’s airport always welcomes us with “open arms”

Louisville Waterfront park

This public park is the closest green area near our new residence. Running parallel to the Ohio River, there’s something in it for all ages. There are spacious lawns, playgrounds for the youngsters, picnic areas for the families, boat docks for water lovers, Lincoln Memorial for history lovers, and possibly the most scenic attraction is the Big Four Bridge.

Our daily runs normally make us navigate through every part of it. When Chuy, our dog, accompanies us, we can’t take him across the Big Four Bridge due to the rules but otherwise, we navigate the entire park every outing. A part of the park runs underneath Interstate-64 which can get a little loud (our pet abhors walking under it) at times. Other than that, we have seen the entire park AND in every season of the year.

Back in January, we saw the park inundated with snow for the first time; it looked majestically white. As the snow melted and more precipitation fell, the vegetation started turning green and the Ohio River overflowed blocking parts of the park. Right at the heart of the park is Lincoln Memorial…

Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront park is a must-see. A hidden cultural gem that centers around the 16th president’s Kentucky roots. In our walks/runs through the park, the memorial always drew our attention until we finally stopped by to admire it.

The memorial features a 12-foot statue of Lincoln seated on a rock (see below), looking out over the river. Four bas-reliefs (three pictured below) illustrate Lincoln’s ties to Kentucky. The memorial site features an amphitheater facing the river with granite seating that includes engravings of four famous Lincoln quotes. The canopy of trees that lead to the amphitheater includes several species that that were favorites of Lincoln.

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better”

– Abraham Lincoln

Adjacent to the memorial is one of the main attractions in Louisville: the Big Four Bridge.

Big Four Bridge:

Every time we go back “home” to Texas, we miss going on our interstate (Kentucky to Indiana) runs/walks across the Big Four Bridge. It is a metallic structure with so much history. Navigating through it, one can see a spectrum of folks exercising (walkers, runners, cyclists, etc.) or photographing. It’s so motivational and inspirational. Sunsets here are also very eye-opening. See below.

On the Indiana side (Jeffersonville), one can stop for a delicious meal at Parlour Pizza where the live music, the multiple tv screens with different sporting events make the atmosphere unique. We highly recommend it in between walks or after a run. The ample outdoor space is very welcoming.

LouCity Football Academy

Strolling farther down River Road, one will come across the new LouCity football training facility. It’s 6 fields with state of the art lighting, and configuration (love the L shape concept). During our first couple of month in town, we witnessed a couple of U18s/U19s scrimmages against MLS Next academies: Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati academies. Without revealing the final score, it suffices to say that the LouCity Academy is well positioned to compete against any MLS Next academy. Mario Sanchez and coaching staff are working hard to build a reputation and indeed made a statement in those two games. Outliers? Time will tell.

Kimmie was the best player on the FC Cincinnati U18s/U19s MLS next academy team…by far

If one stops by the training facility any weekday, one can witness practices for any of the two Louisville professional teams. In fact, if you wait long enough, one may get to take a picture with a Champions League and world cup winner…a legend in women’s soccer.

Joana and Yūki Nagasato (Louisville, KY) 03.17.21

Thurman Hutchins Park

Further down from the new LouCity football training facility, one finds Thurman Hutchins Park. Go there on Wednesdays and you will find a group of cosmopolitan football players of decent quality. Good pickup football being played from 4-6 PM. Music is good, level is better and weather is even more so. Players are friendly and skilled. We will miss them once we move back to Texas. The main reason we discovered them was because we went to watch a LouCity scrimmage against Central College. Jogo looked good.

KFC Yum Center

This place gets packed during college basketball season; unfortunately, we have not been able to be present for any of the Cardinal games or social events. Our time will come but it would have been great to see the #2 Louisville Lady Cards play against the #1 NC State. For now, it suffices to jog around it on the beautiful 65 degree afternoons.

Louisville extreme park

Growing up, what I would have done to have access to an extreme park like this. Extreme sports have been evolving at a rapid rate for many years and we are glad that the city of Louisville recognizes that growth and offers a venue for the practice of such modality. I am envious but happy that so many extreme sports enthusiasts get to use this park on a daily basis. Lighting is great and it’s open 24 hours a day. A must-experience for extreme sports enthusiasts. Growing up, my extreme sport was bicycle freestyling.

Lynn Family Stadium

And how can we forget the “cathedral”? For football fans, it’s a must-see. The behind the scenes tour is spectacular. We can’t wait for the day when the cathedral is able to entertain at full capacity. The Coopers in one end of the field and the Morados in the other.

Starting today, we will be attending several games watching both Racing Louiville FC and in a couple of weeks LouCity kick off their respective 2021 seasons. We are so looking forward to those events and of course continue exploring this beautiful city. Until next time…#theGomezway

BTW, listen to the latest episode of Chumchat when you get a chance. USMNT U20 MNT player Cameron Harper explains his return to MLS. He talks about his time in Scotland, the playing style in that league, his upcoming competition at NYRB and of course his own definition of success. As always, thank your for your support to the Chums and the USMNT program through exploring the different player pool personalities.

3v3: valuable football development tool

Last week we were observing Joana’s final football practice of the year. Since most players were already out for the holidays, the session consisted mostly of 3v3 play with players from other teams participating. The girls seemingly had a blast and it brought back so many memories. It then became tempting to write about 3v3 as a football development tool like we did with futsal.

Just like other tools which include indoor soccer, private training (i.e. Coerver), Olympic Development Program (ODP), “the wall”, street football, beach football, football tennis, etc. they all have their unique usefulness. In the future, we may also write about those. Today, we will be writing about 3v3 and its advantages and disadvantages as used extensively by our boys.

For those unfamiliar with 3v3. It’s a small-sided variation of football where 3 players take on the opponent’s 3 with no goalkeeper. For a better definition including its rules, check 3v3 Wikipedia’s page. It’s the fastest growing form of the sport in the United States. Our boys played small-sided A LOT (concurrently with “outdoor” football, futsal, etc.) for several years; it not only aided in their football development in a fun environment, but also provided a platform to compete at a high level at an early age. For parents with young kids interested in football, you may find this post useful. BTW, thank you Quickfoot, Kick it 3v3, Live 3v3, and many other organizations. We had a blast and the memories are countless.

He’s been “Jogo” for over a decade -la bola siempre al diez- 01.19.13 (Orlando, FL)

The start

The year was 2010 and we knew that one (sometimes two) practices a week at Solar for Johan were not enough to quench his football thirst. His desire to knock the ball around was just too frequent. We had played, coached and officiated the game all our lives; ironically, we had never coached 3v3 competitively (only rec.). It seemed fun so we said, “what’s the worst that could happen?”. And on we went to participate in Quickfoot’s 3v3 at Keller High School. We coached both Johan’s 4v4 and Jogo’s 3v3 with very little preparation and picking players from their current club teams. The outcome? Johan’s team won while Jogo’s earned second…the seed was planted from then on.

Orlando

The tournaments in Texas became frequent and the competition was excellent. It gave us an adequate amount of preparation, and confidence to want to take our teams to higher level competitions. We participated at the national level in Orlando three times. Jogo’s team (MOB) went on to win the 3v3 national championship in 2013, our team (La Banda) won third place in 2014 and (MOB) reached the quarter finals in 2015 playing up. Johan’s team only participated once and took 3rd place in 2014. We had the pleasure of meeting many future YNT players at these 3v3 competitions.

Oftentimes, positive results build confidence and perpetuate a love for the game and that’s what we achieved with that group of boys. As of now, every single one of them will be playing college soccer or playing football professionally. We will always be very proud of this group of players and grateful to their parents for allowing us to coach them. We built something special together which has transcended the football field. That said, here are few things we learned along the way…

Advantages

More touches on the ball

Smaller rosters naturally translate into more touches on the ball. We typically carried 5 or the maximum-allowed of 6 players to maximize time on the ball. All players had about the same technical and tactical level and played an equal amount of time.

Technical aptitude and tactical awareness

Technical aptitude is enhanced by the amount of repetitions generated by smaller rosters. Specifically, muscle memory in a competitive environment is gradually developed to the point of normalcy; it ultimately leads to higher confidence and creativity on the ball. For example, if you have a player who likes to dribble, 3v3 has a ton of space for them to hone that technical skill, become proficient at it, and try out new skills.

Even though it’s a small sided competition, players are tasked to cover a lot of ground which teaches them accountability: play offense and defense simultaneously. The game requires constant decision making by the use of imaginary geometric triangles on the field to figure out ways to outnumber the opponent in order to create scoring opportunities. Players not only learn tactical (positional) awareness but also movement off the ball which can be extrapolated naturally to a normal size football field.

Cost

Of all the football development tools, 3v3 is probably the least expensive and the one that requires the least time commitment. It’s typically half of a day worth of short-duration games (normally in the offseason and a Saturday) which is also very fun-packed for players and parents. Sometimes the out of town tournaments could last two to three days but those would normally take place over a holiday weekend and the cost is not significantly higher.

In Texas, there is plenty of strong competition; thus traveling is not necessary and costs can be kept to a minimum. However, if there is a strong desire to compete elsewhere or the “harshness” of the winter prevents outdoor play, there’s always 3v3 indoors.

Year-round competition

The game is versatile and can be played indoors too. Most of our competitions were outdoors but we certainly enjoyed playing indoors as well. The indoor 3v3 tournaments were sometimes played in basketball gyms, indoor soccer fields, or futsal courts (3v3s led us to discover futsal at City Futsal). The tournament experience with family and friends was unparalleled; those football bonds are still strong to this day.

Collin Smith and Jogo playing against each other in an indoor 3v3

Friends/Family

We loved having the opportunity to play with players from other clubs. We now reminisce about those times via pictures and clips.

Not only were the tournaments good opportunities to socialize with other families but great bonding times where we created a lot of our own family memories.

Memories

More than the football aspect of the entire experience, the boys will always cherish memories with friends, family, teammates, opponents and most of all, the fact that we got to coach them. Those 3v3 memories will live in our hearts forever.

MOB WC 3v3 Champions , Orlando, FL(01.19.13)

Style and drip

Just like the players wanted to express themselves on the field via their football, they loved selecting their “drip” (and team name) regularly. We mostly stuck to two uniforms per tournament. All were replicas of the original jerseys and purchased via a Chinese supplier for less than 25 dollars for the entire kit. They were very affordable and allowed us to wear different kits like the professionals. That was another cool reason for playing 3v3. The kids could emulate their idols and personalize their jerseys. Jogo became well known as Jogo via his jerseys but let’s not forget that the original Jogo was Johan.

Disadvantages:

Ignorance/Fear

Johan’s first coach at Solar was completely against 3v3s. We always assumed he felt threatened by the possibility of losing players at these events as 3v3 teammates normally belonged to different clubs and inevitably parents socialize. It became difficult to request permission to participate in 3v3s even during off weekends as Johan’s Solar coach frowned upon it. He was an older coach too but we felt this truncated his 3v3 development to a degree.

Similarly, there are parents who think that football development tools such as 3v3s and futsal are NOT adequate for goalkeepers. That couldn’t be any farther from the truth. Jogo played futsal with what would have been one of the U17 MNT goalkeepers (U17 MNT WC was recently cancelled): Jeff Dewnsup whose footwork was phenomenal for his age. This was probably one of the characteristics that gave him national team visibility. Both Johan and Jogo played 3v3 with numerous goalkeepers whose footwork improved as a result of the competitions. Truth be told 3v3 can become addictive.

Addiction

3v3s are very addictive. They are high scoring ordeals which could be decided in the last second of the game. They cannot get any more American than that.

There are parents who want to compete in them all the time and there’s nothing wrong with that level of involvement. However, at some point it could create a conflict with club football and other life activities. As long as your family knows how to manage the experience and you have a club coach who supports it, go for it. The 3v3 coach may want to define a style of play and shuffling players due to their unavailability makes it challenging to gel as a team. We were fortunate to have 6 very committed families for several years who were as crazy as we were about it.

There are many tools to build and improve a player’s football development. Each one serves a unique purpose. There’s no silver bullet to develop a footballer; there are however, many ways to nurture the love of the game by “making it fun”. As you reflect on your achievements for 2020 and plan for your kids activities for next year, consider incorporating 3v3s into their pool of available activities. You won’t regret it.

On a personal note, we will conclude this post wishing everyone a better year than 2020. For the Gómez’s, it’s was a challenging year in many regards but a blessing in others. We’ll be re-capping the year in a future post. For now, let’s be hopeful, patient, positive and most of all, safe. As always, reach out to info@thegomezway.com for comments, questions, etc. Thanks for reading us and happy 2021. #theGomezway.

What are the Jogos up to? and scuffed podcast #149 with Caden Clark

I will preface our family status by addressing the elephant in the room. It’s been a shocking past couple of days for the football world since Maradona’s passing. There’s nothing we can say that hasn’t been said already. He was a polarizing figure off the field but he earned the respect of most of us on the pitch.

From a football perspective, his legacy will live with us forever and we are grateful our eyes witnessed his God-given talent. Living in Mexico City in 1986, his impact on me was exponentially magnified; however, I first laid eyes on him in 1982 with Brazil robbing my attention most of that WC.

His life becomes more remarkable when you read his autobiography. I first read it 20 years ago when it came out. I’m giving it a second read now and truly recommend it if you have some spare time over the holidays. You will understand a lot of his decisions and learn some about his preferences:

  1. Maradona started off as a defender. He appreciated the ability to see the whole field and the additional time to make decisions. (soccer IQ)
  2. He had 7 siblings living in Fiorito. He had a very humble upbringing but always surrounded by a close-knit circle of friends and family (failure was not an option)
  3. He acknowledges his comfort with the ball stems from spending 4-5 hours daily from a very, very young age (unstructured repetitions and muscle memory)
  4. The worst day of his life…the day he learned he was not part of Argentina’s 1978 WC squad to be played at home. This was the reason he “only” played 4 WCs (setbacks fueled him)
  5. The “Hand of God” goal was not the first one of its kind he ever scored (gamesmanship)
  6. Why did he often wear two watches when he traveled? (loyalty)
Great book. Get it if you can.

I could go on and on about him but onto family matters…as the show must go on…

Joana:

Solid crescendo performance helping your team win another tournament. You improved on technical and tactical aspects of the game that you had been honing.

Joana honing skills during the break (11.25.20). Look up!!!

To us, the progress was the real win as we know game results are circumstantial. We loved the total control you displayed of effort and attitude. So proud of you mamita!!!

Johan:

Due to the international break, Johan had the past two weekends off but participated in training with the first team. Good stuff on both of the scrimmages. Continue seizing the opportunities and getting all the available playing time. Baby steps. We now move on to actual games.

Jogo:

Successfully and safely left Denmark and has finished a new quarantine. He continues to train with/against top competition and most importantly, staying healthy, and in shape during the long off-season. The objectives of the trip are being met.

Thanksgiving:

Yesterday was the first of its kind where we didn’t have the boys with us. Considering we spent the last one in Portugal, it was somewhat expected. We are grateful for what God has given us. Can it be better? Sure. It can also be worse so we are extremely lucky to have health especially in uncertain times.

2019 Thanksgiving 10.24.19 (Oporto, Portugal). Jogo with a football at his feet even during dinner…

Scuffed podcast:

We don’t listen to Adam (and Greg) weekly but we listen regularly. They have excellent football material for US football fans; however, it’s not always geared towards player parents. This episode has a good bit of educational material as it relates specifically to Caden Clark’s journey. Jogo is great friends with Caden and it’s good to go full-circle on a lot of stuff. Furthermore, it’s validation that we are doing some things well, and perhaps others, not so much. Give it a listen if you want to learn more about:

  1. Additional training: mental speed, hip mobility, ball control, center of gravity
  2. Playing for a non-MLS club
  3. Developing the love for the game
  4. Encouraging decision making, mistakes, and losing the ball
  5. Opinion on strength coaches
  6. etc.

Note that all journeys are different but it’s always good to know what other families are doing in the pursuit of the dream and HOW they are doing it. After all, this is what this blog is about.

Going to trials, training stint?…checklist of what you may need…part #2

International trials

International trials require far better preparation than domestic ones. It’s important to not just know and comply with the checklist for the domestic trials but also be intimately familiar with some of the specifics described below for traveling abroad. Some (if any) football agencies may provide some sort of checklist to trialists/families before departure, if so, great. Otherwise, we hope you find the information below useful.

Documentation

  1. Passport: Without this document, traveling is not possible which negates everything else. If you don’t have a passport, obtain one before you actually need it. Better yet, if your ancestry allows access to multiple passports, acquire them ASAP. You will not be able to travel out or into your own country without one. Once you have it and prior to traveling, take a picture of the important parts of the passport(s) and store them in your phone as back up. This will also prevent the need to carry it around everywhere and thus minimize the risk of misplacing/losing it. If you can, make a hard copy of it and carry that for ID purposes unofficially.
  2. US consulate/embassy: In case of an emergency in the visiting country (ex. misplacing the passport, medical); it’s good to know how to get a hold of the US consulate/embassy. Have this information (phone number, address, etc.) both printed and stored in your phone.
  3. Scrimmage documentation: Some German clubs may require a signed “waiver” from the current club to allow participation in scrimmages. Ask if this is the case, you don’t want to travel 5000 miles, spend thousands of dollars to not be allowed to participate in a scrimmage which is the entire purpose of your trip.
  4. Club invitation letter: If such letter exists, it’s a good idea to have it readily available (printed is better). In COVID times, the letter may serve as an entry artifact to a foreign country. Have a folder or two with most of the documentation needed.

Demographics and related items

  1. City: Become familiar with the country, city and more specifically the area where you will be staying. This is more important when doing multiple trials/training opportunities in one trip (highly recommended)
  2. Language: If the club where you are traveling is a non-English speaking country, make an effort to learn a few general words: “thank you”, “please” and some phrases: “My name is <fill in the blank>”, “good morning”, “good night”, “where is the airport”, “how do I get from ‘point A’ to ‘point B’, “I don’t speak <fill in the blank>”? and of course some football phrases: “pass”, “I’m open”, “left”, “right”, “shoot”, “quick”, “man on”, etc. There are translation apps but it’s not always convenient to use them (ex. on the pitch)
  3. Accommodations/Room: Will the host club provide housing (this is customary); otherwise, arrange for accommodations as close to the training facility as possible. Learn the physical address of the place where you will be staying in case a package needs to be sent out to you.
  4. Meals/board: If the host club will be providing any food, how many meals will they provide? Can you buy additional meals if necessary? Either way, take some healthy snacks for the duration of your trip as well as some money to buy meals which may not be provided. Are there convenience stores/pharmacies nearby?
  5. Transportation: How will you get from the airport to the training facility upon arrival? How about the opposite upon departure? Is Uber an option? Set up an account if you don’t have one. Note: Exchange rates can be significant.
  6. Currency: Once at the host club, exchanging currency can be difficult. Ensure you have enough cash (in the correct currency) for emergencies. Go to the local bank and exchange money prior to departure, if this is not possible, do it at the airport.
  7. Family: If the player is 16 years of age or older, it’s probably best for the player to travel alone (if possible). This allows the player to better integrate with players from the host club.
  8. Means of communication: Will WiFi be available? Will your cellular provider work?

Hardware

SIM Card vending machines are common in some airports: Newark
  1. SIM Card: If your own SIM card cannot be used in the visiting country, can one be acquired and swapped out? Do you need to purchase an additional/temporary plan for data? Talk to your cellular provider before departing. Sometimes, SIM Card vending machines are located at airports.
  2. Travel adapter/power converter: Is a different voltage used in the visiting country? If so, get a plug needed to charge your electronics. Are your electronics dual voltage? Most are but be sure. This is important!!! You don’t want to fry your electronics while traveling.
  3. Power bank: You will run out of juice at some point. Have a power supply back up and make it a habit to charge it every night. Leave it charging during practices.
  4. USB cables: Have multiple cables to either charge multiple devices at night and/or in case you misplace one. In some foreign countries, it’s not as easy to acquire/buy USB cables like it is in the US.
  5. Book/Magazine: If technology (WiFi, charger, phone dies/lost) is not available, a good book journal is a great way to pass time. If you enjoy writing, bring a journal and make it a habit to write about your experiences every day. Another idea is to download Netflix movies/shows prior to your departure, you can watch them even when WiFi is unavailable.

If you read this far, you are better prepared than most. Good luck in your trials/international training opportunity. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, please reach out to info@thegomezway.com

Going to football trials, training stint?…checklist of what you may need…Part #1

Gone are the days when all that was needed for a tryout/trial/training opportunity with another club was a ball, shin guards, cleats, water bottle, and a great attitude. The overall objective remains the same: to impress the host club enough to pique current/future interest in you or better yet immediately open up a door.

Check out the lettering on the football. We lost that ball right after this picture was taken on 08.22.20

The key to increasing the chances of success is good planning and nowadays that’s more probable with the proliferation of online information -like this blog. Keep in mind that as the player age increases, the importance of a successful tryout/trial/training opportunity magnifies and the room for error decreases. When it comes to tryouts/trials/training opportunities, second chances are rare (Chris Richards was very fortunate in the FC Dallas setup).

  1. Note: For the sake of this post the terms trial and tryout will be used interchangeably.
  2. Note II: This publication does not detail the technical, tactical criteria a hosting club will be looking for. There are websites who can help with that information.
  3. Note III: The underlying assumption of this post is that the current club is aware (permission needed or not) of your intentions to pursue the trial/training opportunity with a new club. Thus, we are not addressing that process in this post. We could write several pages about our (and others’) experience but we will spare you the details for now.

Before we start presenting additional information, let’s define some terms:

  1. Trial/tryout: An opportunity to train and showcase your talent with another (other than the current club). Let’s call the other club, the host club. Positive outcome from a trial/tryout could result in an immediate invitation to join the host club. Trials/tryouts have no cost to the player or the family (other than transportation to/from host club). A trial/tryout can be either openly promoted by the host club or solicited by the player/family/agent.
  2. Training opportunity: An opportunity to train and showcase your talent with a host club. Positive outcome from a training opportunity does NOT usually result in an immediate invitation to join the host club. Some think of training opportunities as resume builders. Although most training opportunities have no cost (other than transportation to/from hosting club), some could have a high price tag. Training opportunities are great ways to experience the host club culture and learn their methodologies. A training opportunity is normally solicited by the player/agent and can result in a future trial/tryout. Training opportunities are in general more relaxed than trials/tryouts.

There’s so much to share and thus this post will be broken into two parts. The first part will be geared exclusively to domestic trials/training opportunities. Similarly, the second post (coming out early next week) will be exclusively about international trials. The assumption will be that most (if not ALL) the information that is included in the domestic trials post will be applicable for international trials as well. Our boys have participated in both a few times so we have gained some valuable experience and we are hoping you can leverage it.

Domestic trials:

Domestic trials/training opportunities could take place literally across town or across states in the US. Either way, preparation is important. Find out specifics about the event, club, gear and any football unique information that could either give you an advantage or make up for a handicap you inherently have.

Event specifics:

  1. Purpose of the event: Is the trial/training opportunity solicited (initiated by you/agent) or unsolicited (invitation by the club)? As obvious as this may seem, oftentimes, these are setup by 3rd parties (ex. agents, scouts, clubs, etc.) and it’s important to understand the purpose. If unsolicited, is it a training stint only or a trial? The answer to this question is extremely important in your aspirations and expectations as positive outcome may also require a quick response from the family if a permanent invitation is extended. If it’s a trial, expect a a club decision to be made at the end of the duration of the trial.
  2. Duration of trial/training: How long will the event last? If a decision by the club is needed, how soon is one expected and how will that be communicated to you? Best case duration (if the host club likes you) or worst case scenario (if the host club doesn’t). It’s important to understand the duration as it may have an impact on other trials/training opportunities you have already lined up. At the very least, you should know the duration of the event to start planning an itinerary around it.
  3. Itinerary: Depending on the formality of the trial/training opportunity, you should expect some sort of itinerary from the host club. If none is provided, request one (from the club/agent) to have a minimum set of expectations. You will need some form of itinerary to at least plan for transportation to/from the event.
  4. Location: Once you receive an itinerary, create your own itinerary that is tailored around theirs. Allow some buffer as those itineraries are very flexible. Become familiar with the city, transportation, etc. especially if it requires an overnight stay in an area new to you. Also, prepare the necessary gear for the weather of the city where the trial/training opportunity will take place.

Gear/personal equipment information:

Find out what clothing/uniform/footwear you need to wear for the trial/training opportunity. The last thing you want is to stand out for the wrong reasons. Sometimes, the host club will facilitate some gear needed for training/scrimmages/etc. However, don’t assume this will be the case. Also, check the weather ahead of time for the entire duration of the event.

  1. Clothing: Depending on the weather, you may need extra layers. It is important for you to be comfortable. Also, find out the clothing brand the club uses, you don’t want to show up using a non-sponsored brand or the wrong colors (ex. you can’t show up wearing any FC Dallas gear at a Solar tryout -unforgivable-).
  2. Footwear: The host club will not supply cleats, runners or slides; bring two pairs of cleats: one for soft and another one for firm ground. Similarly, bring a pair of runners and a pair of slides to relax your feet.
  3. Other equipment: The host club will not provide shinguards, gloves, etc. In a bind, they may do so but you don’t want to look unprepared at any point.
  4. Recovery equipment: If you use a foam roller, pack a small one. Similarly, pack some strength bands.
  5. Water container: Bring a water container that you can fill up anywhere. Hydration is key but more so during these short, intense time windows. A water container also prevents the need to be buying disposable water bottles.
  6. First aid essentials: Band-aids, Neosporin, Bengay, etc. if allowed on the plane and of course any medication.
  7. Sunblock: Don’t assume anything will be provided or that you can just borrow it or go purchase it last minute.
  8. Hygiene: Bring wipes and/or hand sanitizer especially in these uncertain times
  9. Laundry services: Ask about laundry services or locate a laundry service near the place where you will be staying. Worst case, bring small detergent pockets and wash gear in hotel/dorm.
  10. Notebook: Take a little notebook to write a mini-diary. It will help you remember names, activities and at the very least, years from now, it will bring back memories. Don’t forget to bring a writing utensil too.

Football info:

As stated earlier, we are not going to suggest the technical or tactical concepts that are good to possess. Clubs look at different things based on age, position they are looking for, etc. However, assume that if the host club is willing to give you an opportunity, they have at least watched a clip of you and you have what it takes. The items below are less about the practical football side of the trial/training opportunity and more about the theoretical side of it.

  1. Club info: Do your research on the club: history, if in season, current table standing of the first team, training and playing facilities, coaching staff, youth development, etc. Knowing some club facts always makes for good conversation/ice breaker with other players, coaching staff and establishes your credibility/readiness.
  2. Facilities: If the host club has a stadium, find out its name. If they don’t have a stadium, find out as much as you can about their training facilities.
  3. Coaching staff: It’s recommended to do some research on the coaching staff as well. This will help you assimilate their learning methodology and their expectations of you. If you can reach out to a player who is already part of that host club, prior to your arrival, you will be better prepared.
  4. Players: It’s best to arrive knowing some professional and youth players names. It will expedite the integration and assimilation of the club culture and values. At the very least, it makes for a more comfortable conversation.
  5. Video clips: Watch game film of the host club teams which is readily available online. If you have an agent, request clips or just search YouTube.
  6. Youth development: Are there academy players promoted to the first team? In your age group? Are they playing regularly? Are they playing your natural position?
  7. Positions in need: Are there positions the club/team needs? What is the current depth chart including total roster size and expected signings for the same position? If you don’t get a spot in the position you want, is there a chance you can make it in another position?
  8. Formation: What formation does the current coach play? Is there a style of play/formation the club likes to play? How do you fit in that formation?

Intangibles:

  1. Confidence: Introduce yourself to the coaching staff and players as soon as you arrive. Be confident with a firm handshake, make eye contact, but be humble too.
  2. Humbleness: The goal is to impress in many areas but be humble if you have managed to impress. If you perform well, be a good winner but if you don’t, avoid sourness. Enjoy this unique time, smile at all times.
  3. Enjoyment: Be grateful for the opportunity but also display resilience at all times. Everyone appreciates the extra effort. Be a good listener above all.
  4. Active listener: Keep an open mind, it’s likely the host club will do some things differently than your current club. You will learn new ways to do things you thought you already knew how to do. Always be a great listener, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and more importantly keep an open mind.
  5. Punctuality: Be early to ALL team activities. Being early provides an invaluable chance to chat with staff or help out with setup. Volunteer as much as you can. Make sure they really get to know you and not just your jersey number.

We’ll be adding more items to this list. The window for domestic club transfers is mostly open during the summer but in practice trials/training opportunities can happen year round. On the other hand, the window for international transfers is still wide open and because of the pandemic, varies by country. I’ll be posting specific items for international trials/training opportunities later in the week. Stay tuned.

Farewell Johan…and happy B’day…from mom

Saying goodbye was not what we expected, but it was definitely an unforgettable event…

We first dropped you off at the airport on Tuesday with your corresponding negative COVID-19 test result in hand. You carried a folder with copies of every possible document you may need to travel to Portugal but were we in for a surprise. We walked up to the AA counter 2 hours early ready to check in your bag, walk through security and board that flight to Madrid with ample time. We were welcomed with a bit inexperienced AA agent who was unsure what was required to be allowed to enter that country.

To be fair, we are living unprecedented times, where rules and restrictions are changing daily. After consulting with multiple colleagues, a supervisor, and an hour and a half later, she denied you check-in.  It wasn’t the end of the world, right? We could always try again the next day or wait for the travel ban to be lifted. How long was that going to take? 2 weeks? 2 months? We wanted to help you start the pre-season on-time. FC Porto was very supportive and willing to issue us another ticket as needed; however, we felt that waiting was not an option especially with the uncertainty and number of COVID cases rising in the US.

We left Terminal D calling the Portuguese Consulate offices in Houston and Washington DC and leaving voice mails. Where could we get the documentation needed to let you board that plane? What else could we do? We knew other players in your situation had recently traveled back to Europe. That made us think about another option: find a different airline. Delta had a couple of options with two layovers the next day and so we turned around and drove back to the airport to get to Terminal E.

The terminal was very quiet, no travelers in sight.  We approached the Delta counter where we found two very helpful and friendly customer service agents. We explained your situation and they immediately checked the US Embassy in Portugal website with specific requirements/restrictions to travel during this COVID-19 pandemic.  According to such website, the only requirement was to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within the last 72 hours. You had such document along with an employment contract, so we decided to move forward and purchase the ticket for the next day.  We wanted to make sure everything was approved and cleared in their system so you would not encounter any issues the following day. The agents, one of them a Portugal native, confirmed you had the correct documentation, so we purchased the ticket, called the back office for approval and gave you 2 boarding passes (DFW to ATL and ATL to CDG).

We drove back home hopeful, but doubtful at the same time. The flight was not direct to Europe, you had 2 layovers before reaching your final destination. Would you get “stuck” in one of them? Would you be sent back home? At the end of the day, we were happy to have you with us one more night. We stopped to get some food (Chik-Fil-A) and got ready for movie night (as usual). You didn’t’ even unpack as we had to be at the airport at 9 AM the following morning so you got one more chance to put Chuy to sleep that night and I got one more chance to see you wake up in the morning.

One last chicken sandwich in the US

We arrived at Terminal E at 9 AM, boarding passes in hand and several additional documents (translated to English) just in case. Since you already had your boarding passes, you really only needed to check-in your bag one-hour prior to departure and head directly to the gate. With our experience the previous day, we decided to arrive early and I am glad we did because we were in for another surprise.

Chuy is going to miss you!

The lady at the counter proceeded to call the back office as we explained what transpired the previous day. Once again, they requested an official document from the consulate or an official governmental office giving you permission to enter Portugal. The call ends without the approval needed, but the customer service rep continues consulting others and talking to us. The agent who helped us the day before who was fluent in Portuguese was not working at this time. They see the ticket was purchased the previous day and a call was made for approval, but no notes were put into the system with the details of such conversations.

so we try again, we show the documents from the embassy stating that “professionals with employment contracts are allowed to travel”. We also found the ID number of the immigration application for residency submitted to the SEF (border control government agency). That along with the documents FC Porto provided us ultimately convinced them we had what we needed so they called the back office one last time. It is now 10 AM, 60 minutes before the flight to Atlanta departs.

Finally, after a lot of paper shuffling and pacing back and forth, approval to board was granted. It was 10:24 AM and the flight left was leaving at 11:05 AM, they checked in your bag, gave you a boarding pass and wished you luck. I was standing with you at the counter, dad was with Joana just behind us with your other bag. You quickly grabbed your back and rushed to security walking along side dad as he gave you some final instructions and things you might need. Joana and I are behind you, I am looking at you walking away with your folder, documents and passport in one hand your water bottle and bag in the other and I’m just praying you don’t drop or lose anything.

It all happened so fast, there was no time for any pictures this time, we just waved goodbye. I remember you looked back at us and said, “Thanks for everything, I love you guys very much” and as you’re zig-zagging through the ropes towards the TSA agent, I just wanted to run and hug you, but you made me promise not to cry so I let you go. You had enough things to worry about in the next 24 hours. Besides, I was grateful to have had you another night, or really to have had you for three full months. It was time for you to return and you were more than ready.

30 minutes prior to departure @ DFW Airport

This was definitely a learning experience for all of us. One that dad thought he should share with other families. It would have been more convenient for us to wait for the EU borders to open and have you stay home a bit longer but that was risky. As a parent, that would have been the easy choice, but at this point, we are experts at making difficult decisions that we know will ultimately benefit your long term goals. Lesson for up and coming football parents.

It’s hard to believe you have been in Portugal for a year now. You left right before your 18th birthday and today you have yet another birthday away from home. May this last teenage year get you one step closer to your dreams. Happy 19th birthday son!!! (Feliz cumpleaños mi niño)

Should Johan return to (the) US?

Making the decision was emotionally draining but executing it is proving to be full of suspense and uncertainty; this is how it all went down…

Last Saturday afternoon (our morning), the Federação Portuguesa de Futebol (Portuguese football federation) finally made the decision to end its season for all age groups U19s and under. However, Porto’s technical staff requested Johan to stay put for the months of April and May. The main objective behind that request was to have him train once the Portuguese health department lifted all restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The club wants to prevent adverse effects from having a longer “off season” for the returning players. Johan loves OPorto the city, Porto the club, and football but with the COVID-19 numbers climbing exponentially daily, it was obvious there was a part of him hoping to come home early. Inevitably, he accepted the club’s decision with some hesitation but excited at the chance of getting back on the field and potentially practice with the first team…and this is when the emotional roller-coaster began.

Just a few hours later (Saturday evening Porto time), and with the COVID-19 situation worsening by the minute, FC Porto’s ownership decided to change their mind and advised ALL foreign nationals to travel back home ASAP. Ironically, the decision Johan had so hesitantly accepted a few hours prior (to stay put in Portugal for two additional months) was now being reversed with the resurrected (now not so remote) possibility to come home at last. He called us immediately with the news. To be honest, Claudia and I were not prepared for the quick change of heart by the club. When Johan asked us if we wanted him to come home, we couldn’t give him a rational, well-thought out, objective answer; instead, we impulsively said “of course”. Suddenly, we had more questions than answers but we owed it to him to do our due diligence and assess whether the trip back home was even feasible (and safe). And so, the emotional roller-coaster continued.

Were there flights even coming to the US from Europe anymore?

As soon as we hung up with Johan, we immediately called an American Airlines (AA) customer service representative. To nobody’s surprise, we couldn’t get a hold of one and had to wait hours before receiving a call back. Meanwhile, Claudia’s anxiety was increasing by the second as we couldn’t locate flights. I tried to keep my cool (was occupied working actually) but to our dismay, once we received a call back, a somewhat jaded (maybe frustrated AA rep) vehemently informed us that AA had NO scheduled flights back to the US (or Mexico) until the first week of May. We were quickly integrated into the reality the world is living in. Now, it was impacting our family directly. However, we were not about to give up so we kept searching everywhere for other flights.

Could Johan fly in another airline? if so, what would that entail? Was it safe?

We tried all known travel sites (multiple airlines) and could only come up with two flights in the next week or so. One flight would leave Monday (March 30th) and another one on Tuesday (March 31st) each with 4 stops and taking over 3 (yes 3) days to make it home…not the safest. Time-wise, both were far from convenient too but in a bind, they were doable options. However, neither flight was going to work; see, Johan needed to take care of the regular “summer” move to do’s list prior to leaving Porto since he wouldn’t be back until late in the summer. Booking one of the flights above, gave him extremely limited time to take care of that list. The challenge wasn’t so much expediting the to do’s; the main obstacle was that hardly anybody from FC Porto was physically available to assist so he was left alone to master mind and execute creative decisions. Faced with little immediate success for flights and the mounting stress this was causing on Johan (and us), we decided to sleep on making a final decision concerning his return home and then talk about it Sunday morning.

At last…a travel decision was made

Saturday night was really long. Neither one of us could sleep assessing different scenarios. There wasn’t a “right” decision. After careful analysis (accompanied by prayers), we were split on a decision Sunday morning. While Claudia and Joana were adamant about bringing him home, Mike and myself thought the most prudent thing was to have him wait in Porto for at least a couple of weeks until hopefully the situation improved. The time to share a decision with Johan came around. The phone call was hard, voice-cracking hard. As I was sharing my logical, well-thought out decision with him, he listened attentively,

As I articulated my thoughts, I was trying to imagine his disappointment which made it more difficult for me to be eloquent.. In my head, everything made perfect sense but somehow, it did not feel right. In one hand, Johan was definitely safer staying in Porto. He lives with his roommate and both are only allowed to go out to get groceries (club cafeteria is closed). How risky can that be? The risk associated with going to the store and back to the house was minimal. On the other hand, his mental well-being by potentially staying in Porto up to four additional months was going to be tested. As soon I finished relaying the no-go travel decision to Johan, he said little but was upset, really upset. He didn’t hide it either. This was the second time “the situation” had fiddled with his feelings to no avail. As we hung up, my anxiety continued to be rampant. Had we now just lost a chance to bring him home for additional months?

Would he be stuck in Porto until the beginning of the 2020-2021 season (August)?

Having made that decision, I personally slept better Sunday night. That wasn’t the case for Claudia; something was not right. Her maternal instincts found every reason to question the decision; I must say, she had some thought provoking questions. Somehow, I found a logical justification for every one of them…until the following statement was made: “I’d rather have him get sick here with us, than over there“. That hit me really hard. For a moment, I could only picture that situation and the feeling of helplessness and perhaps guilt. At that point, all the reasoning I had done the past 36 hours went out the door. Johan was returning home at any cost.

Claudia kept playing the beginning of this song when we were split on a decision

Back at it finding flights

FC Porto has been amazingly supportive this year with us. They did not disappoint this time. We collaborated and with their resources, we found a creative way to book a 4 layover flight. Don’t ask me how we did it. The chances of the logistics working seamlessly are not in our favor; even so, we needed to make a run for it. The journey back home began earlier today (Porto time)…

How do you prepare for a 2-day (potentially longer) flight? (that normally takes 10 hours)

Once the booking was confirmed, Johan had to act quickly. Here are a few of the things Johan had to take care prior to traveling.

  1. Personal belongings: His TV, mini-fridge, wardrobe had to be stored in a safe place for the summer as he will not be back in the same apartment next season. Normally, the club would take care of this; however, nobody is physically available these days so it was hard to coordinate. Johan boxed up all his stuff, secured it and left it in his current apartment. There’s a risk associated with this.
  2. Luggage: Due to the multiple layovers and change of planes for his flight; the possibility of losing/delaying the luggage in transit was extremely high. It was not wise to travel with checked-in luggage as that could cause Johan to miss connection flights. Johan had to find an international luggage service that will ensure his personal belongings for the summer travel safely to the US (on separate planes)
  3. Money: He is traveling with an adequate amount of money as ATM’s are not guaranteed to be functional. The amount is enough for needed emergencies: hotel, car rental, food, and other travel expenses in case he’s stuck in any one of the connection cities.
  4. Hydration: Since there will be no (minimal) food/beverage service at any of the airports (and even onboard the plane), he hydrated like crazy these past few days.
  5. Food: Similar to above, he packed up snacks that will last him for multiple days of his journey
  6. Embassy: He called the embassy for travel advice almost daily. They were very helpful; but extremely cautious (almost pessimistic) about traveling nonetheless
  7. Supplies: Hand sanitizer, gloves, mask, vitamins, medicine, etc.

As I write this, he’s in his first stop in Zurich, Switzerland (even farther than Portugal). The first of 4 stops. Baby steps….God willing, he will land in Dallas, tomorrow night (late). Although unlikely, he may be quarantined at the airport depending on his symptoms. At that point, we will be facing a different challenge but “together” (as a family) at last…

We know we have a lot of prayer warriors in our audience. Please pray that our boy makes it home safely. We don’t care if we have to quarantine ourselves for a while. We want him home. Preferably safe. Until next time.

Matthew 6:34
Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own
Little Johan – 18 months old