Men's Soccer Begins Training Trip to South Korea

The Harvard men's soccer team will be providing a blog on during the squad's trip to South Korea this week.

Blog Entry No. 1

The Harvard Men’s Soccer Team (HMS) arrived safe and sound in Seoul, South Korea on Thursday, May 19 after nearly 20 hours of travel.

Greeted by our tour guide, Chris, and students and affiliates of Korea University, HMS enjoyed a smooth ride from the airport to Youngdon Hotel, our home for the next two and a half weeks. On the ride,members of the team agreed that it was surreal to be able to board a plane on one side of the world and then be on the complete opposite in a matter of hours. Despite the distance from home, however, we could tell that the cultural adjustment would not be too difficult to make, as Seoul is a modernized city with many of the same features and amenities as any large American city (the only striking difference being the blatant disregard for redlights that our other tour guide, Johnny, informed us right away).

Reaching the hotel at 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, HMS unpacked and changedquickly before heading out on a light jog to fight the jet lag afflicting our legs. Since weare preparing to play five games in a 14-day span – competition ranging from club teams like U-18 FC Seoul to the U-20 South Korea national team – proper physical preparation is crucial for our athletic success on the trip. Although we are all looking forward to experiencing South Korea, this is, first and foremost, a soccer trip and our main goal collectively is to improve throughout our time in South Korea so that we can effectively prepare for the upcoming fall season. After the jog and stretch, we went out for some Italian food and then walked back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

Friday, the 20th, started off with an early breakfast followed by our first practice of the trip at 9:30 a.m. As is the case with most of the fields here, the practice pitch was an artificial turf surface that played quickly and required properly weighted passes in order for the session to run smoothly. Johnny told us as the beginning of the trip that Korean teams train by running up mountains, implying that our competition will be extremely fit and well-disciplined. As such, it is important that we adjust to the surface so that we can control the pace of the game and not allow the opposing team’s fitness level to dictate the tempo of play (although this should not be a problem anyway considering our fitness regimen that has been in place since January). Overall, the practice was verysuccessful though so the team felt positive looking ahead to its first match.

After the practice, HMS had the pleasure of attending an elementary school concert at a local school in Seoul. The concert consisted of traditional Korean drums played by 9, 10, and 11 year olds. Johnny advised us that when foreign soccer teams come to visit South Korea, they are treated to the same concert, except they usually witness adults perform instead of children. HMS agreed that it was much more enjoyable watching the children perform, as after the concert we interacted with them, taking pictures and learning various Korean drum techniques before going back to the hotel to rest up before dinner. For dinner, we traveled to the Etaewon district of Seoul and enjoyed some delicious Korean cuisine (Korean barbecue and noodle dishes). The food here is by far one of the best aspects of the trip, as every meal we are provided with something new and delectable; the consensus being that a quality Korean barbecue restaurant ought to open up near Cambridge.  

Saturday, the 21st, got off to an early start as the team traveled twenty minutes away from the hotel to the FC Seoul practice facility to take on U-18 FC Seoul Academy. The academy system in Korea is not too dissimilar from our youth soccer academy system dominating the American soccer landscape today. The best players in SouthKorea play for youth teams of the biggest clubs in the country such as FC Seoul, which is in fact, the wealthiest and most successful club in Korea. If the youth player is talented enough, he has the chance of moving on to the first team where he then has the best chance to gain exposure to the national team and clubs from other countries if he plays at a high enough level. From observing the behavior of the U-18 team, HMS could tell thatyouth soccer players in Korea take this possibility of professional soccer very seriously,as they all behaved in a professional-like manner throughout the warm-up and the game itself. FC Seoul is also home to a beautiful complex in the middle of a mountainous area in Seoul so it didn’t require much effort to get up for a game at such a unique facility. Although HMS is currently experiencing some injuries, the team was still able to use its superior physical advantage and overall faster ball movement to come out with a 1-0 win; Baba Omosegbon scored the lone goal scorer of the match. The score line was actually more like 3-0, but seeing as the linesman and referees for the match were FC Seoul coaches and players, a few of the goals happened to fall victim to the offside rule, but no worries,we’ll take the 1-0 victory with a smile and a nod. The game was also successful for HMS in terms of exerting the possession-based style of play that fits with Coach Junot’s philosophy of composed, attacking soccer. Moreover, our defense seems to be taking shape as well, as Richard Smith and Kevin Harrington did a sound job of limiting opportunities in the center of the park with Brett Conrad easily saving the few shots thatcame his way on route to a comfortable shutout. After the game, HMS posed for a team photo with FC Seoul before heading back to the Youngdon Hotel for some free time before the night’s festivities.

One of the more remarkable aspects of this trip is that HMS has been sponsored by a group of officials through the ministry of education in South Korea. They have been very enthusiastic in showing us around Seoul and making sure that we feel comfortableas we settle for a short time into a new culture in a drastically different time zone. Furthermore, they have also been polite enough to promise us events/excursions throughout the city, one of which consisted of watching the FC Seoul first team play on Saturday night in the Seoul World Cup Stadium, home to 2002 World Cup matches. Although FC Seoul unfortunately lost the game 2-0, the event was more about experiencing the stadium than anything else. Members of the team agreed that the 66,806-seat stadium was a sight to behold, as it not only looked incredible with its massive overhang enveloping the seating and field (reminiscent of contracting roof-style NFL stadiums in America), but also felt rather remarkable due to the atmosphere created bythe 20,000 screaming fans. In particular, the FC Seoul support section proved immensely entertaining, as they didn’t stop cheering the entire time. The other striking part of the stadium was that it consisted of a shopping plaza, food court, and restaurant/bar areawithin the stadium. From the moment HMS started walking from the parking lot to our seats, we could tell that the arena felt distinct so it came as no surprise that it had been home to the biggest sporting event in the world nearly ten years ago.

On Sunday the 22nd, HMS journeyed from Seoul to the Gwacheon National Science Museum. Since we’ve been lucky enough to have supporters in South Korea through the ministry of education that have played an integral role in allowing us to come to Seoul, HMS decided to give back by spending a few days teaching scientific subjects to children from the Seoul area. Arriving at the museum at 9 a.m., the team was separated into groups of two. Each group of two then received a group of 10-15 South Korean children. Some of the different subjects that HMS instructed the children on included the functioning of the human brain, cloud formation, shapes of molecules, detection of light, and Pascal’s triangle. Although the event was in part, an educational service, it soon turned into more fun than anything, as each group of two from the team led their school children through the museum, teaching their appointed topic while still enjoying the various museum exhibits. Everybody on the team concurred that their was something invigorating about spending time with children of a different culture, teaching them different scientific topics if only for a day. Really, all that it required was putting yourself out there and being a kid for a day, which can be a hell of a lot of fun considering the grown-up responsibility that being a Harvard student-athlete inherently places on an individual. One of the highlights of the day included leading the children through a jog and a stretch, which soon transformed into a series of tag-based games that lasted for over an hour. After this physical exercise, HMS then educated the children on a series of different scientific construction projects (e.g. scientific models such as axis of rotation kits, cloud shapes, molecules conformations, etc.), which seemed to help the children learn more than the lecturing component of the afternoon, as it was more hands-on and therefore more memorable. Unfortunately, the event had to end at some point and as it did, the team traveled back to the hotel where we dined on yet some more delicious Korean barbecue before calling it a day.

As for the rest of the trip, we have four more matches on our hands and of course, some more cultural immersion as well. We’ll be sure to document the experience as it moves along.

Harvard Men’s Soccer