And for five Western Conference players, including three from Snohomish County, this week's road trip is one of the best ever.
Troy McCarty of Snohomish High School, Chaz Jenkins and David Gebert of Everett High School, Ian Adams of Shorecrest High School and Hamza Haddadi of Shorewood High School departed last Friday for Milan, Italy, where they are enjoying eight days of memorable soccer experiences.
The players are all members of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy team from Redmond's Crossfire Premier Soccer Club, which includes outstanding players from around the Puget Sound area. The squad flew from Seattle to Frankfurt, Germany, and then on to Milan, where they arrived on Saturday.
"The soccer competitions we'll be going to will be really good," said McCarty, a 16-year-old sophomore, prior to departure, "but there will be a lot of other fun things, too. It's going to be awesome, and we'll be getting coaching from some really good, experienced coaches."
One of the trip's highlights occurred just hours after the team arrived in Milan. On Saturday night they were at the city's San Siro stadium for a Champions League match between A.C. Milan and F.C. Internazionale Milan, or Inter Milan as it as commonly known. The Crossfire players and coaches were no doubt pulling for Inter Milan, their host on this trip, but rival A.C. Milan came away with a 3-0 victory.
The remaining itinerary includes another Champions League game tonight -- Inter Milan vs. F.C. Schalke of Germany -- and practices, scrimmages and games with age-group Italian teams. They will also be under the tutelage of top pro coaches, including those from Inter Milan.
The competition "will be really good," McCarty said. "A lot of kids play for academies in Europe. They drop out of school, leave their families and go live at the facility, and then they play every day. They're playing for their careers already, and they're willing to give it all up (to play soccer)."
McCarty journeyed to Switzerland a few years ago on another soccer excursion, and his team "came out .500," he said. "So we can play with (the European teams), but it's really hard competition."
The trip is sponsored by Nike, which is covering the team's travel costs, except for money each player will bring for souvenirs and other incidental expenses.
Dan Pingrey, the head coach at Snohomish High School, said the trip will be "a great opportunity" for McCarty and the other players. "For our kids to go over there for eight days, and train with those coaches and compete against those players, it's huge. And I'm jealous," he said.
Working out in Italy with top professional coaches is a chance for the American athletes to showcase their talents, Pingrey added. "Potentially, it can open a lot of doors for them. When you go over there (as a young player), there a lot of opportunities to see and get seen."
Given the level of soccer passion in Italy, this week's trip should be an eye-opening experience for the American players. It's one thing to play top-level soccer in the Puget Sound area, but quite another to compete with teams boasting some of the premier young talent in a soccer-mad nation like Italy.
"It's easy for us as coaches to talk about the intensity and the speed of play over there," Pingrey said, "but until you're there you just don't know. From the states to Europe, it's a whole different level."
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