FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – On Sunday, the Northern Arizona soccer team will embark on a trip of a lifetime as it heads to Spain for the program's third European trip in the last nine years. The Lumberjack soccer squad will spend nine days in the Catalonia region of the country filled with both cultural and athletic experiences that many of the players may never experience again.
"The purpose of the trip is first to provide our student-athletes with the opportunity to experience some different cultures and to realize there is a much bigger world out there than we have here," said head coach Andre Luciano. "The second is to get a greater understanding of the sport on a global scale and to go abroad where the sport is so prominent is an eye-opening experience. We want them to grow as soccer players and come back more mature and worldly as a group where a trip to Montana will be nothing compared to a trip to Spain."
This will be the third such European tour for the Lumberjacks since 2004. In 2004, Luciano took his squad to England, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria before the Lumberjacks returned to Europe in 2008, visiting Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
After months of fundraising to fully fund their trip, the Lumberjacks will take in numerous parts of the Spanish Catalonian community including Barcelona, Girona, Figueres and Sitge over their nine-day expedition. Among the many highlights of the trip, the team will enjoy the white sand beaches of Spain as well as a tour of the world famous Salvador Dali Theatre and Museum and a visit to the Montserrat Mountain.
In addition to the tours of the many attractions planned for the trip, the Lumberjacks will also lace up their cleats and play four friendlies against four of the top teams in Spain. Their first game will be a true test as they will square off against FC Barcelona's women's team on May 15. FC Barcelona recently defended their national Primera Division championship and plays in Spain's highest division. Games against CE Sant Gabriel (May 16), CF Badalona (May 18) and UE Vic (May 20) will follow the Lumberjacks' tilt against FC Barcelona. Win, lose or draw though, the experience gained from playing against top-level international competition will only do the Lumberjacks good moving forward.
"FC Barcelona just won the Spanish league title so we will see fútbol played the way it should be played from a tempo and rhythm standpoint, from a tactical standpoint," Luciano said. "For us to see how technical they are and where we are as a country and as a program will be an important thing. The level is going to be really high. What I'm hoping is that some our players will catch the professional bug and see a bigger picture where they say they want to do this for a living."
Before heading back to the states, the Lumberjacks will have the opportunity to witness some of the world's greatest players on the pitch in person as it will watch the FC Barcelona men's team play its home finale against Real Valladolid at the monumental Camp Nou Stadium on May 19. Camp Nou Stadium is the largest stadium in Europe and is the 11th largest in the world in terms of capacity (99,354). The team will also participate in a guided tour of the entire stadium earlier in the trip and will be offered the opportunity to personally raise the European Champions Cup.
"The final highlight of the trip will be for our players to watch Barcelona play in their final home game at Camp Nou Stadium," Luciano said. "To see the likes of (Lionel) Messi, (Andrés) Iniesta and company with a 100,000 people in the stadium will be an experience they'll never have again in their lives."
Fans can follow the Lumberjacks' tour of Spain at the trip central page here. Senior Elinor Priest will pen a blog throughout the trip that can be found on the trip central page as well as the main nauathletics.com homepage. Photos and videos will also be made available as the team captures the sights and sounds of what is sure to be both a culturally and athletically enhancing trip.