Greetings From Finland With U.S. U19 Team
TURKU, Finland – Here I am, sitting under gray skies on my sixth-floor hotel room balcony overlooking Turku's main cobblestone town square. It's more than 24 hours since I slept last, if you don't count nodding off for a few minutes somewhere 40,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean near Iceland. (Some people can sleep on planes, some can't.)
The U.S. under-19 men's national team, which includes its 23 players, coaching, training, equipment and managerial staffs, has arrived in Finland, which means I have as well. It took a roughly eight-hour flight from New York City's John F. Kennedy airport to Helsinki, Finland (thanks in-flight entertainment "21 Jump Street" for killing some time), then a two-hour drive west to the country's fifth largest city of Turku, where the FIL U19 World Championships will be contested beginning Thursday.
After flying out at close to 6 p.m. Monday in New York, the team arrived through customs in Finland at around 9 a.m. Tuesday, which means 2 a.m. back on the East Coast of the United States. Just like that, it was tomorrow, per say: an overcast, 60-degree Tuesday morning over here, while the U.S. rested under darkness in the middle of the night. U.S. midfielder Ryan Tucker spoke a few lines of Finnish native tongue to the customs agent checking his passport, but unfortunately the agent was not impressed, shaking his head as such as he passed Tucker into the country. Everyone and all luggage was accounted for.
Tucker, he of 103-mile-per-hour-shot fame, was one of the one's who slept for the majority of the flight. Long-stick midfielder Ralph D'Agostino, with a few crying babies around him, was not. But for those that got rest, it was good thing for the mind and body to cycle in to the new time zone. Because a few hours after landing the team went through a light practice at a turf field in town just outside Veritas Stadion, home of two premier Finland soccer teams. On the lacrosse field, stretching was the main event, about 30 minutes of it, with players bending and twisting just about every way possible. Some stick-work drills followed, but then coach Tim Flynn gathered the team at the center of the field and called it a day after an hour total, around 4 p.m. local time. Some players yawned and looked ready to hit the sack and left for a facility called Petrea, where they're staying. Flynn said anyone was welcome to stick around and a few practiced shots on the run from the alleys.
I caught up with midfielder Rob Zoppo, one of Team USA's three captains, after practice, if you could call it that:
On Wednesday, the team practices at 11 a.m. at the main stadium in Turku where the games will be contested over the next two weeks. We'll have more updates from there and get ready for a another player blog from Connor Buczek and Joey Leonard, who put a good amount of work in on the bus ride from Helsinki airport to Turku.
My first impressions of Finland? A lot of trees and farmland on the road from Helsinki to Turku; cool, overcast weather that is expected to continue and, yes, there are saunas, one in this very hotel. The people have also been very nice who I've spoken to and all of them have spoken English.
Before I sign off (and nod off), I want to thank US Lacrosse and my bosses for the opportunity to cover this team and the event, and national teams manager Stacie Wentz for coordinating travel. Already, just walking around this Finnish city, is something I never thought I'd do in my life. Heck, I just had to bag my own groceries at a local supermarket. That's how Europe does! In my relatively short journalism career, I've been fortunate enough to cover NFL, MLB, NBA, big-time college football, U.S. Open tennis, NCAA lacrosse final fours and other great playoff and regular-season action, as well as memorable high school state championships. But I've never experienced something like this before, and I hope I can share the experience of the team effectively over the next two weeks.