On the Road with Real Maryland
Friday, May 2nd
5:00 PM: Hampton Inn, Germantown
The parking lot at the Hampton Inn begins to fill up as players and coaches turn into the parking lot and drive around the big white bus sitting right in the center. The coaches begin to unload boxes of fruit, granola bars, Gatorade and water onto the bus, but the big attraction is when Real Maryland general manager Bienvenido Martinez brings out a box of Subway footlongs.
The players are all decked out in their Real Maryland track suits as one by one they get on the bus and pick their seats. Midfielder Muner Hassen takes his seat next to Foday Kamara towards the front of the bus. “This eight hour bus ride is going to suck,” he says, “but I am really excited for it!”
Finally everyone is loaded and ready. Head coach Silvino Gonzalo does a final head count, and the bus pulls out of the parking lot.
Real Maryland is on its way to its first road match in franchise history!
Get settled boys! The players pick their seats for the long ride to Western Mass
6:00 PM: On the bus
An hour into our bus ride and we are nowhere near close to Baltimore. In fact, we are still stuck on 495! Traffic is horrible! “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Dangelo Da Silva remarks looking out his window. “We’re not even back at my house yet,” yells Stephen Basso who resides in Columbia.
The players are settled in for the most part, however. Christian Montero and Dennis Alas are watching a DVD on a travel DVD player they have placed into the opening between the two seat backs to create a mini TV.
Meanwhile, Jose Maldonado is watching “The Departed” on Devlin Barnes’ Ipod. Other players are talking or listening to music, but the party is at the back of the bus where Da Silva, Basso, Philippe Bissohong, William Brindley, and Emilio Zelaya are playing cards on the big white cooler holding the team Gatorades.
“They’re gambling!” Assistant coach Diego Federico screams jokingly. “Make sure to put this on the web!”
Unfortunately for Basso who had the luck of the deck, the players were not gambling.
8:00 PM: 1st Rest Stop
Two hours into the trip, the bus makes the first stop. Due to Maryland traffic, we haven’t gotten very far at all. In fact we are only in Delaware. Everyone gets off the bus and the race for the restrooms is on. Afterwards players wonder around the rest stop. Some buy small snacks, while players who have brought nothing to do figure a magazine or a book from the store might be a smart purchase.
First stop = a mad dash for the bathrooms
20 minutes later and we are back on the road. To everyone’s delight dinner is served as Nestor, the team equipment manager, hands out the subway footlongs and bags of chips.
After eating, the players settle in for the long ride. It’s a non eventful trip although our bus driver did have some problems with the driver side mirror prompting several short stops in both New Jersey and Connecticut.
Perhaps the highlight of the night came when Da Silva’s girlfriend calls and makes him talk to their dog. Players turn their head as Da Silva whistles into the phone and says “Bella! Bella! Come here Bella!”
“Are you whistling at your girlfriend?” Basso asks.
“No, she wanted me to talk our dog,” responds Da Silva.
“Thank G-d!” Basso replies laughing.
1:25 AM: Real Maryland Arrives at the Clarion Hotel
After the aforementioned stops in Jersey and Connecticut and the scenic route through New York, the bus finally pulls up in front of the Clarion Hotel just outside of Springfield, Massachusetts. The players and coaches wearily get off the bus and file into the hotel lobby to wait for their room assignments.
So close! The players wait for their room assignments.
Finally everyone receives their room keys and head to their room to get some rest after an eight hour bus ride with a big day on the horizon.
Saturday, May 3rd
9:15 AM: Breakfast
General manager Bienvendio Martinez and coach Silvino Gonzalo are the first ones downstairs for the free breakfast buffet. The first players downstairs are Daryl Ferguson and Clint Loughner. “I’ve been up since 7:00,” says Ferguson. “I’m just so used to waking up early.
The Clarion is a really nice hotel. There is a huge indoor courtyard with a big pool, a bar and an arcade. The walls are painted to look like the jungle and the glass enclosing the courtyard sends out a quasi rainforest vibe. Nice Job and thank you to Western Mass!
After breakfast, the players hang out in their rooms. Muner Hassen naps while Stephen Basso, Victor Ramirez and Dangelo Da Silva are engaged in a Mario kart tournament on the Nintendo 64. In another room, Christian Montero watches XXX on his DVD player while Dennis Alas takes a nap in the bed on the other side of the room.
2:30 PM: Team Lunch
All the players meet in a conference room where the Clarion has provided Real Maryland with a healthy lunch of salad, pasta, grilled chicken, and bread. A great carbo load the right amount of time before the 7:30 kick-off. The players enjoy the meal but are carefull about their intake. Almost all the players are drinking a lot of water, lemonade, or ice tea as they begin to hydrate themselves for the match.
After lunch the players go back to their rooms and get ready for a four o’clock checkout. After settling the room charges, everyone is on the bus for a 5:00 PM departure for the Lusitano Stadium in Ludlow, Massachusetts.
6:00 PM: The team arrives at Lusitano Stadium
An hour and a half before game time the bus pulls up to the stadium. The ride has been quiet and intensity fills the air as the players are mentally preparing for tonight’s task. The players file off the bus and check out their surroundings for their first road match of the season as they head to the locker room.
This is it boys! The players head to the locker room
The Lusitano Stadium
The Gremio Lusitano is a neat little stadium nestled in the heart of Ludlow’s Brazilian community. The Stadium is right in the middle of the neighborhood and is dedicated in the memory of Stephanie Santos a former U-Mass and Ludlow High School soccer star.
The dedication to Stephanie Santos
In a small town of about 12,000, the Pioneers are a big attraction. They often get crowds of up to 3,000 and their games are televised on local TV. The Western Mass website (www.wmpioneers.com) claims the Lusitano is the only “soccer specific” stadium in New England. The stadium certainly has a European or South American small club feel to it as fans can sit on either side of the field but there is no seating behind the goals. There is also a pavilion where fans can get food, find a seat and watch the match through the open windows. The Pavilion serves good food with great Brazilian pit pork and grilled onion sandwiches.
6:10 PM: Walk Around
After dropping their bags off in the locker room the Real Maryland players come back onto the field, check the condition of the pitch, and decide what studs to wear. It is a very crucial part of mental preparation to determine whether the ball is going to skip in wet conditions, move fast along the turf, or get stuck in the slow grass.
The players head out to check the conditions of the field
Muner Hassen observes the playing conditions while the match officials
convene in the corner
Getting the lay of the land: Gonzalo and his charges survey the Lusitano pitch
6:40 PM: Warm-up
The Real Maryland Players take to the pitch and begin to get ready for their Road debut with Western Mass. The players go through their paces as they get ready for what they hope will be revenge for their opening day loss to these same Pioneers.
Getting those first touches on the ball
Time to get loose
Pick up the pace
7:15 PM: Team Introductions
The game is finally here as the players are introduced and line up for the national anthem.
Facing the flag to salute our nation
Huddle Up! Real Maryland Players convene just before kickoff.
Real Maryland had a rough opening 20 minutes but goalkeeper Emilio Zelaya kept Western Mass off the board. The Monarchs began to get their feet under them and started to play their game, but were hampered by the trigger official who seemed intent on giving a yellow card to a Real Maryland player every time a legal slide tackle was made.
In the second half, Real Maryland thought they had taken the lead when Nilson Perez scored on a breakaway, but the flag was up for offsides in what looked to be a very dubious decision.
Things got worse for Real Maryland a minute later as Devlin Barnes received a second yellow card and was given his marching orders. Both yellows were hardly fouls, let alone worthy of a yellow.
Despite the adversity Real Maryland fought on and was unlucky to concede a goal in the 82nd minute. The goal was a header that resulted from a free kick on what looked to be yet another suspect decision.
9:45 PM: Back on the Bus
After a tough 1-0 loss the players are distraught but not too upset to eat. After the post game meeting and a quick shower in the locker room the players head to the pavilion for some pizza and sandwiches provided by Western Mass. Then it’s time to head back onto the bus for the long ride home.
The journey home begins
We will be back with a vengeance next year Western Mass!
10:00 PM: On the road again
The bus pulls out and is finally back on the road. It is quiet and everyone is tired. The players try to fall asleep but because of the cramped conditions it is hard to get any sleep. “I can’t wait to get home,” Jose Maldonado says. “I am going to sleep all day tomorrow!”
Sunday, May 4th
5:25 AM: HOME FINALLY!
Finally the bus pulls into the Hampton Inn parking lot in Germantown. Everyone is exhausted and glad to finally be back. Not much is said as the players file into their cars and head for home.
The first road trip in Real Maryland history is complete. Everyone gets a day of rest, but then it’s back to the training ground on Monday night and right back to the Hampton Inn on Friday to do it all over again. This time, Cleveland!
SPONSORS & PARTNERS: