Hello all from sunny Spain. Actually it isn’t very sunny and pretty damn cold, but I’m here on a short holiday so figured lets try and catch a few games for some real live commentary. I’m in Madrid and tomorrow is the big one, Real Madrid versus Atletico Madrid. It’s being played at the Bernabeu so it should be an amazing affair. Am told tickets are going to be hard to come by, but I’m going to swing by the stadium tomorrow morning and see what i can get – if not, maybe the scalpers can help me out.
I didn’t want put all my eggs in one basket so I decided to check out a Segunda Division game with one of Madrid’s many other teams, Rayo Vallecano. They’re a typical yo yo team that bounces back and forth from the Primera Division to the Segunda. They were hosting Celta Vigo, who up until the 06-07 season were top half of the table finishers in the top league in Spain, perennially qualifying for the UEFA cup and even getting to the last 16 of the Champions League in 2004. The hosts are currently 17th and Celta Vigo are mid table.
I took the excellent Metro from where I was staying in central Madrid and got off at Portazgo which put me directly in front of the stadium. The first thing you notice is that it’s smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Obviously easy to get to by metro or bus, it must be REALLY easy to be a fan and just go to a game anytime you want. Stadiums in the US tend to be a bit of a hike to get to (or not over shadowed by apartments and houses) and apart from some such as Wrigley or Fenway aren’t really part of local neighborhoods.
Emerging from the underground, I heard the fans in full voice. Due to a mix up with day light savings time and a couple of bottles of honey rum the previous evening, I was running a little late. As I was purchasing my ticket, I heard a roar from the crowd. A goal had been scored…bah I missed it…and double bah cause it was Celta Vigo who scored. I got to my seat, or at least where I thought my seat was (the ticket was impossible to decipher) and immediately took in the atmosphere. Its a cozy stadium, seating about 15,000 with splendid views of Madrid, but I wasn’t there to admire the scenery. I was curious to see what the level of play in Spain’s second tier was like, how it might compare to MLS and whether or not this is a destination for potential US players to try and apply their trade (sorry Matt ;) ).
The level of play was decent. The final score was 2-1 to Celta Vigo. Players controlled the ball well and made good passes. Hard tackles and even soft tackles were met with entertainingly theatrical dives and the immediate clutching of body parts, but for the most part the ref just waved play on. The Rayo Vallecano goal was a thing of beauty. Their winger scampered down side, beating the defenders for pace and sent a picture perfect pass to an on rushing forward who slotted the ball into the bottom the corner of the net. Soon after that they won a penalty through the same speedy winger but it was well saved by the Celta Vigo keeper.
Celta’s second goal was gifted to them by an atrocious clearance/piss poor decision by the Rayo keeper. The fans simultaneously lifted their hands in horror and then disgust as the Rayo keeper flubbed a clearance right at the Celta Vigo striker, who calmly struck the ball around a helpless keeper. High comedy
What made the game great were the fans. The Rayo “Ultras” positioned behind the goal were in constant voice, singing and chanting and getting the rest of the stadium involved. Drums were beating and heckles and worse were launched at the Celta Vigo supporters, who were perched in the top left of the stadium. Even though the traveling supporters had the last laugh, the Rayo Vallecano fans never quietened, even as we left the ground. At one point the Ultras would point toward one side of the pitch and start a chant to which we responded back. They then pointed to other side and they in turn did the same thing. This went on for 10 minutes. This outside of college bball and football does not exist in US sports. It’s a shame and fodder for another article, but I must admit I’m glad that the Sounders and other MLS teams have fans who are bringing this sort of atmosphere into their own grounds. Its what makes home field advantage such a big deal in soccer. Its an added 12th man and impossible to ignore for opposing teams. Many a better away team has lost a game due to the relentless noise/abuse directed at them and cheering for the home team. I really hope to see tomorrow’s derby. It will be intense!
This game had more quality then an MLS game. These players have played at the highest level in Spain at some point in their careers and if not yet, soon will be. That said, I think this would be a perfect place for up and coming US players to get their feet wet, learn from some seasoned veterans and really get to work on their ball skills and over all game understanding. Sure some of these current Segunda Division players maybe over the hill and some might not make it back to the grand stage a few miles down the road, but they all controlled the ball well, all had a good first touch and all knew how to tackle. Off course, every player wants to make it at the big club but so many get lost on the bench or in the reserves. There is no beating first team football, no matter what the level.
All it takes is one or two players to come over and make a difference. So instead of languishing on a bench or in the reserves in the Premiership, try it out in the Segunda Division in Spain. It might not be glamorous and you might not get on ESPN, but you will be playing and learning and people (other managers, national team coaches etc…) will see you.
As for the overall experience. I do hope that MLS continues to adopt the atmosphere and excitement that I saw in the game today. I went to the game with a good friend who is a casual soccer fan at best. After wards he said “Eff it, lets get tickets for tomorrows game no matter what the cost”. Sounds like a good idea to me.