Their first full day in England was surely a day that the Galaxy Academy players will never forget. Despite the jet lag that was sure to exist, the players pushed through to get a first hand experience of the life of a footballer in England.
After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, the teams boarded the bus for the ride over to Everton’s training ground at Finch Farm, the same site at which Landon Donovan was first introduced as an Everton player three-months ago, for an extensive training session under the watchful eyes of Everton Academy coaches Paul Harris and Mick O’Brien.
Shortly after arriving at the facility, the players were led down the hall from the locker rooms to the fields, walking past a series of poster-sized photos of all the past graduates of the Everton Academy to have played for the club, including current Toffees Leon Osman, Jack Rodwell and Victor Anichebe (who is currently injured and actually stopped by the lunch room after the team’s sessions), Aston Villa captain Richard Dunne and many more. But there was no doubt about which picture the players were in awe of the most – current Manchester United and England forward Wayne Rooney, who made his Everton debut at the age of 16.
Once out on the fields, the key word in both the U-16 and U-18 training sessions was quicker. The coaches tried to instill in all the boys the importance of receiving the ball cleanly and then distributing it quickly so as to keep the ball moving and the defense chasing. In order to illustrate that point, the teams did a series of progression drills, beginning with something that seemed simple, but then making it more and more difficult as the drill went on, challenging not only the player’s skill, but their ability to think out the game and adapt to difficult situations.
After the conclusion of the nearly two hour session, which saw a number of great saves, goals, passes and tackles between the two teams, much to the delight of the Everton coaches, the players made their way inside for a hot lunch in the Academy dining room, while the staff were given a complete tour of the facilities, seeing everything from the classrooms to the locker rooms and everything in between, including video rooms, recruitment offices and much, much more.
As much fun as the players had at the Everton training ground, it was nothing compared to what they would soon witness – a live Premier League game at Goodison Park.
It was West Ham v Everton, giving the kids a pair of Americans to cheer for in Tim Howard and Jonathan Spector. Both would play the full 90 minutes for their team and Howard produced a sensational penalty save on Mido late in the first half, eliciting the now famous USA!, USA!, USA! chants from the Everton faithful.
Yakubu scored late to give the home side a 2-1 lead and sending Goodison Park into hysterics, but Ilan equalized two minutes later for West Ham to send the game to a final 2-2 scoreline.
For most of the kids it was their first chance to see a Premier League game in person cheering along throughout, except of course when West Ham, whose travelling fans were seated just below our teams, twice equalized in the second half.
The final score may not have gone the way that the kids wanted but even that could not put a damper on their day.
On Monday they will get the chance to put all of their lessons into action when they take on Blackburn Rovers.
We’ll have all the news and updates from those games tomorrow night.