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Spain trip day 1: Community and culture in Vila-real

VILA-REAL, Spain — An advance group may have already experienced Spain to the fullest with an FC Barcelona match and La Masia youth training, but Thursday marked the official start date of NorCal Premier Soccer’s 11-day coaching education trip to Europe.

And what better way to kick things off than with a top-level game in one of the most passionate area’s in the country: the small town of Vila-real, a two hour bus ride away from Barcelona.

Roughly 20,000 fans — about a third of the city’s population — packed El Madrigal Thursday to support CF Villarreal in their crucial Europa League match-up against Romanian side Steaua Bucharest.

Everywhere you looked a sea of yellow flocked towards the stadium to support El Submarino Armarillo in a match Villarreal had to at least draw to advance to the knock-out stages of Europe’s second most prestigious continental competition.

Away from the stadium just before the game, Vila-real could have been confused for a ghost town with how sparsely populated the normally-busy streets were.

“It felt like you went to that thing in the states, Small-town, USA, where the whole town goes to see the high school football team play on Friday night — the whole town shuts down to see the game,” said NorCal Premier Soccer Foundation Director Nick Lusson. “You really got a sense that this was what was going on in Vila-real that night.”

While education is a core value of NorCal, that education doesn’t just end at coaching philosophies — it also includes the soccer culture of clubs. Each coach on this trip is also a club director, so part of our education will include ideas on how to create a unique culture within each of our clubs.

That culture couldn’t have been on a better display than in Vila-real Thursday.

“There was that buzz around town, that game day buzz,” Lusson said. “You felt it in the air, and as the game gets closer and you’re walking through the neighborhood, it felt such a part of a neighborhood as opposed to in the US our stadiums are in a parking lot, you drive there, you park there, whereas here it felt like part of a neighborhood.”

“The atmosphere around the game and the importance of that, I think we overlook that as coaches and administrators when we look at what we can do to make the game experience better,” he added. “I think we look within the lines too much.”

Thankfully for those who made the trip, the game itself proved worthy of the fans in the stadium with the home side collecting a 2-1 victory thanks to an audacious lobbed winner from Manu Trigueros.

Due to the long bus ride back to Barcelona, the late arrival of many coaches and an early flight the following morning, the crew packed it in after the game and headed back to the Barcelona hotel to garner much-needed sleep for the following morning.

On the horizon: a trip to Bilbao. Check back tomorrow for updates from NorCal’s visit to an Athletic Bilbao first team training session and a visit to an amateur club in the city.

Now that almost everyone has arrived in Spain, it’s a pleasure to showcase which clubs are represented. A whopping 17 of the approximately 40 NPL clubs sent coaches on this NorCal-subsidized trip.

Those attending and their clubs are listed below:

Shawn Blakeman – Sacramento United

Paolo Bonomo – NorCal Premier Soccer

Daniel Chamberlain – San Ramon FC

David Robertson – Davis Legacy Soccer Club

Andrew Ziemer – Ballistic United

Benjamin Ziemer – Sacramento Republic FC

Omar Cervantes – San Ramon FC

Vinnie Cortezzo – North Coast FC

Jordan Farrell – Monarcas Academy

Tom Ginocchio – Walnut Creek Soccer Club

Gavin Glinton – Impact SC

Zeca Neto – San Juan Soccer Club

Juan Porras – Star Academy FC

Jaime Ramirez – Central California Soccer Academy

Mani Salimpour – San Ramon FC

Carlos Zavala – Ajax United

Noah Delgado – De Anza Force

Greg Rubendall – FC Elk Grove

Ismael Echeverria – Sacramento United

Dejaee Johnson – NorCal Premier Soccer PDP

Nick Lusson – San Francisco Elite Academy

Lance Welker – Impact SC

Kelly Ginocchio – Walnut Creek Soccer Club

Tom Atencio – US Club Soccer

Duane Glinton – Impact SC

Tony Perez – San Juan Soccer Club

Jesus Mata – Davis Legacy Soccer Club

Mikey Varas – NorCal Premier Soccer PDP/Sacramento Republic FC

Zlatan Sahmanovic – Tri Valley Premier

Bilal Samy – Lamorinda SC