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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 26, 2009

Local soccer team travels to Portugal to play games, learn culture

By Jordan J. Michael

NEW SCOTLAND –– Joe Santos, a native of Portugal and coach of several soccer teams, took his New Scotland girls’ soccer team to his first country in February for a life- changing experience.

The New Scotland Colonie-Guilderland-Voorheesville under-17 team stayed in Povoa de Varzim, a city just north of Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, on the northern coast of the country.

“I was born about an hour south of there and I have a lot of contacts in the country,” said Santos, who is also the Voorheesville girls’ soccer coach in the fall. “I took a boys’ team to Porto about three years ago. I figured to do the same for a girls’ team.”

“There is this guy named Victor that I know who coaches girls’ teams in Portugal,” Santos said. “He knew the manager of the hotel I always stay at when I go visit. He set everything up for us at the hotel.”

About 50 people made the trip, including the team’s 16-player roster and most of their families. The group arrived in Portugal on Feb. 13 and stayed for a week. A handful of people stayed a few days longer to travel through more of the country.

The team played three games against the five-time champions of Povoa de Varzim. New Scotland players Michelle Thamsen, Caitlin Abelseth, Carrie Gorka, Karen Dawsen, Jenny Belgiovine, Emily Blow, and Mary Adkins all play for the Lady Birds soccer team in the fall.

“This trip had two parts: playing soccer and traveling. This was a promotion for soccer, as well as a cultural exchange,” said Santos. “Right when we arrived in Povoa, we had a game to play that night.”

The first contest was a 1-to-1 tie and the second game was a comeback win of 3 to 2 in front of 400 or 500 people on Feb. 15. The third match on Feb. 17 was a 4-to-0 win under the lights.

“These games were pretty well supported by the public because it was an advertised event,” Santos said. “There were posters all over the city and the mayor came to watch the girls play. My team was a little nervous about all the people watching, but they handled it well.”

The two soccer teams exchanged gifts during the Feb. 15 game and official T-shirts with the Portuguese and American flags were specially designed by JCB. “We gave the Portuguese girls University at Albany shirts, given to us by Joham Aarnio,” said Santos.

The trip to Povoa de Varzim had no extra or hidden fees, but the parents had to pay full price. “The girls raised enough money through fund-raisers and we also had some sponsers help us out,” Santos said.

Santos told The Enterprise that girls’ soccer in Portugal has a different infrastructure than in America. “Feminine soccer is way behind the men because there aren’t as many teams and the interest isn’t high,” he said. “They had a much wider age range than our team. I wanted my girls to see how different things were in my home country.”

The team played soccer in Portugal to have fun, not to win games. “I think my team realized after this trip how much better they’ve gotten at the game,” said Santos. “The Portuguese girls had great rapport and mutual respect, as did we. We played for the sport, not to win.”

During the trip, the girls visited a local secondary school called ECA Queiros, where they sat in on an English class for two hours. After the class, some of the students exchanged contacts. The mayor gave the team a personal tour of the city of Povoa de Varzim.

“The Portuguese students and my players talked about government, music, the environment, or whatever they wanted to talk about,” Santos said. “They seemed to get along really well and some of them are still in touch.”

Santos told The Enterprise that people have asked him when the next trip to Portugal is. He said that it’s an easy vacation to obtain.

“All the people have to do is show me a strong interest in going overseas to play soccer,” Santos said. “Once I have that, my friend John Monteiro and I will get the ball rolling and make some calls.”

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