After falling in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year, Stony Brook men's soccer coach Cesar Markovic devised a new training plan to start 2010: a summertime soccer tour of Ecuador.
The goal of the trip, according to Markovic, was to give the team a new appreciation for the sport as well as a bonding experience for the players while taking on top competition from a soccer-mad nation.
On the field, the Seawolves more than held their own. The team went 5-2-2 against under-20 teams and B squads from professional teams like Barcelona (Ecuador), FC Atacames, and Nacional. Markovic was pleased with the team's play and felt the players progressed.
"I don't think they realized what they experienced until they got there," Markovic said. "Since I've been in America I've always wanted the kids to see the passion [the Ecuadoreans] have for the game. ... Some people had nothing, but the love they had for the game filled them. Neighborhood children would come to see our games."
Junior midfielder Wilber Bonilla said the culture difference had a lasting impression and motivating effect on the team.
"We were able to see how fortunate we were to live in America," Bonilla said. "We have a lot that we take for granted for soccer and for life...Over there the kids play barefoot and they didn't mind. Just to see something like that was a great learning experience."
Midfielder Mihailo Pavlisin agreed that the change of mindset was helpful.
"It was a very exotic destination," he said. "A great experience to learn and experience how people live on and off the soccer field. Very different ways of thinking."
Spending 18 days together helped to solidify the bond between teammates.
"We ate, slept, and played soccer together 24/7," Bonilla said. "We were able to build our relationship as teammates closer and become a closer family."
One highlight of the trip was the game against Esmeraldas, where Markovic played over 20 years ago. This game was his first time back to that stadium.
"It was really exciting," Pavlisin said. "Our coach used to tell us a lot about his most exciting moments of his playing career. ... We said 'lets do really well for coach this time.'"
Will the trip add a tangible result in the team's performance this season? Pavlisin is one of the many believers on the team, which went 6-10-4 during the 2009 regular season and has been picked to finish second in the America East conference this year.
"Last year we were a pretty good team that was able to win a [conference] championship," he said. "This year we get to come back from this, we have more experience. It adds up to being a better team."