UB men's soccer team to go on 10-day trip to the United Kingdom over spring break

London calling


To get ready for its season, the men’s soccer team is taking an all-expense paid trip halfway around the world for 10 days.

For the first time ever, the men’s soccer team will travel to the United Kingdom to check out the competitive culture of English soccer firsthand. It will visit London, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham and St. George’s Park – the training facility of the English National Team. The team leaves March 13 and returns March 22.

The trip also comes with a hefty $90,000 price tag – all donated money.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them,” said head coach Stu Riddle. “I’m hoping they maximize everything they can from this trip and are looking forward to it for the right reasons. They’re going to see some high-profile matches and high-caliber opponents and, hopefully, come back as better players.”

Sophomore defenseman Alec Fisher also thinks the trip will benefit the team for next season, too.

“We’ve struggled with our win/loss record the past few years,” Fisher said. “This trip will give us an edge going into next season. It will give us more experience. It will be different types of games rather than what we play over here.”

The women’s team – who won the Mid-American Conference title in 2014 – is slated to take a similar trip in the fall, but nothing has been officially planned, according to the athletics department.

Overall, the men’s team is looking to improve with its venture to England. The Bulls finished last season with a 5-10-2 record and only accumulated one win in conference play.

Riddle said now was the right time to plan the trip.

“Ultimately, we want the team to be more successful than it has been in the past couple of seasons,” Riddle said. “We think now is the right time to bring back that culture of how it’s played by these top players.”

The men’s trip’s funding didn’t come from the athletic department or out of players’ pockets – it was through donations from the parents of student-athletes and team alumni. According to Associate Athletic Director for Development Eric Gross, the trip was funded through a “Micro Campaign” – a short-term cash drive used to fund a special initiative.

“[Stu] Riddle came to me early to mid-fall,” Gross said. “The first thing that crossed my mind was, ‘Is this going to be a realistic thing?’ This was a kind of initiative that sparked the interest of the parents in particular. So many of them contributed and stepped up in a big way.”

Currently, the soccer program has raised over $190,000 for the upcoming trip.

The women’s trip is projected to cost around $75,000-$85,000. Whatever money is not used toward the United Kingdom tours will go back into the soccer budget for other projects.

“All of the excess money will be put back in the discretionary funds for Stu and [women’s coach] Shawn [Burke] and use those funds for whatever future expenses that may arise,” Gross said. “We promised donors that it would not be dispersed. We will make sure those dollars will go back into the program.”

Riddle first thought of the idea when he was the head coach at Western Michigan from 2009-12, but was not able to coordinate the trip due to NCAA restrictions and funding issues. He said this was the year where everyone involved made an effort to make the trip happen.

In addition to the tour, the team is also slotted to play four matches against local English teams and will attend four professional matches – two Premier League matches and two Champions League matches.

Riddle said the team will learn more than how to play soccer.

“There are two ways they’re going to develop on this trip: on the field and off the field,” Riddle said. “I think the hope is we go away as a young group of lads and come back as an older, experienced group of men.”

The team will play four matches against youth clubs from around England, but sophomore midfielder Russell Cicerone doesn’t care which teams’ the Bulls will play. He said whomever the Bulls are set to play, it would only help with their understanding of American soccer compared to the culture of English soccer.

“Over there, they look for players at 6 or 8 years old to try to get them to go to their academy,” Cicerone said. “They stay their entire lives, going to school there and playing soccer there. Here, professional teams don’t start looking at us until were almost out of college.”

Fisher made a similar trip with his high school team before joining the Bulls. He said the culture of American soccer and English soccer are different, stating the “intensity level is through the roof” in England compared to America. He also said the game here is more of a physical game whereas the English game is more technical.

He said the trip will help the team understand how the No. 1 country in the sport attacks the game.

“The intensity level is through the roof,” Fisher said. “You hear guys talking the whole time. It’s loud. It’s intense ... The experience to go over there and train against guys there will be very beneficial to our team.”

email: sports@ubspectrum.com