In the most recent installment of the photo essay series, Uncommon - My life as a Rapids Academy player, we followed the Rapids' U-15s and U-16/17s players on a recent trip to Panama.
Development Academy player Connor Crookham takes us through the trip as he and his teammates take in Central American culture and play in matches against the U-16s from the Panama national team.
Monday, December 11
"We landed pretty early in the morning at Tocumen International Airport, after being aboard the inaugural flight from Denver to Panama City on Copa Airlines which was a red eye starting at 10:00 at night. We were with members of the Denver City Council, executives from DIA, executives from Copa Airlines, and other Denver area leaders. We even got socks in honor of the flight!
After passing through customs, we headed toward our hotel with our contact in Panama, Rodrigo, who is with San Francisco FC. We were able to see a ton of Panama City on our way there, including things like Trump Tower, boats waiting to go into the canal, and many other cool sights. The bus ride was long because of rush-hour traffic. After having lunch in the hotel, we departed for Panama’s Maracana Stadium for practice. This is where we had a light session and just got to knock the ball around a little bit. Back at the hotel, we had a quick team meeting addressing some Spanish 101 so we could communicate throughout the week, and went to bed after a pretty tiring day."
Tuesday, December 12
"The day started with a good breakfast in the hotel. It was gameday, so we had to make sure that we were prepared to play. The hotel had a small futsal-size field attached to it. There, we went for a good jog and stretch with Sean that loosened up our legs, and got us ready for the game.
Later, we arrived at the stadium, where San Fransisco FC was playing La Chorrea. We got to go into the locker room for a pregame discussion. There were about 50 people in the stands and they sounded a lot louder. It was a tough game, but we came out with a win. We had to shower and headed straight to the US Ambassador's house for a dinner reception. We were recognized as a team and got to give him a couple of jerseys. Everybody met and talked to several important people from all around the Denver area and Panama. It was a quite cool experience going through all the security and checkpoints in order to go in. It felt like three different days yet it was cool."
Wednesday, December 13
"We woke up at 5:45 AM – very tired. We departed the hotel and went straight to the Panama Canal Train. It was a cool old train, with a little deck where you could go outside and see everything as you passed by. After going all the way up to Colon, we drove back down to the Miraflores Locks. While there weren't any ships coming through, we got to go through the museum and watch a movie on the history of the Canal. In just those couple hours we saw so many cool things and took pictures with some people in some interesting places. We had lunch back at the hotel, prior to going to the Fútbol con Corazon School in Casco viejo."
"This was one of the coolest places ever. Before playing on the futsal court, we sat down with the kids and set goals about our honesty, solidarity, tactics, and fairness. We then split up into teams and played. One of the main rules was that the first goal had to be scored by a girl. While the first match ended 0-0, the second game had an amazing goal from one of the FCC girls. As this was going on there were mini games on the side. After the original games, there was an all boys match up. There were some great goals scored by both teams, but in the end the score was tied. After tallying up all of our 'hearts', we found out that we lost 18-17. We were able to take pictures with them and give some gear away. It was hard to leave, but it was worth it. The kids really enjoyed it and we had a good time as well. We drove off and stopped a couple blocks away for some shopping. Our bus driver, Felix got us a gig on TV where we had to walk and pose by the camera along the waterfront. We headed back to the hotel, had dinner and a team meeting. Then, we went right to bed after a long, exhausting day."
Thursday, December 14
"A quick breakfast and we were out the door to training. We had a pretty good session at Maracana and worked on shaping and some positional training to get ready for the national team. It was getting really hot so we were also concentrating on hydration. After training, we went to see the Biomuseo. The team was able to go through and learn a lot about the many different types of animals that live in Panama, and used to live there. One of the coolest ones was the 10-foot tall sloth that lived only 10,000 years ago. Imagine that hanging in your tree! After seeing many different animals, we drove up the causeway, which was close with really cool views of the city and the ocean. We stopped in a little area to grab some lunch and do some souvenir shopping. Of course, we had to sit and watch the Manchester City versus Tottenham game as the Blues absolutely demolished the Spurs. Knowing that the next day we had a massive game, the rest of the day consisted of soccer only. We had the option of swimming in the late afternoon to get the body moving, or resting ... my room slept all afternoon. We later ate some tasty food at a nearby restaurant and headed straight to bed after a calm, restful day."
Sunday, December 17
"Our last day was the big day. Yes, the other matches were important, but this one seemed a little more meaningful. Today at 4:00 PM, we play the National team of Panama. Again, we had a light jog and stretch with Sean. There was a team meeting before we departed discussing the tactics and reminders for the match. The entire team was pumped up to be able to be a part of this game. We arrived at Rommel Fernandez Stadium and it was cool. Walking in to the same locker room that many teams like the USMNT and Costa Rica and many more had been in. We were able to walk the field just to see what it was like, and it was nice. The stadium was gigantic, and still had some of the World Cup qualifier banners and signs still up.
We walked out and gave banners to every player. After a couple pictures the game was finally under way. Pretty early in the game Panama broke through with a goal from a cross. It was at that moment that we knew that this game was going to be a battle. We kept our heads up, and eventually Cobe picked off the ball and pulled one back. We ended the half tied. The goal brought a ton of confidence into us, we believed we could win the game.
An error building out of the back lead to another Panama goal, but we weren’t done. Super subs Dhani and Hadrood connected to bring us back level. We were looking and fighting for a winner, but late in the game we conceded. With not much time left we weren’t able to grab another one, and the match ended 3-2. Even though it was a loss we played so well and never gave up. It was such a cool experience to face kids of that nature, and create new friendships. After a lot of goodbyes we headed back to the hotel and out for dinner at our go-to place, Rizzoli’s. We left everything we had on the pitch, and it was hard to lose, but we couldn’t help but to be proud of how well we had done.
It was a great trip and we got a lot of confidence from the soccer and learned a lot about Panama and its people."