This was more than a trip about soccer and team bonding for the College of Charleston men's soccer team.
The Cougars' recent two-week excursion to Brazil was a unique opportunity for the squad to experience a different culture, compete against international competition and witness World Cup fever as it swept across the host nation.
"This is about more than playing a few games against international competition," said College of Charleston coach Ralph Lundy. "It's an educational opportunity to see another culture, see Brazil's amazing sites and meet Brazil's amazing people. I wanted to take them out of their comfort zone and experience a different country and a different culture.
"I think it's also something they'll remember the rest of their lives. It was really a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
This isn't the first time Lundy has taken his team outside the United States. The Cougars have traveled to Holland (1994), England (1998), Trinidad (2002), Tobago (2006) and Italy (2010).
It wasn't an easy trip to organize. The logistics involved in moving two dozen people more than 4,000 miles is daunting and expensive. Lundy and his players - along with donations from alumni, family and friends - raised more than $73,000 to make the trip possible.
"I didn't do this alone and I had a lot of help," Lundy said.
Lundy, who had been to Brazil in 2006 with a youth team, said he couldn't pass up on the opportunity to expose his players to the World Cup host country. This was the first time he has been able to coordinate a visit to the country hosting the World Cup in the same year.
"Soccer is like a religion in Brazil, it's bigger than the football and the NFL here in the United States," Lundy said. "Brazil is on fire with soccer. It's such a big part of their lives. You could feel the excitement build.
"The last three or four days, you could see everyone putting banners out, putting Brazilian flags out and you could start to see the rest of the world arriving."
One of the highlights of the trip was the team's visit to the iconic Christ the Redeemer Statue high above the city of Rio De Janiero.
"It was amazing," said sophomore Paul Burdick. "It's was an incredible experience."
The Cougars played seven international friendly matches against Brazilian club teams, compiling a 4-2-1 record. "These were excellent teams," Lundy said. "We were playing against professional players, guys who had signed with the clubs, but were playing on what we in the United States would call their farm teams."
The Cougars best game, a 2-1 victory, was against Fluminense's U-18 team.
"Kids grow up in Rio De Janeiro wanting to play for Fluminense or Flamengo," Lundy said. "Those are the two biggest clubs in Rio. Those two are the super powers. They've both won Brazilian national championships."
Lundy said the unrest, demonstrations and work stoppages that plagued World Cup preparations were not an issue for the Cougars. They were able to watch a couple of matches at Estádio do Maracană, the site of the World Cup final match in July.
"The stadium is amazing," Lundy said. "It's beautiful and modern and it's unreal. It's a great place to watch a match. We didn't see a lot of unrest that we'd heard about before we went there. We saw people picketing a couple of times, but nothing that I haven't experienced before in other countries. The people of Brazil were so warm and so friendly. It was a great experience."
CofC coach Ralph Lundy returns to the field at halftime against USC at Patriot's Point on Sunday August 28, 2011. (Wade Spees/postandcourier.com)×