When Georgetown agreed to open its soccer facility to Lionel Messi and the Argentine national team next week, Hoyas Coach Brian Wiese was wise enough to not ask his players who was available to help.
“I would have had every hand go up,” he said, laughing.
Instead, Wiese went to the team’s academic adviser to check class schedules. Depending on the day, he discovered, between seven and 13 players from the NCAA quarterfinal squad were free to assist the training sessions, whether as human cones, ball-fetchers or active participants. “Sparrings,” is what the Argentine federation requested, Wiese said.
Argentine players will arrive in Washington on Sunday and Monday following respective club matches throughout Europe and Latin America. In the buildup to next Saturday’s friendly against El Salvador at FedEx Field in Landover, La Albiceleste will train at Georgetown daily, starting Tuesday.
The squad is paying the university an undisclosed fee for four sessions next week and two in subsequent days after the game. The delegation will then head to New Jersey ahead of the March 31 friendly against Ecuador at MetLife Stadium.
To avoid crowd-control and security issues, the starting times of the Georgetown sessions are not being publicized. One could always book a room at Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center, which overlooks Shaw Field.
It is unclear yet whether Argentina will conduct a public training session.
Typically this time of year, Georgetown teams go about spring practice without fanfare. This year is different.
“The best soccer player in the world steps on our field for a week,” Wiese said of Messi, “I think some of our guys might save the divots.”
If, of course, Messi created divots.
The Barcelona superstar is among a dozen arriving players from the Argentine squad that lost to Germany in the World Cup final last summer in Rio de Janeiro.
The roster also includes Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli), Carlos Tevez (Juventus), Angel Di Maria (Manchester United) and Javier Mascherano (Barcelona).
Next Friday will be the busiest day of soccer on campus: Georgetown, Los Angeles Galaxy and Argentina will train successively. The Galaxy will come to town for next Saturday’s MLS match against D.C. United at RFK Stadium. The Argentina-El Salvador game will kick off at 4 p.m., United-Galaxy at 7 o’clock.
This will mark the Galaxy’s second visit to Georgetown over six weeks: In early February, while in Washington for a White House event celebrating its 2014 MLS Cup, L.A. engaged the Hoyas in a scrimmage. Because of the winter weather, the match was played on the artificial turf at Multi-Sport Field, home of the football and lacrosse programs.
With spring’s arrival, Shaw Field’s grass is a little soft but getting firmer. With Argentina paying for access, Georgetown crews will tend to the field more closely than normal this time of year.
Georgetown is not the only local university to welcome visiting national teams and clubs over the years: American, George Mason, Maryland and Catholic have accommodated requests, as well. Two summers ago, Georgetown turned down Chelsea’s inquiry because the field was being prepped for the start of the NCAA season.
Not surprisingly, Wiese said his players are excited to serve Argentina’s needs.
“Yesterday we were watching Messi putting the ball between Manchester City’s legs,” Wiese said, “and next week he’ll be putting it between our legs.”
Among the Hoyas expected to participate is sophomore Joshua Yaro, who, had he turned pro this offseason, probably would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the MLS draft. Yaro has recovered from offseason shoulder surgery, and although he won’t play in the Hoyas’ scrimmage against the Philadelphia Union reserves this weekend, he has been cleared for workouts.
D.C. United has approached Yaro about playing for its under-23 squad this summer; he plans to be in town anyway with a full slate of classes in June and July. Whether he will have the time to join the U-23 group is not yet clear. Getting him in a black-and-red uniform for the summer would not grant United his MLS rights; he is not an academy player and wouldn’t fall under homegrown guidelines. If the Ghanaian defender signs with the league next winter, he would almost certainly enter the draft on a Generation Adidas contract.
While Georgetown prepares for Argentina’s visit, United officials are hoping the international game does not have a major impact on its showdown with the Galaxy.
“We have been excited about the chance of hosting the defending champion L.A. Galaxy since the schedule was announced,” United spokesman Craig Stouffer said. “We expect a great atmosphere and a great test for our team on the 28th.”
United executives have taken the high road on the conflicting events, declining to comment on the U.S. Soccer Federation’s decision to sanction the Argentina-El Salvador game on the same day seven miles from the MLS venue. Initially, promoters of the international match were eyeing the previous night, March 27.
Conceivably, a fan torn about which game to attend could take in the international match and then ride Metro four stops to RFK, arriving in time for kickoff. However, the Morgan Boulevard station is almost a mile from FedEx Field and vehicle traffic into and out of the Redskins’ lots is notoriously slow.
United could have looked into pushing kickoff to 7:30, but the time was set months ago and Comcast SportsNet committed to the broadcast window. (That window, however, does include a 30-minute postgame show.)
Ticket prices for Argentina vs. El Salvador range from $38 to $175. United charges $20 to $55. (None of those fees include service charges.)
TicketMaster shows no seats available in FedEx Field’s upper deck as well as several mid-level and lower sections.
United drew 11,549 for its home opener March 7, two days after a snowstorm. It was the smallest turnout for a home debut in club history.