Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas among others of the Real Madrid soccer team took over Scicluna Field Thursday to practice for their friendly match against Manchester United this Saturday at the Michigan Stadium.
“It’s an honor to have the opportunity to host an event like this and a training session for such a world class team such as Real Madrid,” Heather Lyke, Eastern Michigan University Vice President and Director of Athletics, said.
She said the athletics department at EMU was contacted by Relevent Sports, an organization promoting the tour and event, inquiring about a facility to utilize for training.
“They came to visit us in early July and toured our facilities and felt that it was sufficient and more than adequate,” Lyke said. “Real Madrid and Relevent Sports have been just tremendous to work with, very understanding and really appreciative for what we’ve done but we just really are glad to have the chance to welcome them and let them play and prepare for their game on Saturday.”
The team requested this to be a closed practice, allowing only 100 VIP guests to watch. However, instead of being concealed on the turf field in EMU’s bubble, the team preferred to play on grass since they will face Manchester United on a regular field, according to Lyke.
Walter Kraft, Eastern’s Vice President for Communications, said this event showcases the university’s commitment toward women’s athletics, especially the women’s soccer team.
“They have, in terms of our student athletes, embraced this as an opportunity to watch a really historic group of soccer players that are known worldwide,” Kraft said. “For them it’s just a great thing to be able to be part of it and to see something of this caliber in our backyard.”
Allison Kaim, a former EMU soccer player who is studying special education and Spanish, said due to the fact that there has not been MLS and professional soccer exposure in Michigan, Real Madrid’s appearance can encourage more interest in soccer among the population.
“It’s huge, especially for us, we won the MAC Conference last year so I think it’s awesome for our team just for recruiting and everything for our coaches,” Kaim said.
Kaim studied abroad in Avila, Spain last year through EMU, which then the women’s soccer coach, Scott Hall asked her to come since she speaks Spanish and could easily communicate to the Real Madrid officials. Other players such as Megan McCabe, exercise science major, and Megan Trapp, business marketing major enjoyed their experiences.
“I’m from outside of Chicago,” McCabe said. “I came up last night and I’m leaving tonight.”
McCabe said the team helped with the setup, including tossing in soccer balls if players needed them but saw more to this than just assisting.
“They’re definitely something some people just to look up to,” McCabe said. “Just to see them so close and up personal, you’re just so shocked. I’ve never seen it before and I also think it’s watching their intensity, watching their focus, their energy, it’s different and it’s something that will benefit us.”
Trapp said she canceled her plans in order to be at the field for the experience and that this was her first time watching an international team play.
“Having them at our home field, the field we play on, we practice, we work hard on every day, it’s just a good feeling knowing that they can use it too,” Trapp said. “They can benefit from it and they can work hard for their games too.”
Kraft said this was an opportunity to potentially further the brand of EMU.
“An event like this is important for us because to me it helps let people know throughout the area, throughout the region, of what a special place Eastern Michigan University is, that we can host an event like this for an internationally acclaimed organization and to have them come to us and practice at our facilities says a lot about Eastern,” Kraft said. “It helps promote what we do here, not just athletics but academically and everything this institution stands for.”
Lyke said safety was a concern and that the university police and security guards have been a great asset in ensuring the overall experience.
“It’s something our student athletes will always remember,” Lyke said.