Barca Academy New York is sending five teams to the FC Barcelona International Tournament. (Photo courtesy of FC Barcelona)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

The Barca Academy New York boys Under-14 team’s trip to Spain couldn’t come soon enough.

After all, how often do any soccer players and enthusiasts get an opportunity to visit Barcelona and Camp Nou and play against top-flight competition from around the world?

The Barca Academy New York will do just that this week at the seventh FC Barcelona International Tournament. The New York teams are scheduled to leave Wednesday and will participate in the tournament through March 30.

“I am looking forward to this a lot,” goalkeeper Paolo Mangiafico said. “Its going to be great fun to go to and play against high level teams from all around the world.”

Ditto for midfielder Jesse Greiseman.

“I am looking forward to see how other countries play,” he said. “I want to see how I can compete with them, play with them. It’s going to give me an overall outlook on how I place with other players in the world.”

In many ways, it is a trip of a lifetime. The team will practice at Barcelona’s La Liga’s training facility before taking part in the 30-team tournament, all trying to play the Barca way.

“What we’ve created is not a soccer tournament where you play your games and you go to your hotel, where you go somewhere else,” Barca NY technical director Domenec Guasch said. “It is an environment where they have a lot more to do. other activities related to soccer, but the games are created for them to interact with the other kids from Japan, India, South America, Australia and all over the world. I’m 100 percent sure it will be an unforgettable experience for all of the kids. The younger and older ones, the experience will be different for all them, and I’m sure that will make them grow as soccer players, but as human beings.”

Five teams will represent the Barca NY Academy — two from the 2004 age group (U-14) and one each from 2006, 2008 and 2010.

“It looks real fun. We’re having the welcome dinner in the Camp Nou, which is going to be unreal,” Greiseman said. “It’s one of the most famous stadiums. I’m going to learn a about that stadium and the world … It looks going to be a lifetime experience.”

Greiseman, who lives in Dix Hills, N.Y., said he played with a team last year that “wasn’t very good. So, coming here was a very good step up. There are coaches here that have taught me to how play correct soccer instead of dribbling it up and playing it forward all the time. You have to keep possession, keep the ball and let the team tire out.”

Asked what he has learned the most from his experience at the Barca Academy, Greiseman replied, “The biggest thing is how to play simple. I used to take risks all the time. I learned that’s not what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to keep the ball and wait for the opportunity and settle down.”

Added Mangiafico “It’s not like anything else you would see here or in America. It’s a different type [of style]. We always try to keep possession and we always … work on keeping the ball and moving it fast.”

Of course, during their stay in Spain, Greiseman and Mangiafico would love to be able to see one of the first-team Barca players. Yes, they are fans of the La Liga side, although their favorite players might not who you would necessarily think.

No, it is not Lionel Messi.

For Greiseman, it’s midfielder Sergio Busquets.

“He plays my position,” he said. “I love how he stays so composed on the ball. He distributes really well.”

For it Mangiafico, it’s goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen of Germany.

“Because I am the goalie for my team,” he said. “I love watching him play, such a great goalkeeper.”

There little doubt Mangiafico has been dedicated to the Barca Academy. He has traveled from his home in Farmington, Conn. to train with his team at the Elite Football Factory in Massapequa on Long Island two days a week and play a game on the weekend this winter. He will add a third practice session in the spring.

“In the car, I do my homework,” he said. “I’m used it to by now.”

Since the 30 countries in the tournament play the Barca way, it will be intriguing to see how teams deploying essentially the same styles will fare.

Needless to say, the tournament will be a learning experience at so many levels.

“We’re not going to put pressure on them,” Guasch said. “Only to be playing in such an environment, the FC Barcelona environment, that will be a lot of pressure for them, which will give them an experience of that. In the future, they will face the situation when have the pressure, maybe because it’s a big game, maybe because it’s a big competition, maybe because there are a lot of fans in the stadium or maybe there’s a really good college coach to the college they want to go, those situations will have a lot of pressure on them. But if they had experience in the past and they had a similar situation, they’ll be able to deal better with the situation.

“That’s on one hand. On the other hand, playing against better teams, equal or different, they will face a lot of teams from different countries and cultures, will give them also the experience of having different type of challenges they never had in the past.”

Guasch was optimistic the New York teams will acquit themselves well.

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to have success on this trip no matter what,” he said. “Of course, we want to be successful on the field as well. That’s why we are preparing the teams as much as possible, so we have a competitive team that can show good things to those other countries and especially to Barcelona.

“I think our teams will be very competitive. The competition there are select teams that are very good. There are teams from different places that are really good, from like Spain or Brazil, for example, where their culture and countries are known for their soccer. We’ve been working hard and very focused and they could adapt very quick to our way to play our methodology. They are ready for that. Of course, there are lots of things to improve. That’s what youth soccer is about. I am sure there will be competitive teams that will go far in the tournament.”