Player Logs: Mark Lavery Checks In
Mark Lavery is a graduate of Oglethorpe University and is a SoccerViza alum who earned a contract with Icelandic club Hamar in March, 2014. Now under contract in Costa Rica, Mark accepted the opportunity to write in detail about his experience in Latin America, describing life on and off the field as it unfolds for him.

By Mark Lavery

My name is Mark Lavery and I currently play professional soccer for Juventud Escazuceña in Escazu, Costa Rica.  The season in Costa Rica is divided into two halves - the Apertura and the Clausura (opening and closing).  Interestingly, Costa Rica is one of the few countries where the Apertura begins in the middle of the calendar year.  That being said, I have been in Costa Rica since early June participating in pre-season as my team prepares for the start of the 2015-2016 season, which kicks off in August.  I feel that it would be interesting for many people to read what a professional pre-season entails - the training, the logistics, and life off the field. 

Its always difficult to go to a foreign country and start a preseason with a new team. I’ve had experience with this in the past, as my second year of playing professionally was in Iceland.  However, one of the great things about Iceland was that pretty much everyone spoke English.  My experience in Costa Rica has been a bit more difficult… nobody on my team speaks English (including the coaching staff).  This makes it difficult to understand drills, instructions, and to communicate in general with my teammates. With that said, the amazing thing about soccer is that it truly is the world’s sport.  My lack of ability to communicate has allowed me the opportunity to focus on letting my game speak for itself. 

(Estadio Nicolas Masis Quesada, Juventud Escazuceña)

Pre-season in Costa Rica is extremely demanding.  We are rarely given any off days, and when we do train its always intense.  I haven’t had a “recovery day” in over a month of training.  This has been an adjustment for me, but the players here are used to this type of schedule.  They grind hard every single day at practice and rarely ever sit out because they are “injured.  A typical training session always starts with the infamous game every player loves… rondo.  It is always fun to play this game, although, my team often ends up trying to get certain players put into the middle over and over again!  After rondo we usually begin our “real” training.  We start with some physical work mainly focusing on core strength.  We then proceed to some passing activities to get our bodies ready to play.  Next we focus on possession games.  The Costa Rican style emphasizes possession at all times, and in all areas of the field.  So, everyone on the team is forced to be technically sound.  After possession, we normally go into some type of game - 11v11, 7v7, etc.  Towards the end of practice players work on whatever they need to in order to improve their individual game; whether that’s shooting, running, or skill work, or crossing and finishing. 

(Estadio Municipal Perez Zeledon, A.D. Municipal Perez Zeledon)

Fortunately, I have had some amazing experiences in only a month of playing here.  For example, I have played in some awesome games against quality opponents: Herediano (champions of the top division in Costa Rica/CONCACAF Champions League Semi- Finalists), Perez Zeledon (strong top division team), and the Costa Rican U23 National Team.  The game against the national team was great because we played at the national training facility…plus, it was really cool to have been given the opportunity to play against players that are going to be (or have been) in the Olympics, or representing Costa Rica in a World Cup.

(Costa Rica National Training Facility)

Once I was told that I was going to be signed I had many things to take care of logistically.  The first was returning to the United States in order to get a background check and a copy of my birth certificate.  These items are necessary if any player is going to play abroad because you will have to get a work permit to live in another country.  The second problem was that my wife and I are currently paying for an apartment in Atlanta.  So, we have to break our lease, move out, and find somewhere to store our things.  This is not a huge issue, but it is definitely something all players should think about as they pursue playing professionally as a career.  Unfortunately, there is not a ton of information available for players as they go through the process of signing their first contract, and often times the logistics can be very stressful.  Its always better to ask questions first!   

(Estadio Jose Joaquin Fonseca, C.D. Barrio Mexico)

Life off of the field is great in Costa Rica.  I am currently living with a couple of other players in a house.  We were fortunate enough to be able to have someone who cooks, cleans, and does laundry for us, so life is pretty simple here.  On top of that, there are a good amount of things to do in the area I’m living in.  There’s an extremely nice mall, IMAX Theater, and great restaurants.  That being said, I definitely try to stick to a routine.  We generally practice from 9:00-11:30 every day.  Once I get home from practice I hang out with the guys for a bit, and then I walk to the gym.  Often times, after the gym my roommates and I will juggle outside, play soccer tennis, or do skill work.  When we do not know what to do we always seem to end up with a ball at our feet.  I guess it can’t get much better than that!  I’ll check back in once our season gets ready to gear up!

(National Theatre of Costa Rica, San Jose)