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The Purge Continues

Well, I’m still here.  I’m hiding, just in case van Hilst decides to sell me off too, but I’m here for now.  As van Hilst makes the club over in his image, there aren’t many others that can say the same.

The list of the dearly departed now includes former free-kick specialist Eugen Harangus, who was packed off to Poland in order to begin a coaching career.  More startlingly, we dispatched homegrown talent Duke Gilbertson to local rivals NYC Peregrines, where he can be reunited with Davie Edler, and also sold off powerful forward Nick “the Bull” Chang.

However, while these moves rocked the Bago faithful, it was the sale of Austin Choice that made clear that the current generation of homegrown talent isn’t long for the side.  Choice, the HUTM Youth Academy Player of the Year, was put on the block on the day he turned 17, and his sale to Slovenian side FC Tezncan was finalized three days later.  Of course, the club-record transfer fee of $6.3 mm mollified the fans somewhat, but a club following a homegrown strategy simply can’t sell off players like that.

In any event, everything suggests that more moves aren’t imminent.  At the moment, rumors are swirling around wide forward Parker Mitcham.  In fact, now that Curt Gavin’s U20 career has come to an end, even he could be on the move as well.  I’m just glad that club secretaries can’t be sold.  I hope so anyway.

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From Coup to Revolution

Well, say this for Conrad van Hilst, the man does not waste any time.  Almost immediately after maneuvering himself into sole control over our transfer budget, he set about placing our beloved Racing Winnebago on a new trajectory.  Today, we announced the signings of no less than four(!) 18-year-old inner midfielders, all of whom are rumored to feature prominently on the short list for the USA U20 team.  I’m sure that Saul Aguilar, Randall Hall, Dylan Folds and Frank Newton are all fine fellows, but it was more than a little disconcerting to have to introduce them all at once.

Of course, what would a revolution be without driving the former nobility into exile?  Logic, while generally not a factor in our decision-making, would seem to suggest that we can’t bring in this many new faces without selling off some of the old.  It was therefore unsurprising that “sources close to the club” have started suggesting that Duke “Duke” Gilbertson was available for transfer, and that local rivals NYC Peregrines have expressed interest in pairing him with Bago alumnus Davie “The Viscount” Edler.  Additionally, we made a point of informing the press that Niccola Fraccaro had completed his coaching badges, presumably because its tacky to actually hang a “for sale” sign on one of our players.  Almost immediately thereafter rumors surfaced that acquisitive Slovakian side Shopping FCS had tabled a bid for him as well.

More worringly, judging by manager Maruisz Chylstek’s ashen-face following a closed door meeting with van Hilst, is the likelihood that these two won’t be the only ones out the door.  At this point, the fate of all of our homegrown trainees hangs very much in the balance.

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A Boardroom Coup!

Technical Directors, much like Grand Viziers, tend to be scheming megalomaniacs.  In our case, it was actually in the job description, due to a brief but torrid love affair between the Chairman and the novels of Terry Pratchett, to wit: “Technical Director (Job Code: TD0032/A). Are you a devious, plotting, unreliable madman? Ah, good, then you can be my most trusted advisor.  Send references and salary requirements to HR.”  This process, amazingly, did not result in a flood of qualified applicants, so we instead turned to our aging forward, Conrad van Hilst.

Van Hilst then turned his attentions to the Chairman, shamelessly flattering him, while working in the occasional suggestion that Manager Danny Budde be ushered into retirement.  This did not work as well as one might have suspected since, while the Chairman certainly loved the brown-nosing, it was outweighed by the Chairman’s love of not spending any money.

Frustrated, van Hilst then turned to the board in an attempt to outflank the Chairman, and found greater success there.  Matters came to a head at today’s meeting, as a group of minority shareholders introduced a resolution calling for Budde’s firing and replacement by van Hilst, and started making noises about triggering the buy-sell clauses in their participation agreements should the Chairman defy their wishes.

The prospect of having to pay off the shareholders or lose control of the club seemed to have the Chairman on the brink of caving, when Lenin Ladines, a former Bago wingback who went on to become the CEO of our largest sponsor piped up to threaten to pull his support if Budde were replaced by van Hilst. Frankly, this turn of events shocked me as I had thought Ladines and van Hilst were friends dating back to their playing days, but there you have it.

Seemingly without options, the Chairman was about to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of commercial litigation, likely condemning us years of chaos.  Instead, it was van Hilst, of all people, who brokered a compromise.  While Budde was to be ushered into retirement, Ladines was placated by having club captain Mariusz Chylstek named manager instead of van Hilst.  Meanwhile, while the minority shareholders were denied their choice of manager, they were satisfied by van Hilst’s promotion to Director of Football, a nebulous title carrying with it an improved parking spot and total control over transfers.  Peace was restored, though bad feelings remained between everyone except, oddly, Ladines and van Hilst, who I saw dining amicably immediately following the meeting.

One hastily arranged press conference, and the deed was done.  Budde resigned in order to spend more time with his family, presumably in order to complain about being fired.  We have a new manager, albeit one without the final say in picking our players.  Van Hilst was mum about his plans for developing the squad, though his past proposals lead me to believe that change will be coming, and soon.

 

 

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Van Hilst’s Little Black Box

With the Baby Bagos leading us to a better-than-expected second place in the standings and Curt Gavin establishing himself as a member of the USA U20 squad, it was only a matter of time before we loosened the purse strings and allowed the club to take the next step in its evolution.  For us, the moment came at our midseason board meeting where the Chairman, perhaps buoyed by an extra celebratory drink or two after we knocked off the erstwhile contenders Col Gunners, was sufficiently impressed by Club Captain Mariusz Chlystek’s report on the progress of our six core homegrown trainees, Technical Director Conrad van Hilst’s ambitious vision for the Season 70 Project and the unusual lack of veiled insults between two of them that he authorized our financial director to make funds available for what could be as many as four new purchases by the end of this season.

Of course, merely deciding to bring in talent doesn’t make it so.  Someone has to do the hard work of scouting, so we set the minions to work generating reams of reports that were analyzed by what Van Hilst likes to call his “Black Box,” a proprietary program which crunches every last crumb of data in order to figure out which prospects are owned by clubs willing to pay the largest bungs will be the best fit for us going forward.

In our case, the Black Box identified Alexander de Craemer, a 20-year-old fullback  with considerable strength in the air and sideburns that make him a credit to any 70’s Night.  Negotiations ensued, threats were made, leaks planted with malleable members of the media, etc. and, when the dust settled, we wound up paying Le Club Deluxe an eye-watering $6,250,000 for his services.

Personally, I used the opportunity to call in a few markers and get a couple journos to hound the Chairman at the ensuing press conference into committing to making the full war chest available, rather than just uttering platitudes about a new dawn or some such.  Hopefully, public pressure will keep the tap flowing and the new signings coming in, but we shall see.

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How Can We Say Goodbye If You Don’t Go Away

Today is a bittersweet day in Bago land.  On the one hand, the Chairman must have had a banner day at the dog track this weekend, as we spent actual money on a real, live player who may or may not get flipped once the Board realizes what happened.  Specificially, the newest member of the famed Blue and Gold is one Sagi “So Near But Yet” Sofer, a 31 year old Israeli keeper and pun aficionado, who will take over between the sticks for the next few years.  Like most of our non-teenage contingent, Sofer will be joining the Racing Winnebago Academy of Hiding Money From the Board Leadership and working on his coaching badges while here.

Of course, not even we would play two keepers at the same time, so this is likely the end of the line for Mariusz Chlystek.  In his three years as our starting keeper, Chlystek became a favorite both within the dressing room and on the terraces, largely because of his evident passion for the team and basic human decency, both of which stood in stark contrast to Technical Director’s Conrad van Hilst’s often coldly efficient regime.

The move isn’t a total surprise, of course, Chlystek’s been showing all of his 37 years of late and his vocal opposition to the sale of Davie Edler did not endear him to van Hilst and the rest of the backroom staff.

However, surprisingly, and over van Hilst’s vehement objections, the Chairman refused to sanction selling Chlystek.  Instead, he’ll be sticking around as our new assistant manager, and charged with giving the team pep talks that our manager, Danny Budde, can no longer manage.   With Budde likely to retire at the end of the season in order to focus on something that speaks more directly to his passions, such as little open-faced sandwiches, I think its probable that Chlystek and van Hilst will be fighting it out to be the next manager.  The back-biting is likely to be something out of a reality show, which would put the Chairman in the role of the Bachelorette.  God help us all.

5

Transfer Shocker! The Viscount Is On The Block

Just when I thought I could skive off a bit early to enjoy what little remained of the holiday weekend, the Chairman took a break from his demanding schedule of day-drinking and internet scrabble in order to demand that I put out a press release.  “Hollen,” says he, “put out a press release- we’ve just listed Davie Edler.”  I started to ask why, but apparently a digital “Q” presented itself, and I was abruptly dismissed.

In any event, the news has cast enough of a pall around the place that we would probably cover  the mirrors and sit shiva, but for the fact that the Board would never shell out for decent whitefish.  Oddly, Edler himself seems to be taking the news in stride, claiming to welcome the new challenge and the chance to escape a New York winter.  Its the rest of the Baby Bagos that are the most heartbroken- Edler was one of a group of seven that have been together since playing rec league ball in the park, and the gang figured that they would spend their careers together here.  Now, the lads are finally internalizing the truth of high-level soccer- no matter how much you kiss the badge, you only get a mouthful of lint and the right to stay as long as management rates you, and not one second longer.  The realization of how ruthless of management can be (they already knew about the lint) is a heavy blow for them.  Ok, maybe not for the joker who convinced Gavin that we were sending Edler to a farm upstate, but for the rest of them.

As it happened, I wound up sharing a cab downtown with our Technical Director, Conrad von Hilst, and took the chance to ask him why we made the move.  He responded with a lot of blather about expected goals, contribution penalties, radar graphs and other statistics that, frankly, I did not begin to understand.  The gist of it, however, was that he and the rest of the analytics staff became convinced that players like Edler, who depend on their technical mastery to overcome a lack of pace or elite strength, were going to become obsolete as the game shifted towards man-marking tactics.   If he’s right (and he likely is), it’s a tragedy- a bit of the magic of the beautiful game being replaced by brute force.  Of course, we must be practical and adjust with the times, but you’ll forgive me if I take this bottle I liberated from the Chairman’s desk and spend the evening remembering a more romantic era.

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Week Four Recap: Vainly Searching for Wolf’s Bane

It is hard to overstate how big this last week’s trip to EDH Wolves was for us.  For us to even dream of winning the league, it was a match we had to have.  It was certainly the big kahuna, the whole enchilada, time to put up or shut up.  Unfortunately, we chose to shut up.

Unable to match the Pups’ skills in midfield, and no longer able to summon the passion to inspire our boys to transcend their limitations, manager Danny Budde chose to send the Bago out in a counter-attacking 5-4-1.  Essentially, we knew that we were going to be overrun in midfield, but hoped that our defense would shut them down and that between Arroyave’s pace, Gavin’s aerial ability, Edler’s technical wizardry or Mitcham’s maverick streak we could nick an undeserved goal or two.

Sometimes, a Fabian strategy like that works for us.  This time, it didn’t quite come off.  Edler hit a post with one shot, Mitcham missed the net by inches on another, and we never really threatened beyond that.  Defensively, we were able to shut down attack after attack, but their star forward, Jaider Gomez, was able to summon up a couple moments of magic out of his aching, 34-year-old legs and notch the 145th and 146th goals of his distinguished career.

With the loss, a difficult path to the title becomes near-impossible, as we’d need to pull off upsets in both matches against title favorite Col Gunners and beat EDH in the return fixture.  Stranger things have happened, but not often.  Still, there’s always next year.

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Week 3 Recap: The Magnificent Mr. Z

This week saw the Bago solidify an unlikely lead atop V.122, dispatching the more-local-than-the-name-implies U.S. Daggers 8-0.  Frankly, that scoreline favored the Daggers, as we jumped out to an early lead and cruised to an easy win.

Really, the most notable thing to happen in the match is that Tono Zalaeta notched a hat trick.  That would be impressive enough if he were an attacker, but Mr. Z is a defensive midfielder.  More astonishingly, he’s now notched 8 goals in three league matches and leads the golden boot competition.  Can he keep this up?  Absolutely not, but it would sure be nice if he could keep up this rampant run of form for another week or two.

Anyway, next week sees a critical league match away against EDH Wolves.  Win, and we’ll have a great shot at second, with the league title not out of reach.  Lose (and we’re definitely the underdog), and we’re probably fighting for third.

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Cup Recap: Canute vs. The Tide

Once one of England’s greatest kings, Canute is best known today for an incident where he ordered his knights to hold back the tide and wound up with wet feet.

Last night’s cup tie followed a similar pattern.  The far superior West Virginia Rovers came out in an ultra-aggressive 2-5-3, in an attempt to swamp us. However, following impassioned dressing room speeches by veterans Eugen Harangus and Aleksander Frasek, the Bago came out with an unusual verve, flying around the pitch to deny them the time and space necessary to work their magic.

The pressure paid dividends to begin with.  Frasek forced a turnover in midfield, and the ensuing counter-attack ended with Anibal Arroyave being taken down in the box.  Harangus slotted home the ensuing penalty and the Bago had a shocking lead.

Still, class will tell, and the Rovers quickly scored twice to retake the lead.  Things looked bleak, but then Parker Mitcham went on a mazy run down the right wing before unleashing either a truly ill-advised shot or a brilliant cross.  Either way, Frasek was able to tap it in and the scores were level.

In the second half, Rovers took the lead once more, but the Bago found the will to equalize once more, as Edler audaciously chipped the keeper.

That was as far as we could go, however, as fatigue inevitably slowed us the fatal half-step, causing us to drown in the Rovers’ tide.  A lucky fourth goal was shortly followed by a three-goals-in-three-minutes barrage that saw us fall 7-3 in a match far closer than that scoreline would indicate.  Still, an honorable exit and, in facing a team playing the style that the Baby Bagos will likely embrace when they grow up, a valuable learning experience.

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Media Day

Due to pluck, grit and our opponent’s forgetting to field any midfielders, we’ve managed to sneak into the Third Round Proper of the U.S. Open Cup.  As a reward, we’ve drawn a Third Division mainstays the West Virginia Rovers, which means that the media’s glare shines on us far more brightly than usual (i.e. we’re drawing actual reporters for once, and not just a couple fans claiming to be bloggers in order to cadge free bagels).  As is apparently traditional such circumstances, our Manager, Danny Budde, gave a press conference after our pre-game walkthrough.  Here are some excerpts:

Q: How do you think you’ll stack up against the Rovers tonight?

DB: Well, they are stronger, faster and more skilled than us, but they are also vastly more experienced, in better form, and don’t have their best player out with an injury picked up in some stupid international friendly.  So, its going to be a long night.

Q:  So, what will you tell your team to inspire them?

DB:  Exactly what I just told you.

Q:  What do you say to those who believe that you’ve lost your fire to motivate your team?

DB: [draws on cigarette] When the rats follow the pedi-cab, it is because they think pizzas will be dropped on the sidewalk.

Q:  Seriously, are you so burnt out that you can only muster a cut-rate Cantona impression?

DB:  [shrug]  Just be glad its not a Joe Kinnear impression.

Q: Ok, so do you plan on sitting down with the Rovers manager after this one and having a chat?

DB:  Absolutely, I usually meet with the opposing manager to share a few glasses of Two-Buck Chuck after each match.  Today, however, I laid in a special bottle.

Q:  So what did you get?

DB:  Three-Buck Chuck.

In an unrelated story, I’ve written a memo to the Chairman asking that funds be allocated for a media training program.  Given the usual attitude towards expenditures here, I would not expect much.