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Week 1 Recap: The Journey Begins

After all the drama of the off-season, Steeple Sinderby Wanderers returned to the pitch this week.  For us, as a newly promoted team, anything better than auto-relegation back to Division V qualifies as a success this year.  Realistically, our survival depends on beating out two of the other three newly-promoted teams, with any points we can take from the more-established sides a greatly appreciated bonus.

To make matters worse, we have no chance to ease into the division this year, as we play last year’s top three teams in our first three matches.  This week’s opponents, the misguidedly affectionate Amish Wife Collectors, last season’s third-place finishers, are an all-out attacking juggernaut, with an offense that would not be out of place in the MLS and a midfield stronger than anything we could hope to match.  Notably, our manager decided not to try and fire up the lads overmuch.  Instead, we would stay cool, collected and organized, allowing the five at the back to soak up the pressure as best they could, and try to hit them on the break.

The key to this plan was the two newest Wanderers:  Ronald Sellers was responsible for marshaling our backline, making sure that none of their star forwards had the time or space necessary to work their magic, while keeper Chris Masters would need to be at his best in order to turn away the chances they did get.

In any event, the Wife Collectors unsurprisingly controlled the early going, and their defenders naturally began to keep a higher and higher line.  This proved to be their undoing when, in the 22nd minute, Sellers was able to send a long ball down the left flank, setting up a footrace between the Flying Typo, Luis Aldair Misarscabame, and two shocked Polygamist defenders.  There could only be one winner in that scenario, and Misariscabame finished off the move by rounding the keeper and slotting the ball home, giving SSW a shock 1-0 lead.

For the next few minutes, we had the giants off balance, and the chances started to come.  Koszarek had an open shot from the edge of the box, while Jonas was able to get on the end of a free kick.  However we could not get the second goal and, by halftime, there was a sense of an opportunity lost.

By the second half, it was clear that the Polygamists had righted the ship, and it seemed like nearly the entire 45 minutes were played in our end.  After a couple top-notch saves from Masters, the inevitable breakthrough came in the 59th minute, as Victor Molleda got free on the right and was able to knock in a cross for the equalizing goal.

However, that equalizer would be all they would get.  We were able to play with a composure belying our youth and choke the remaining life out of the game, holding on for what may well be a critical 1-1 draw.

 

 

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Blackmon-Thomas Sold!

Well, the Rolando Blackmon-Thomas saga ended with a bang, as we reached an agreement to sell him to Luxembourgian side Hogan’s Zeroes for a club record fee of $6.9 million.  However, this battle also seems to have left manager David Jorgensen drained, as he seems to have lost some of the easy authority he used to project.  Hopefully this malaise will not persist, since the lads will need every drop of inspiration we can muster as we tackle a higher division, but we shall see.

In any event, at least we put most of the money to immediate use, bringing in 23-year-old Chris Masters, who is an immensely talented keeper but, evidently, not a man to suffer fools gladly.  The latter attribute was on full display during his first practice with the side, much of which he spent expounding on the many positional failings of our defenders.  My ears are still ringing from the tongue-lashing he gave young Nick King after the latter blew an offside trap.  All of this will hopefully help us tighten up on defense in the long run, but it certainly did not endear Masters to the rest of the side, and makes for a somewhat deflated Wanderers side as we head into our season opener.

 

 

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Blackmon-Thomas Crisis Talks Held

In the end, it came down to money.

Following a hard-fought 2-0 win over Nisqually Kahnaway, the SSW brain trust met to determine the future of troubled forward Rolando Blackmon-Thomas.

Even after the ructions of the last few weeks, there was considerable sentiment to keep him.  Carl Oppum, our Head of Recruitment and the man most responsible for signing him in the first place, argued strongly for keeping him, pointing to his goal-scoring record over the past season and speculating that the second-chance goals the Back Bay Bull created with his powerful frame would be especially important against the stronger defenses we will be facing after promotion.  Additionally, club captain Ruggero Panero was optimistic that with a little sage mentoring on his part, Blackmon-Thomas’ relationship with manager David Jorgensen could be repaired.

Jorgensen, however, would have none of it.  I, and probably everyone else in the room, chalked his insistence on selling on  an unwillingness to brook any challenges to his authority, if not simple wounded pride.  Nevertheless, the wily Dane was able to recast the discussion by arguing that Blackmon-Thomas’ value was at its peak now and that keeping him would be financially disastrous.  After all, we will be shifting our training focus to defending and then crossing, neither of which would much benefit him, so why let his value depreciate?  Instead, with an adequate short-term replacement available in Emilusz Niemiec, Wanderers could cash in while Blackmon-Thomas’ value was at its peak, and use the money to otherwise strengthen the squad.

The final decision lay with our chairman, who noticeably perked up at the mention of cashing in, though his enthusiasm did not seem to extend to actually spending the money received.  Accordingly, he gave the authorization to list Blackmon-Thomas, albeit for a hefty sum.  Assuming we can find a buyer for him over the next few days, it’ll be a sad end to the Wanderers career of one of our most promising talents.

 

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Offseason Update: Lots of Matches, Lots of Drama

Even when the league and the cup are on hiatus, there is never a true offseason for Wanderers.  Between the business end of the Golden League season, and the frenetic Heroes of 2016 and the Supporter Week tournaments, SSW manages to fit in a season’s worth of games into two remarkably hectic weeks.

This year, matters on the pitch have gone fairly well for us.  Hard-fought wins over FC X-Team and Mighty Karak Chai have put us in line for a Golden League Masters berth, while we were able to go a creditable 7-3 in the 2016 tournament.  As for the Supporter Week tournament, shameless Fabian tactics earned us wholly undeserved draw against the Estonian Mestriiliga champs and, uh, played several other matches about which the less said the better.

Behind the scenes, however, a pall has fallen over the side.  Manager David Jorgenson’s displeasure with Rolando Blackmon-Thomas’ complaints about our upcoming shift to defensive training turned to full-blown anger after Blackmon-Thomas was sent off in the 2016 tournament following a pair of reckless challenges.  While the dispute might have otherwise blown over during a less intense part of the season, the crucible of tournament tournament play prevented any kind of clear-the-air session.  Instead, Jorgensen benched Blackmon-Thomas in favor of new arrival Emilusz Niemiec, a decision made easier after Niemiec has proven to be a revelation in a false nine role, and has refused to restore him to the starting line-up.  For his part, Blackmon-Thomas has taken to posting cryptic Twitter messages in between the many calls to his agent, neither of which bodes especially well.

With a relegation struggle looming ahead of us this year, I think that there’s a recognition on all sides that this situation needs to be resolved quickly.  As such, Jorgensen’s slated to meet with the Chairman and our senior back-office staff immediately after tonight’s Golden League match with Nisqually Kahnaway to try and agree a path forward.  I could see the parties making up, Blackmon-Thomas sold off or even Jorgensen replaced with a more offensive-minded coach.  Stay tuned…

 

 

 

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Week 14: Champions!

There are seasons packed with high drama from beginning to end, seasons like last year, which turned on a 118th minute goal in a qualifier.  This season was not one of those.  Instead, after being champions-elect since beating Rusko in Week 9, this week Steeple Sinderby Wanderers completed its title campaign and clinched auto-promotion in the most anti-climatic way possible, with a 10-0 win over bot Steel City Chaos.  Such a pasting does not require a deep analysis, but there were a couple incidents worthy of note.  First, Roberto Blackmon-Thomas put up a couple more goals, clinching the Golden Boot Award.  Second, it turns out that I made a mistake in not noting the mid-week signing of Emiliusz Niemiec a defensive forward who, for the nominal sum of $500,000, will bring veteran nous and solid leadership to our attack.  Niemiec, of course, made me regret the omission by notching four goals in his debut.

Of course, every success brings a new set of challenges, and this victory is no exception.  Next year promises to be a grim struggle to survive in Division IV, with manager David Jorgensen’s plan to switch to defensive training likely to dovetail nicely with what should be a long season of pressing and counter-attacking football.

Actually, it was this planned switch that brought about the only sour note of the day.  During his post-match press conference, Blackmon-Thomas decided to channel his inner Romario and announce that, now that he was an anointed Golden Boot winner, he would henceforth only practice in the penalty area.  Then, ignoring the striking shade of red that Jorgensen had turned, the Back Bay Bull then gave a testy “No Comment” to what should have been a soft-ball question about what he hoped to gain from the upcoming defensive training.

That said, these are problems for another day.  For now, SSW can bask in the glow of their hard-won title as we head into our offseason slate of Golden League match-ups and the Heroes of 2016 and Supporter Week tournaments.

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Week 13: Barton Wins HTUM Talent Of The Season

The last home match of the season is always a busy time for the back-office staff here at Slingsby Lane.  The Operations crew has to deal with a larger than usual crowd and the need to sell off the remaining supply of knishes, Recruitment has to begin finalizing the short list of transfer prospects for next season and to lay in earplugs against Finance’s inevitable shrieks of pain, Security needs to convince our ultras that this is not the appropriate time to set any portion of the stands ablaze and so on.  This year, I had one additional duty thrust upon me: organizing a pre-game ceremony so that some Golden League oligarch could present Alex Barton with the trophy for winning the HTUM U20 Talent of the Season Award (and to drink all the good scotch, but I digress).

Most of us here were quite pleased for Alex- this could easily have been a lost season for him after he narrowly missed out on making the USA U20 team, but instead he buckled down, focused on improving his playmaking abilities, and played a key role in our campaign.  In fact, his 85th minute goal in a 1-0 win over Owls was arguably the turning point of the season.  The one dissenting voice was manager David Jorgensen who, like the possibly apocryphal Roman slave of old, could be heard muttering “Remember, you are mortal” to Barton during his triumph.  Ok, it may have actually been “keep tracking back on defense or I’ll smack you.”  Same thing, really.

Turning to the match itself, it demonstrated precisely why Barton is both so frustrating and tantalizing as a prospect.  Asked to play in an unaccustomed forward role due to our putting Rolando Blackmon-Thomas in midfield to work on his playmaking and because Ruggero Panero is still out injured, Barton promptly embarked on a display of spin moves, rabonas and general hot-doggery that had Jorgensen gnashing his teeth in frustration.  He also chipped in two of the nicer goals you’ll ever see and sparked us to an easy 8-0 win over Dybesciaki Batory that all but clinched auto-promotion.

In the post-match press briefing, Jorgensen was asked about his plans for Division IV.  After dispensing with the obligatory cliches about not looking past bot team Steel City Chaos next week, he said “we’ll be buckling down next year and focusing on defense.  It’ll be a shock to the system for a certain Fancy Dan who shall remain nameless, but he’ll just have to adjust.  Or else.”

While this might be chalked up as a mere motivational ploy, we shortly demonstrated that it was not, as Jorgensen announced the signing of 23-year-old Ronald Sellers, a powerful Chicagoan described as our central defender of the future, for a club-record fee of $4.3 million.  So, I guess we’ll see how Barton adjusts to playing wingback next year.  It’ll be, um, interesting.

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Week 12 Recap: Sinking the Rafters

Jimmy Cannon once wrote “the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.” Such was the case yesterday, as we dispatched AC Poudre Rafters, the last human team on our schedule.

Personally, I will admit to some nerves before the match since we were clearly going to bear the burden of attacking, meaning that one fortunate counter-attack and some inspired defending from the scrappy Rafters could undo all that we’ve accomplished so far.  However, when I tried to ask manager David Jorgensen after training on Saturday how he planned to handle this, he  “Relax, it’ll be fine. Jere [Halla, our form coach] did some Finnish voodoo thing and the boys are spitting fire.  We’re going to stomp them.”  Jorgensen declined to further comment on what constituted a “Finnish voodoo thing” and, terrifyingly, only winked when I informed him that the club would not be reimbursing any reindeer-related cleaning expenses.

In any event, whatever Halla did worked.  Yesterday was the kind of day that everything just clicked for us- every pass found its target, our chances were taken with aplomb and our defense mopped up their few attacks with ease.  When the dust settled, we were 6-0 victors, as Misariscabame and Blackmon-Thomas notched a brace each, with Barton and Nick King rounding out the score sheet.  Our analytics department had it as easily our best match ever, and noted it was the first time we had ever cracked the 300-hatstat barrier.  (Our analytics department then had to sit down and attempt to explain to me what a hatstat was.  Let us just note that it involves math in some capacity and move on to happier things.).

Moving forward, we finish up with two bot teams so the league title should be secure [knock wood] and the question becomes whether we’ll have to play a qualifier afterwards.  Right now, we are above the auto-promote line by just one goal, so we may be sweating this one out.  Stay tuned.

 

 

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Week 11 Recap: The Legend of Frenchy King

This past week saw another comprehensive victory for SSW, a 11-0 thrashing of Boston Celtix in a match that never saw us have to get out of second gear.  Rather than spend time analyzing every last kick of the ball, I figured that this would be the opportune time to shine the spotlight on the man of the match winner: Terry “Frenchy” King.
Terry King

Terry’s been with us for four seasons now, joining us as a 19-year-old defender from his hometown Vancouver Patriots.  Nicknamed “Frenchy” by his teammates after a certain club secretary, who shall remain nameless, accidentally typed “Quebec” instead of  “British Columbia” in the press release.  Terry decided to lean in to his new heritage, adopting a sneer worthy of a Parisian headwaiter, exclaiming “Tabernac” at opportune moments, and learning several of the words to “Alouette,” all to the immense amusement of his teammates.

On the pitch, Terry’s been nearly as adaptable, moving from central defense to wingback with aplomb and even showing some aptitude as a winger.  In all of these roles, he’s been an intelligent defender with a knack for rising above what he insists on calling “le grand achalandage” to head in set pieces.  Sadly, his progress has stalled a bit over the last couple seasons, as Jorgensen switched our training focus to playmaking and focused his efforts on others.  Nevertheless, Terry accepted the lesser role with a pseudo-Gallic shrug, has consistently been one of our best players on the pitch and has continued to be the life and soul of our clubhouse parties.

Going forward, however, there are questions as to whether Terry will be with us once this group hits its prime.  He’s a couple years older than the rest of our core trainees and the Payroll Department grumbles every time we have to pay the 20% premium for international talent, so I happen to know that our scouts have their eyes out for an American replacement.  But, whatever, the future may hold, Terry’s played a key role in making SSW what it is today, and it’ll take a heck of a player to replace him.

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Week 10 Recap: The Rise of the Back Bay Bull

I found out this week that the Back Bay Bull, Rolando Blackmon-Thomas was the son of a lovely pair of certified public accountants who came up from Brookline to watch us slaughter bot team and caps lock aficionado 4EPHO MOPE.  Frankly the news that Ro has parents came as something of a relief, as I always half-suspected that he was an anvil brought to life by some spirit who was either particularly football-obsessed or determined to spite his local blacksmith.  After all, he appears wider than he is tall and is strong enough to shrug off all but the hardest challenges.  On the other hand, most anvils have a better first touch than Ro displayed last season.Rolando Blackmon-Thomas

Ok, I’m being a little unfair.  Ro joined us last season for what is still a club record fee, and the pressure of that was clearly too much for a shy 20-year-old.  Rather than embrace the best part of his game and simply bulldoze his way past defenders, he felt that he needed to display a level of finesse and refinement that he did not possess.  The result was two goals for the entire season, what appeared to be two thousand failed stepovers, a level of frustration that caused him to repeatedly snap at the manager and, relatedly a new club record for most stairs run at Slingsby Lane in a single season.

This week’s match illustrated how much things have changed this year.  Ro notched two first-half goals off free kicks swung into the mixer when he was able to shoulder opponents out of the way and get to the ball first.  He then completed his hattrick in the second half by out-hustling a demoralized defender to get on the end of a cross from Alex Barton, a feat which represented his fourteenth goal in all competitive matches this year and put him in a tie for our league’s Golden Boot.

What’s different this year?  Well, a lot of it might simply be getting used to life in the big city, plus the team’s initial success this year meant that our fans were more inclined to forgive and forget the occasional missed chance.  But I suspect the biggest part of the change is the role of our other forward, veteran Ruggero Panero, who deployed a mixture of Zen aphorisms liberally salted with Italian expletives in order to get Ro to stop thinking so much and get back to playing more instinctively.

While this approach has worked wonders so far, who knows if the changes will last.  For one thing, Panero picked up an injury at the end of our last match and will be away from the team for the next month as he undergoes rehab.  In addition, the gaffer has sketched out a plan to spend the next season or two focusing on the team’s defensive skills, which will inevitably raise questions about Ro’s future at the club.  Will a potentially unsettled Blackmon-Thomas revert back to his bad habits, or will he be able to drown out the noise with the sound of one hand clapping?  Only time will tell.

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Week 9 Recap: Rumble in the Bronx

Forget all the platitudes, all the mealy-mouthed statements about “taking it one match at a time,” and “not looking past [insert bot team here].”  This was it.  This week’s match against Rusko Team United was the fixture we had circled on our calendars ever since it became clear in the early part of the season that the winner of this derby match would not only have local bragging rights, but would also be the presumptive league winner.

Given the importance of this match, many of our fans journeyed up to the Bronx, so it was unsurprising that Rusko were able to sell all 45,000 seats at the Nou Can Caralleu.  However, in a dastardly display of cheating (or “gamesmanship” when we did the same to them), most of our support were denied entry, ensuring that our lads would take the pitch faced with a deafening and implacably hostile crowd.

However, while this might have cowed our young side in the past, it had no effect today.  Our manager, David Jorgensen, gave the pre-match pep talk of his life, tearfully relaying the words of little Billy Jorgensen who, on his deathbed, begged his beloved uncle David for just one more Wanderers victory.  Afterwards, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place, and even I was willing to run through walls for SSW, even though I was the one charged with keeping the “miraculously healed” Billy out of sight until he could be loosed on the post-game spread.

Of course, the other guys must have had a fradulently comatose second cousin or something, because Rusko was up for battle as well and probably would have overrun us but for the heroic man-marking efforts of Janos Pailing who left an indelible, cleat-shaped impression on their best midfielder.  As it was, unlike the cagey, tactical skirmish of our first meeting, this was simply a firefight, a coruscating, end-to-end roller coaster ride, as we spent most of the first half trading haymakers, but unable to draw blood.

Finally, in the 35th minute, a breakthrough!  Our strongest player, Rolando Blackmon-Thomas, simply out-muscled two Rusko defenders to get to a rebound and slam it in for a 1-0 lead.

Rusko began to claw their way back into it, but a second goal right after halftime by The Notorious R.B.T. (as our marketing department sadly insists on calling him) took any remaining win out of their sails.  Terry King neatly headed in a corner kick to add an insurance goal, and we left as 3-0 winners.

With the win, SSW is well set-up for the rest of the season, with four bot games and a home game against the 4th-best team in the league.  The next major question is whether we will face a qualifier to get back to Div IV.  We’re currently level on points with the cut line, but 20 goals back in terms of goal differential.  Between attrition and all the bot games, we can probably close the gap by the end of the season, but it’ll be a close-run thing.