Archive for January, 2018

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Week 6: Living to Fight Another Day

Today, we had what was probably the toughest of the four-match stretch against the two other contenders in our league.  Rusko Team United are a Bronx-based side that’s been yo-yoing between Divisions 4 and 5 since season 60 or so.  Stylistically, they’re fairly similar to us- roughly comparable in midfield, with the defense stronger than the offense.  We’re better attacking from the flanks, they’re best attacking up the middle, but really you wouldn’t think there’s much between us.

In any event, Jorgensen anticipated that Rusko would be fired up for the derby match and come out aggressively.  While we, rather than fight fire with fire, would set our lads out in a defensively-oriented 4-5-1 in the hopes of either catching them on the counter or relying on our superior stamina to edge them out at the death.

It was a good plan.  But like most good plans, it did not survive first contact with the enemy.   18 minutes in, veteran Rusko forward Jorge Vargas scored his 75th career goal at the worst possible moment, getting on the end of a through ball and calmly slotting it home.

Forced to come forward a bit more, SSW was struggling to create openings when, in the 39th minute, Alex Barton decided to create one for himself, blazing past a couple Rusko defenders and blasting home the equalizer.

From that point, it looked like momentum might see us through.  But then, things got weird.  On the stroke of halftime, our starting keeper, Ferdynand Pasieska, went down with a six-week knee injury, placing our hopes on the rickety shoulders of our geriatric Estonian reserve keeper.  Then, in the second half, Janos Pailing picked up a second (and admittedly deserved) yellow card for scything down a Rusko winger.  With no other option, Jorgenson had no choice but to trim sails and see out a 1-1 draw.

In terms of this season, the draw keeps our fate in our hands, but without little margin for error going forward, and practically ensures that we would face a qualifier even if we manage the league title.  Our brain trust faces the question of whether we can manage with a senior citizen in goal for the vital part of our season, or whether we should mortgage the future to bring in some short term help.  For tonight, however, we can breathe a sigh of relief as we’ve managed to live to fight another day.

 

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A Dinner With The Mad Magyars

Last night, I sat down with our two newest arrivals, Hungarian defender Janos Paling and wingback Abel Jonas, to see how they’re acclimating to life in the big city.  Other than hoping that the rickety-looking chairs didn’t crack under their considerable bulks, the dinner conversation eventually turned to how the Wild Fenland Rovers took an immediate shine to both of them, which I attributed to their both having similarly, let’s say robustly physical, styles of play.

“Similar styles? No way!.  Unlike kopasz barat [bald friend] here, I play football like man,” said Pailing, ducking a bread roll.  “I don’t go bombing up wing like Arjen Robben or something.”

“Jani, we’ve been over this,” responded Abel with a grin, “there’s more to football than kicking forwards.”

“Nem!”

“Egan! I keep telling you, if you go up the wing, you can kick the defenders too.”

“Hmm…”

“Besides, when I do an overlapping run like that, Alex [Barton] has to play defense, it’s hilarious.”

“Yeah, Jorgensen’s face turn so red when Alex tries to tackle someone,  I wonder if he having stroke”

“Nah, its good for him. Its cathartic”

 

“Cathartic?” [a brief discussion in Hungarian ensued] “Ah, egan,” continued Pailng, “like when Malolepszy hit that guy last match? Must have added years to Jorgie’s life!”

“I told them not to call him Leslie…”

“Nah, was good for everyone.  The Rovers loved it, Leslie loved it, even if he say no, Boston not so much, but who cares about them?”

Before they started to think of more ways to improve the gaffer’s mental health, I tried to steer the conversation to safer ground by asking Abel how SSW’s facilities compared to his past stops.

“Well, unlike in the Montenegrin Fourth Division, you don’t have to chase chickens off the pitch before practice.  Still, they had much better omelettes on the training table there.”

“Ah omelettes,” Pailing chimed in, “would you believe that its impossible to get a decent calf’s brain omelette here?”

As it turned out, I had no trouble believing that.

“Oh well, maybe our next stop will have some.  Or maybe a decent cabbage soup,” said Abel.

I asked if they were homesick.

“No,” said Abel, “we like it here.  Great place to hang out for a season or two.  But, lets face it, nothing’s forever.”

“We’re mercenaries,” added Pailing, “but we’ll have fun while we’re here.”

“Doing what?” I asked.

“Hunting the Most Dangerous Game,” said Pailing, “Forwards.”

“Jani, again with the kicking people…”

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Week 4: Boston Brings The Brickbats!

This week, SSW was able to hold on to its edge in the league by dispatching basketball refugees Boston Celtix 8-0.  The lopsided scoreline does not reflect the hard-fought nature of the game, as Boston clearly subscribed to the “if you can’t beat them, kick them” school of soccer.  While this strategy, if such it can be called, did not benefit them at all on the pitch, it will have long-term carryover events.  Terry King was carried off after a vicious foul, while Leslaw Malolepszy was evidently called “Lesley” one time too many, as he dropped a Celtix midfielder with a creditable right hook to the chops, earning himself a red card and the undying affection of the more scurrilous members of the Wild Fenland Rovers (to wit, all of them).  In general, it was a miserable evening for everyone but our resident hard man, Janos Pailing, who not only gave as good as he got on the pitch but also notched his first career hat trick, good for man of the match honors.

As for the cup, reality set in for us this week against third division Jumping Jehovahs.  While we actually managed to more than hold our own in midfield, we were undone by the fact that our regular set piece takers were unavailable.  Rather than let one of his young charges take the blame, Jorgensen shouldered that responsibility himself, and proceeded to shank a penalty and a couple free kicks.  Since we weren’t able to threaten their goal much from open play, it was just a matter of time before they broke through.  In this case, JJ’s Joe Konopka opened the scoring with a bicycle kick goal that even the Wild Fenland Rovers were compelled to applaud.  From there, we had to chase the game, and they hit us on the counter a couple times to complete a 3-0 win.  Still, this year marked our best cup run yet, and our fans showed their gratitude by burning their membership cards in what I like to think was a form of tribute.

Next week, we get to play a higher-division team in the Sapphire Cup without our two best players, so that’ll end well.  In the league, we get one more bot team before the month that will make or break our season.

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Week 3 Recap: Wanderers In First Place!

SSW took on its first human opponents in the league this year, going on the road and defeating AC Poudre Rafters 4-0 to take over first place in V.165.

From the outset, SSW dominated possession, as Janos Pailing set out on a personal search and destroy mission against Rafters’ inner midfielder Drew Shott, following him around the field and kicking him whenever the referee’s back was turned.  These efforts nearly ended in disaster when Pailing limped off with an injury 32 minutes in following a nasty (if not undeserved) challenge from Rafters’ wing Leonard Zurita.

However, this application of frontier justice only spurred us on to new heights:  Rolando Blackmon-Thomas set aside his season-and-a-half long Emile Heskey impersonation to score an actual goal in the 34th minute, while veteran defender Thomas Ylikuju celebrated his first start of the year by doubling our lead in the next minute.  A frustrated Zurita got himself sent off minutes later, and any hope of a Rafters’ comeback left with him.

In the second half,  Wanderers were able to pay keep away almost the entire time, adding additional goals by man of the match Terry King and a second goal by RBT.

Following the win, six Wanderers were named to the series’ Team of the Week (RBT, Jonas, T. King, Krug, Malolepszy, Misariscabme).  SSW now faces two weeks of bot matches before a four-match stretch against its two primary contenders for the league crown.

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The End of the Beginning

When we originally set up a team party to watch the USA U-20 team take on Albania, the hope was that it was going to be a celebration of Alex Barton’s World Cup debut.  Instead, it turned into a wake, as a horribly-timed knock in our last cup match and the resulting drop in form put paid to his chances of joining the squad, at least for now.

Of course, we put the best possible face on it.  Denzell Koszarek, generally the leader of the young lads, did everything possible to make it an Irish wake, smuggling in a few bottles of Talisker and an array of snacks usually forbidden by our nutrition staff.  Meanwhile, the Mad Magyars kept the side in stitches by scheming up ever more elaborate revenge plots on the FC Keto midfielder that nicked Barton, while Nicky King debuted a new and wildly successful impersonation of manager David Jorgensen.

For the most part, Barton tried to join in the fun.  However, in the quieter moments, he would stare blankly at his bandaged thigh or look wistfully out the window as the incumbent US winger sent in another cross.  Still, his eyes stayed dry and, by the end, his smiles did not seem entirely forced.

There was one other incident of note.  Jorgensen, incensed by the failure of the U-20 coach to offer even pro forma condolences after SSW spent three seasons focusing all its training efforts on getting Barton to the brink of U-20, offered a few choice Danish expletives and hung up on the hapless national team staffer who called to suggest a training plan for Barton to narrowly miss out on making the senior national side in a decade.  When he turned apologetically to Barton afterward, the kid offered an enthusiastic “damn straight, skip” and turned the conversation to our upcoming opponents.  Who knows if this will hold, but an Alex Barton fully focused on SSW would be a terrifying prospect for our foes.

 

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Pyrrhus of Epirus

Slingsby Lane has a unique energy before a big match.  Its as if the old ground has shaken off the cobwebs and is once again shiny and new: the color of the pitch is more vibrant, the cries of the hawkers louder, the Wild Fenland Rovers’ tifo freer of typos.

While there are times that Wanderers can channel this spirit and lift their play to hitherto unseen levels, tonight it seemed that it unsettled them before their third round match against Fourth Division FC Keto.  As a result, while Wanderers had their share of chances, all the dangerous opportunities fell to Keto.  SSW only stayed in the match because the oldest of Wanderers, keeper Ferdynand Pasieka, was able to ignore his balky knees and make several acrobatic saves.

Then, in the 39th minute, disaster struck.  Alex Barton lingered over the ball a second too long, and was clattered by a studs-up tackle by a Keto fullback.  Barton fell to the turf clutching his thigh and was carried off the pitch.  To all the world it looked like Barton was going to be out for a couple weeks at the worst possible time.  Then, just as the manager was about to send in Nick King to take his place, I became aware of a disturbance on the sidelines.  Barton, desperate to impress the Team USA selectors in his last appearance before qualifiers, was begging our medic, Arijit Chitre, to let him back on the pitch,  With great reluctance.  Chitre allowed him to continue, and Barton limped back onto the field.

With matters still scoreless in the second half, Wanderers finally began to find a rhythm, even if hampered by Barton’s moving at no more than half his normal speed.  Finally, in the 71st minute, the breakthrough came.  A crunching tackle by Freddy Krug led to the ball rolling towards Barton’s feet.  One perfectly-weighted through ball later, and Terry King was one-on-one with the keeper.  He made no mistake with the finish, notching the only score in a 1-0 win.

The hangover from this one will be brutal.  Barton is now battered and bruised at the worst possible time for his U-20 hopes.  The team as a whole faces a tough league match, followed by an extremely difficult cup tie against Third Division aerial specialists Jumping Jehovahs.  Still, tonight is a night for celebration, as SSW is through to the fourth round.

 

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Alex Barton is Nervous

Blessed by the football gods with blazing pace and a keen eye for a pass, Alex Barton has never had to worry about making the team.   As a 10-year-old, the Weehawken Rec League fudged his age to smuggle him on to the travel team.  The first time our youth scouts saw him at 15, they handed him a contract at halftime.  At 17, he celebrated his birthday with cake, ice cream, and a spot in our first XI.

Part of being the anointed one is a nigh-unshakable confidence in one’s own abilities.  In Barton’s case, this can lead to him terrorizing older and stronger fullbacks on the pitch and a steady string of gorgeous girlfriends off of it.  On the other hand, the confidence comes at a price, and not just when he mixes up the names of said girlfriends.  For example, his propensity to try to beat his marker by reeling off 37 stepovers has probably taken five years of our manager’s life.

Now, however, Barton actually faces a battle for his spot.  The USA U-20 team will be announcing its squad for qualifiers later this week, and Barton is among three players battling for one, maybe two, wing spots.  The battle is razor-close at the moment too- all three players have pace to burn and, while Barton’s playmaking skills are better suited to helping a team control midfield, the other two can pump in crosses with a slightly more delicate touch.

Realistically, it’ll come down to whomever’s in the best form at the time, and this is where you can see the nerves start to set in.  As recently as two weeks ago, Barton was in the form of his life, able to pick a pass from 30 yards, cutting back on defenders like a young Arjen Robben, and even generally supportive of the concept of “tracking back on defense,” albeit still opposed to it his specific case.  Now, however, you can see him start to press.  Nothing too dramatic, but the moves are less sharp, less instinctive, perhaps a half-second slower than they were, indicative of a player thinking a bit more than they were.

Hopefully, Barton will be able to find his groove once more, not least because we have a tough but winnable cup match tomorrow.  But will he manage it, and will it be enough to make Team USA?  He (and everyone else at the club) will be on tenterhooks until the squad is announced on Friday.

 

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League Week 2: A Bloodbath At Bathory

Steeple Sinderby Wanderers made the short trip upstate, taking on Dybesciaki Bathory in lovely and scenic Utica.  SSW scored early and often, securing a comfortable 8-0 win notable for a hattrick from player-manager David Jorgensen, which was enough to briefly propel him to the top of our league’s top scorer chart.

While Jorgensen’s Golden Boot campaign is likely to come to a shuddering halt in the next week or two, his place in Wanderers’ lore is likely secure.   The best of a raft of veterans purchased to keep what was then a newly-promoted SSW side in Division V, Jorgensen was Wanderers’ captain from the day he signed on the dotted line, and a cerebral box-to-box midfielder capable of keeping an underdog team cool and organized under the most desperate of circumstances.  All of this was, however, overshadowed by the iconic image of his career, a photo snapped at the moment when, in a rage, he grabbed an opposing defender by the scruff of the neck after having been kicked one too many times.  That combination of fire and ice is still evident in his managerial role.  Most days, Jorgensen runs a disciplined defensive side, capable of frustrating opponents by keeping its shape and surprising them on the counter.  Nevertheless, Jorgensen’s reactions when, say, Misariscabame makes a silly pass under pressure or when Barton acts as if tracking back on defense is for lesser men, can be a sight to behold.  Lets just say that everyone connected with the club has become an expert in the theory and practice of Danish expletives and leave it at that.