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Week 2 Recap: Hosting the Champs

This week marked our home opener, and we had a doozy of a match-up for our supporters.  Defending champions Celtic SFO were coming to town, a well-balanced squad boasting the best ratings in the league according to our analytics staff, probably because they also have 10 or so highest payrolls in all of Div IV at an eye-watering $400K (we, of course, have gone cheap at a mere $169K, well under the division average).  To make matters worse, they were coming in angry and desperate, having taken a largely undeserved loss in week 1.

In the past, a match like this would have seen us taking the largest bus we could find and parking it in front of the net.  But, manager Panero decided to take this opportunity to launch the era of “bossa nova football,” so we took a different approach, playing two up top in a possession-oriented 3-5-2 and spending as much time as possible playing keep-away from our visibly surprised opponents.

The new approach paid dividends in certain respects: we were able to dance around their tackles enough to dominate possession, and even created 10 chances to their one.  Unfortunately, we squandered nine of those chances, as forward Emilusz Niemiec apparently was laboring under the impression that the objective was to hit the ball off the crossbar rather than into the net.  Worse, Celtic scored on their only chance of the match, as their Simon Singh managed to beat Misariscabame (who otherwise had a solid game subbing for Chopper in central defense) off the dribble and snuck a finesse shot past a despairing Masters.

Still, a 1-1 draw under the circumstances is a fine result, putting us in sole possession of second place.  Next week, league leaders Amish Wife Collectors come to town- they’re a strong attacking outfit with a wage bill even higher than Celtic’s after having spent $18mm on players since the season began.  Still, if Panero can somehow scheme his way to a win next week, that would be enormous for us- we’d be in first place and would have to be considered legitimate contenders after having taken on last year’s top three in consecutive weeks.

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Week 1 Recap: Panero Speaks!

Following a debut victory over Cavaliers’ VFC, new manager Ruggero Panero sat down for an interview with Leopold Czerny, a Wanderers alumnus and the current host of Wanderers Update, a weekly program dedicated to all things SSW.  Here’s what was said:

LC:  Skip, congrats on a winning debut and welcome to the Update.

RP: Thanks, happy to be here.

LC:  So, you were 1-0 down well into the second half.  How nervous were you before getting the equalizer?

RP:  Not very.  No, really!  We were getting some good chances out there, so I figured we’d break through sooner or later.  And once Koszarek got us level, the momentum was key for [Terry] King’s getting the winner right after.

LC:  While you came in promising a more attacking approach, it seems like Wanderers just sat back and counter-attacked for much of the game.  As a former defender, I heartily approve.  That said, what can we expect from you tactically going forwards?

RP:  Jurgen Klopp plays heavy metal football.  I play bossa nova football, keeping the ball and using it to dance around the other guys.  However, matches like this one, when we’re on the road against one of the best midfields in the league, is time to step on their feet rather than dance.

LC: Sellers had to be subbed off in the first half with an apparent injury.  Any word on his condition and where do you go from here?

RP:  The medics tell me that Chopper has a groin strain and is certainly out for next week’s game against Celtic, and no better than 50/50 for the following week.  Whenever you lose the HTUM Defender of the Year, its a huge blow, and we certainly struggled after losing him, so we’ll need to tweak things a bit until he gets back.

Q:  Keeper Chris Masters was named Man of the Match and made the league’s team of the week.  What did you think of his performance?

RP:  Well, any time the keeper’s Man of the Match, its a sign that your defense didn’t have the best of nights.  That said, he was huge for us, and there’s no way we win this one without him.

LC:  Two of your offseason signings, Kris Krenski and Le Chieu made their competitive debuts tonight.  How did you think they did?

RP:  Krenski gave the kind of veteran’s performance we brought him in for, and that pass to spring Terry for the winning goal was a thing of beauty.  Chieu blew an assignment on their goal, which is a problem with new players, but that’ll get ironed out and he was otherwise pretty solid.

LC:  Finally, what did you think of [Alex] Barton’s performance tonight?

RP:  Well, he was ok, but the heat seemed to slow Alex down a little bit.  I think its all the mousse he slathers on his head.  If he were bald like me, there wouldn’t be a problem.

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Jorgensen Out!

The great Eduardo Galeano once wrote “the manager believes soccer is a science and the field a laboratory, but the genius of Einstein and the subtlety of Freud is not enough for the owners and the fans.  They want a miracle worker like Our Lady of Lourdes, with the stamina of Gandhi.”

In the case of David Jorgensen, his first two years as our manager contained enough miracles to satisfy even our most restless supporters.  Combining a pragmatic defensive approach with a penchant for inspiring the lads to perform above their abilities, Jorgi transformed SSW into a side that no one wanted to play- a well-drilled machine capable of turning matches against far better sides into stalemates, squeezing out draws where we should lose, and even stealing the occasional match with a well-timed counter attack.  And the results followed- we somehow managed to make a relegation qualifier in a division we had no business earning a point in then, after a heartbreaking defeat in said qualifier, rallied the side to promote straight back up with ease the following year, and made consecutive runs to the fourth round of the US Open Cup, not to mention a Golden League Masters appearance.

Last year, however, the magic ran dry.  Whether he became jaded following a dust-up with erstwhile star forward Rolando Blackmon-Thomas, or whether the players had simply heard all his speeches before, his ability to motivate the side notably waned.  In addition, his defensive approach seemed to begin to hold the side back, turning a team that had previously been a scrappy underdog into a lousy favorite, as we dropped two matches to a deeply inferior St. Croix Destroyers side and drew several other games they should have won.  Worse, we started to pale in comparison to sister side Racing Winnebago, who scored buckets of goals and progressed further than we did in the Masters.

Pressured by an impatient fandom, the Board acted, consigning Jorgensen to the Outer Darkness of professional punditry and anointing baking enthusiast Ruggero Panero a new savior.  Panero, for his part, has attempted to restore faith by promising a more expansive, midfield-centric approach, shipping off malcontent Janos Pailing and making three new signings: utility defender Kurt Krenski, maverick Vietnamese winger Le Chieu and, most shockingly of all, an actual forward in the person of one Gabor Horvath.  Panero even stated that we might play with more than one up top for the first time in over a year!  Clearly a revolution is afoot.

Still, while the fans and ownership are thrilled with our new messiah, at least until we actually play a match, I can’t help but to feel a twinge of regret for Jorgi, who took us to new heights and kept us there, and to wonder if he had a point when he stated that playing a more aggressive game would put us at a disadvantage to our more-established league mates and put us at risk of heading back down to V.  I sure hope not.

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Weeks 10-14: Road to the Fourth Place Trophy

Apologies for the longer-than-anticipated gap in coverage.  Unfortunately, events sometimes conspire to prevent even a humble club secretary such as myself from updating this journal.  If you must know, the conspiring events in question were the Mad Magyars, Jonas Pailing and Abel Jonas, who somehow snuck a sheep into our dressing room, requiring me to source extra janitorial help, those hair-clipper things used to shave sheep, a shochet and, finally, a suitable mint jelly provider.  Let us never speak of it again.

Anyway, for those of you interested in the non-ovine aspects of the last stages of the season, Week 10 saw us go on the road to take on Cavaliers VFC, one of the better teams in our league.  Perhaps in response to the widespread criticism of his Fabian tactics, manager David Jorgensen abandoned his beloved counter-attacking strategy and ordered SSW to actually contest midfield.  For much of the match, it seemed like this gamble would be successful, as we took a 1-0 lead (courtesy of a Denzell Koszarek goal) into the latter stages of the match.  However, disaster struck in the 84th minute as the Cavs grabbed an equalizer against the run of play and we were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw.

After a comfortable 3-0 win over already-relegated San Jose Sharks, we then trekked cross-country to take on league leaders Celtic SFO.  The lads battled hard, but just couldn’t get enough possession of the ball, leading to a frustrating 1-0 defeat that put us into the relegation qualifier spots and led the chairman to give Jorgensen a deeply unconvincing vote of confidence.

As a result, with the season on the line and the #JorgensenOut movement reaching a fever pitch, we headed down to Kentucky to take on then fourth-place Reddinrdboyz with the season on the line: win and we had a lifeline, while a loss or draw would have us (ok, me) printing up tickets for a qualifier.  With such a critical match before us, it was an open question how the young Wanderers would react.  Fortunately for us, things got off to a good start as, 15 minutes in, Jonas put aside thoughts of sheep-related capers and got loose on the wing, finding Alex Barton with a cross that he slotted home for a 1-0 lead.  Koszarek added a second, but they pulled one back just before the half, to the disquiet of our travelling support.  At such a critical juncture, Jorgensen abandoned his usual team talk pursuits of trying to draw up 0-0-10 formations and eating tins of those dry little Danish butter cookies, instead deciding to try to motivate the lads for once.  It worked.  After a nervy few minutes, Jonas was able to to beat his man and scored to make it 3-1, at which point the ‘boyz collapsed.  Barton, Nick King and Freddy Krug all scored late and we left as 6-1 winners.

Still, all would be for naught, if we didn’t get a result against Amish Wife Collectors, the best attacking team in the league, and a group who figured to come to Slingsby Lane guns a’blazing as they had a chance to nab the league title with a win.  Finally, the moment for our defend-and-counter tactics had come.  We bunkered in, parked the bus, put another bus on top of that bus, and whacked the occasional long ball in the general direction of a winger.  This actually paid dividends for us in the ninth minute, as Terry King got in behind their high defensive line for a 1-0 lead.  However, Carlo Hopp, AWC’s golden boot winning striker promptly equalized, and we went into halftime tied.  During the second half, our fate hung in the balance as we desperately staved off attack after attack.  Finally, in the 82nd minute, central defender Chopper Sellers took off down the field in defiance of all reason and common sense, catching most of the AWC defense upfield.  A quick give-and-go with Barton later, and he smacked in the winning goal, and fourth place was ours!

Of course, there are many questions facing us this offseason.  Will the last two weeks be enough to save Jorgensen?  Will he even want to stay?  Can we knock it off with the defense training already and start playing football again?  Can we sell those two sheep-rustling so-and-so’s?  Where did they find a sheep in Manhattan anyway?  Perhaps, in defiance of all precedent, we’ll get some clarity this off-season.

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Week 9 Update: Avoiding Disaster

Well, after a fortnight of misery, we were able to get ourselves moving in the right direction again with a 3-0 win over relegation-bound Czech Frosties.  For once, we managed to get a game off to a good start, as Luis Aldair Misariscabme opened the scoring in the 11th minute and Nick King doubled our advantage three minutes later.  We then returned to our usual habit of blowing chances, though Emilusz Niemiec managed to add an insurance goal in the 55th minute.  More importantly, we managed to avoid any injuries and were able to keep the four or five fans who actually showed up from throwing things at us.

Next week, we travel up to New Hampshire to take on Cavaliers VFC in a match that will go a long way towards determining whether we can avoid the qualifiers.  Keeper Chris Masters is facing a late fitness test, while they’ve got a minor suspension crisis on their hands, so this one could really go either way.

Finally, a quick note to both readers of this blog: I’m going to be travelling this coming week, and will likely be unable to do an update next week.  Usual irregular service will resume the following week.

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Week 8 Recap: An Omnishambles In Paradise

Well, the one silver lining to last week’s shocking defeat to St. Croix Destroyers is that at least we had an immediate chance to travel down to their place to exact some revenge.  Surely, after last week’s debacle, we’d refocus, smack around a team we clearly outclass, and celebrate with some of those frozen drinks with the little umbrellas, right?

Not so much, as it turns out.  As before, we dominated midfield, but struggled to turn that into scoring chances, and missed the chances we got.  We might have managed to pull through anyway, but for three minutes of madness towards the end of the first half.  In the 36th minute, their winger took advantage of a miscommunication between Nick King and Leslaw Malolepszy to get free on the right and open the scoring, while things went from tragedy to farce in the next minute as a speculative shot from 35 yards out by Reggie Blunt somehow got by Chris Masters (and, no, this is not the kind of team that gears its tactics towards getting such shots).  Masters, of course, managed to injure himself in the process of not saving said long shot, and limped off in the following minute.  We added a consolation goal late, but were once again 2-1 losers.

The reaction to this disaster was swift and fierce.  Our chairman had to give Jorgensen the dreaded vote of confidence, while fans have started quitting the club in droves (not coincidentally, there are still plenty of good seats available for next week’s home match).  On the plus side, at least we can start printing up tickets for a relegation qualifier early.

Next week, our march back to Division V continues as we take on a Czech Frosties team with no discernible talent other than injuring people.  I’m starting a pool to see who joins Masters on the treatment table.

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Week 7 Recap: [Expletive Deleted]

We should have known we were in trouble when Terry King kept tweeting about our upcoming rematch with Cavaliers rather than this week’s game.  Or possibly when Alex Barton spent warm-ups practicing rabonas.  David Jorgensen giving a pre-match pep talk consisting of “Lads, it’s St. Croix Destroyers” probably didn’t help either.  In any event, Wanderers came into this week’s match expecting an easy three points and paid the price for their hubris.

After a first half where we passed the ball easily around the midfield but failed to press home any of our chances, a bad give-away left fullback Leslaw Malolepszy isolated on the wing with the speedy Fernando Rancan.  While Malolepszy is normally excellent at using the sideline to cut off wingers in this situation, in this case he was a half-step slow and Rancan created enough space to send in a cross that Jon Falkblom was able to knock home.  Five minutes later, Nikolai Tzevtkov was able to get a speculative shot past our keeper, and we went into halftime down 2-0.

Jorgensen delivered more than a few choice Danish epithets during the team talk, and we came out with a bit more intensity during the second half.  However, the Islanders understandably decided to park the bus and foul everything that moved.  We were able to pull one back, but Niemiec kept sending free kicks into the wall and no one was able to conjure up an equalizer from open play.  When the final whistle blew, we had 67% possession, but were on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline.

By any measure, this was a devastating loss for SSW, one that undid all of the good work we had done prior to it.  We entered the day as possible title contenders.  Now, we’ll be lucky to avoid a relegation playoff.  The rumblings of discontent with Jorgensen have become full-fledged howls.

At least we’ll have a chance of revenge next week, as we travel down to the Virgin Islands for the return fixture.  One can only assume the lads will be more focused this time.  If not, its possible that some of them won’t make it back to the mainland.

 

 

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Week 6: Visiting the Goon Squad

This week, we headed out to Michigan to take on the Czech Frosties.  The Marauding Moravians have yet to earn their first point since promoting, but do lead the league in one category: injuries inflicted.  Of late, they’ve apparently developed a taste for human flesh, much like a man-eating tiger or Luis Suarez, and have knocked at least one opponent out of their last four games, including a remarkable three reddinrdboyz players.  This hasn’t exactly helped them in terms of results (they lost that reddinrdboyz match 6-1), but they’ve certainly left a black-and-blue mark on the league thus far.

Before the game, told the lads to play this one cool, on the theory that Arijt Chitre and the rest of the medical staff would be slightly less busy if we weren’t flying in to every tackle.  But, at some point, the boys would just need to stand there and take it like men.  For us, that point came two whole minutes into the match, as the Battling Bohemians’ Taylor Willis scythed down Ron “Chopper” Sellers, leading to a red card for Willis and a week on the training tables from Sellers.

The only silver lining for us, is that we were able to send on our own enforcer, the powerful Janus Pailing.  Pailing did what he does best- running around kicking people- and had enough of a deterrent effect to turn the affray back into a football match, which is something we do much better than they do.   Emilusz Niemiec notched a brace, Terry King and Abel Jonas each scored after runs down their weakened right side, and we were comfortable 4-0 winners.

More importantly, the win puts in the middle of a stunningly tight title race, as just two points separate first and fifth place.  This coming week, we begin a home-and-home with sixth place St. Croix Destroyers.  The Islanders managed a shocking draw with Wife Collectors last week, but Jorgensen seems confident that we can get the three points.  Since the rest of the top four pair off with each other for home-and-homes of their own, this could well be our chance to make a move up the league table (a bunch of draws in those games would be greatly appreciated).  Stay tuned.

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Week 5 Recap: Growing Pains

This week’s 1-1 draw against Cavaliers VFC marked a turning point for us.  Coming into the season, the expectation was that we’d be trying to hang on in this division by our fingernails, making any point gained against a quality opponent a gift.  Now, however, the solid start to our season has raised expectations, with the sullen atmosphere at Slingsby Lane making clear that the fans thought this was a case of two points lost, rather than a point gained.

Distressingly, for the first time, there has started to be a bit of grumbling about David Jorgensen remaining as manager.  I mean, no one’s flying “Jorgy Out!” banners over the stadium or anything yet, but the first cracks are appearing.  SSW Twitter is starting to have some posts speculating about coaching changes.  Jorgensen himself got a couple questions in the post-game presser about whether he regretted selling Rolando Blackmon-Thomas and if he planned to bring in new forwards, which he reacted to with a testiness that did not endear himself to our beat writers.  Heck,  Club Captain Ruggero Panero picked this week to have his recently-completed coaching badge framed and hung up in his locker.

In fairness, you can kind of see their point, as we unquestionably got our tactics wrong in this match.  Basically, if we gave the back five a bit more license, we would have been able to establish the edge in midfield necessary to capitalize on our advantage on both wings.  Instead, Jorgensen kept everyone at home in an attempt to hit them on the counter, but also didn’t manage to suck them downfield enough to create any real counter-attacking opportunities.  All in all, a textbook case of turning a win into a draw (heck, were it not for a fantastic individual effort by Misariscambe to outrace his marker and set up Barton for our only goal, we’d be talking about a loss).

This was a costly draw, too, as we fell to fourth instead of moving up into second and significantly damaged an already unlikely bid for the league title.  Admittedly, we’d have been thrilled with fourth at the start of the season, but still.  In any event, we take on a thus-far winless Czech Frosties team next week.  For our increasingly-ambitious fans, only three points will do.

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Week 4 Recap: That Was The Week That Was

Just a quick update this week as your humble scribe has been forced to concentrate on his actual job for once:

The League: We comfortably beat bottom-of-the-table Sharks de San Jose 6-0.  Emiliusz Niemiec was the hero of the day, scoring a goal and assisting on two others with a well-placed corner and an indirect free kick.  The win, combined with favorable results elsewhere, pushes us up into third place.

The Cup:  Well, our cup season has come to an end with a loss on penalties to F.C. Westchester in the Sapphire Cup.  Despite playing an “experimental” line-up due to the exigencies of training, we nearly stole a win- Barton had the potential game-winner on his foot in the 84th minute and missed, followed by our taking a lead in extra time only to quickly relinquishing it.  Interestingly, Westchester is quickly becoming a bogey team for us, as they also knocked us out of the Sapphire last year.

Looking Ahead: We have one of our key league matches of the year coming up against Cavaliers VFC.  A win puts us in second and, with a favorable schedule over the next four weeks, may well set us up for a title challenge.  A loss means that we’re probably aiming for fourth.  It’ll be pretty even, but hopefully a hyped-up Slingsby Lane crowd will put us over the top.

We also resume Golden League action this week, flying to India to take on Mighty Karak Chai with hopes of positioning ourselves for a first-ever GL Masters appearance.