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Week 3 Recap: They Also Serve Who Stand Around On Defense

As regular readers of this journal will recognize, the story of the season for us is manager David Jorgensen’s insistence in drumming some defensive discipline into the squad.  So far, this has led to our selling our only real forward, playing our keeper in central defense during cup matches, dogs and cats living together, and other assorted oddities.  However, nothing during this time has been odder than watching Alex Barton attempt to play fullback during our cup matches- as a defender, he’s been a heck of an attacker with two cup goals, a tally which exceeds his number of successful tackles by three (Jorgensen instructed our statistician to give Barton a minus-one in that category after he accidentally dispossessed Abel Jonas with an especially belated slide).  In any event, due to poor opposition, we’re still alive despite three fairly gruesome displays.  Our luck’s likely to run out this week, but our focus is squarely on the league this year anyway.

In any event, its the league where Barton has continued to shine this year.  We’ve generally been playing him in the middle, but with license to drift wide and interchange with our wings when the spirit moves him (which is often).  This has worked fairly well so far, producing the few offensive bright spots in the somewhat dour draws we notched in the first few games, but really came into its own against the mighty Celtic SFO.  Why?  Well, in large part, Barton was helped by our taking a more expansive approach.  I mean, we didn’t do anything crazy- we still rolled out a 5-4-1, but it was an attacking (if oxymoronic) 5-4-1, as we abandoned counter-attacks and instead gave the central defenders license to contest possession in mid-field.  As a result, we saw more of the ball, which gave Barton a platform to unleash a little magic in the 75th minute when he sped between two defenders to score the opening goal.  He was also instrumental in our other goal, making an intelligent run to drag a Celtic wingback out of position, opening space for Niemiec score from just inside the 18 and complete a 2-0 victory (which the media heralded by somehow putting six of their players and none of ours on the Team of the Week, but I digress).

Our coaching staff is still trying to tamp down expectations, insisting that anything better than auto-demotion is a success.  This effort may have convinced our beat writers, which put six Celtic players and none of our lads on the Team of the Week.  However, its clear that the fans are having none of it, with some brave sparks suggesting on the call-in shows that we have a chance to win the league!  Are they right?  Of course not!  We’re talking about jobless layabouts calling chat shows, after all.  That said, even our sober and sensible fan thinks that a top-four finish is now a viable goal (and, yes, after dealing with that lot all week, I do believe that just one of our fans is both sober and sensible).

Anyway, next week we take on a desperate Sharks de San Jose team still looking for its first points of the season.  Also, if we’re still in the cup after Wednesday, I’ll need to actually write about it.  Jorgensen’s threatening to have Barton man-mark someone though, so don’t hold your breath.

 

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Week 2 Recap: A Conversation With David Jorgensen

This week, we managed a 1-1 draw in our home opener against the defending league champions reddinrdboyz.  After the match, David Jorgensen took me to the pub and reflected on the season so far.

Me: Congrats on a good result!  I know you’d never tell the lads this, but you must be happy with that performance.

DJ:  Actually, no.  I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get all three points.  The defense was good, and we created chances, we just couldn’t finish them.  So annoying.

Me:  We’ve actually held up really well defensively in the first two games.  Are you thinking about changing the training away from defense?

DJ: Its tempting, but I just can’t do it.  Its great that we can defend well with five at the back, but we can’t do that every game in the long run.  It limits us to counter-attacking against anyone half decent, which will keep us in IV but won’t get us much beyond that.  So we need to be able to play well defensively with only four or even three at the back.  We’re not there yet.  Also, Alex [Barton] and Nick [King] are both liabilities on defense at the moment, which needs to be fixed.

Me:  Speaking of which, how is Alex adapting to the defense training?

DJ:  Well, I’ll say this for him: the lad’s trying.  He sucks, but he’s trying.  At least, when he screws up, which is often, I have Chopper [Ron Sellers] to yell at him, saving me from having to get hoarse all the time.

Me: Speaking of Chopper, that was a hell of a game for him wasn’t it?  Scored the only goal, Man of the Match, elected to the Team of the Week.  A harbinger of things to come?

DJ:  Well, probably not the goal scoring part.  The man’s no Beckenbauer, but he can and should keep defending like that.  Plus, he’s turned out to be a better playmaker than we expected.  That said, even if all he does is yell at Alex all year, he’d be worth the price.

Me:  So, are we going to smack around Celtic next week or what?

DJ:  Heck, yeah.  Cheers!  Actually, its going to be a really tough one for us- they looked really strong last week and, honestly, just getting a point would be a positive result.  That said, if we can win that one, then we can probably stop worrying about auto-demotion and instead take a whack at making the top four.

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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.