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The Americans

A different take on The Beautiful Game in North America
Started on 19 January 2016 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 15 February 2016 by tenthreeleader
The Americans

“When Americans put their mind to something, they generally get it done.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

You would never have expected me to get into this business at any level. Why I’m here, I really do not know. Call me a dreamer.

I guess it was because I loved the game. The fact that I was never especially good at it notwithstanding, I suppose.

I was a product of the soccer boom in the United States in the late 1970s. The first one, that is, not the one that actually took hold in the country after the 1994 World Cup.

Back then, the North American Soccer League was the thing. The New York Cosmos were the hottest thing going, Franz Beckenbauer, Georgio Chinaglia and Pele were all strutting their stuff on the big stage, and my home state even had a team.

I’m from Minnesota, the northernmost of the 48 contiguous United States. Here, we appreciate our league season because in most years, summer lasts about twenty minutes.

They say in Minnesota if you don’t like the weather, wait half an hour and it’ll change. That’s true on some days.

In the late fall and early winter we can go from rain to snow to sunshine within a matter of minutes and the place is populated by hockey and NFL fanatics who are only slowly coming around to the idea of the world game. They seem to like the cold weather, maybe because it lets them tailgate in the cold and sneak a flask into the stadium.

But on a true Minnesota summer evening, there are few better places to be. It’s what I live for.
As for football, I always followed the game. I grew up watching the Bundesliga on American Public Television once a week, with condensed match highlights and the great Toby Charles providing commentary. In college I started to follow Manchester United and from there, well, there was no stopping me.

Eventually, I became a youth coach and developed an abiding love for helping players grow. I got a very good reputation in the local traveling leagues and as a result when the greatest expansion and reorganization in the history of the American game came about, I was right there to scoop up a managerial slot.

Only they don’t call it that here. We aren’t managers. We’re coaches.

In a way, that makes me laugh. America is a land where ‘football’ is only played with the feet by two players on a 50-player team. That’s messed up, as the kids say.

They have coaches on their teams. Real football teams, on the other hand, do not. They have managers.

If that sounds like I’m a snob, well … okay. I’m a snob.

Which in its way is just fine, because the people who hate the game I love are just as strident about what they believe. Changing attitudes about real football in the United States has taken a long time, and it’s a job a long ways away from being finished.

John Cleese once said that only Americans could play a game that only Americans play and call the winner “World Champion”. Well, in football it’s safe to say that the American champion won’t deserve inclusion among the world’s elite for a few years yet – but one day, might.

Millions of young people play the game in the United States – there were over three million registered youth footballers in 2014 according to U.S. Youth Soccer and God only knows how many more casual players.

Minnesota had 76,668 of those players – the third highest total in Region II of the United States, comprising most of the Midwest. That’s the smallest of the nation’s four regions in registration, and with Chicago being the region’s only major population center, the state had only four thousand fewer youth players than Illinois.

So there’s a great interest in the game here. This is why when the game was reorganized in the United States, this area got special emphasis.

Oh, by the way … my name is Ryan Winchester.

Author’s notes: FM16, played using MJK46’s American Premier League database. This database makes several significant changes to the American structure including promotion and relegation, a ten-tier professional system and European-style player acquisition (retaining American-style limits on foreign players, though at the level I'm starting, this won't be a problem).

In all the time I’ve played this series of games dating back to CM 01-02, this is my first ever save in my home country. So please indulge me. I’m also changing my style of writing for this save – my New Year's resolution is to play more FM. There will be characterization and other things I feel readers expect of me – but I’m going to be more selective in how I do it.

This won't be at all like the other stories I'm posting here. It's going to be updated differently and maybe not as often, but updates will cover more time in-game. In short, I'm experimenting and I hope you like the result.

# # #
Woo the story is on here too!!
It is indeed, sir .. you've done such good work on this I need to spread the word.

It made all the newspapers. It made ESPN, which was dragged kicking and screaming from its wall-to-wall coverage of the NBA and Draft Kings. And, it made the sports radio talk shows even among those hosts who don’t like the beautiful game.

The re-organization of the game in the United States took a massive effort and it took all the skill of Sunil Gulati of the U.S Soccer Federation (can the editorial comments, gang) to make it go through.

MLS didn’t like it. Commissioner Don Garber didn’t like it and above all the owners who employ him didn’t like it because they had everything to lose and nothing to gain. But in the end, they were outnumbered, outvoted, and finally defeated.

The story read:

USA Goes Europe

Get ready, American soccer fans. You said you wanted to be more like Europe. You’re about to get your wish.

The American professional game is being reinvented from top to bottom. And Major League Soccer is right in the crosshairs of change.

Monday’s announcement of the rebranding of MLS as the American Premier League (APL) was earth-shattering in scope. No major American professional sports league has ever changed its name and survived.

Even the National Football League, which absorbed teams from the rival American Football League in 1970, kept its name when it grew. Only MLS has made the change – and not by its own desires.

“The rules changes and the complete restructuring of the American professional system made a rebranding of MLS possible and, in fact, desirable,” said United States Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati at USSF’s news conference announcing the changes. “Eventually, they were able to see this.”

The politics, as you might have expected, were unreal. The USSF and MLS hadn’t seen eye to eye on a number of issues for years, so to persuade the major league in the country to give up its identity for a new one took some real doing.

Gulati was key to that. And as details of a closer working partnership between USSF and the new APL emerge, it does appear that the idea of growing the game by close collaboration between the top pro league and the national governing body is a good thing.

But, we digress.

Whether he’s right or not, the governing body of the game in the United States, the United States Soccer Federation, has engineered a number of changes to the organizational structure of American professional soccer. You want Europe?

Brother, you got it.

Beginning with the 2015-16 season, promotion and relegation will be a thing. Fans will get to sweat out relegation six-pointers, playoffs, and all the angst that goes with going up or staying up, feeling the pain of the drop or the elation of staying in an existing league.

There will be no more packing it in and playing for next year with losing teams. They’ll be playing to stay in their league, and the benefits that league brings. Owners won’t be able to stuff their bankrolls by playing on the cheap and pocketing the difference. If they do, they’ll find themselves down a league and they won’t like that very much.

Perhaps as a sop to his past, Garber will remain as the APL’s Chief Executive Officer, but now he’ll have to watch teams enter and leave his league on an annual basis.

The ‘new’ American game will be divided into nine top tiers:

• American Premier League
• USL Championship
• USL League One
• USL League Two
• USSF National League
• USSF National League Conference
• National Premier Soccer League
• National Premier Soccer League Division One
• Regional Leagues

Below those tiers, smaller state leagues will house teams looking to advance to the next higher level. It’s a more organized, free-flowing system, which was what fans said they wanted.

Theoretically, it will now be possible to advance from the bottom tier of the game to the top. It’s just that simple.

However, many of the rules regarding foreign players will stay intact. Teams will be allowed a maximum number of imports – which is fine with us as long as Designated Players go away.

It may also shut up some of the conspiracy theorists in MLS – who note that all the elite foreign players seem to keep winding up in New York, Toronto, Los Angeles and Seattle due to the league’s system of allocating players.

And better yet – some of the great clubs in the history of the American game are being resurrected as part of the explosion of the game in the United States.

Just one example is Bethlehem Steel of Pennsylvania, a founder member of the ancient American Soccer League and the dominant team in the nation from 1913-30. It’s rising from the ashes as a phoenix club. Originally planned as a farm team of the MLS’ Philadelphia Union, the new rules now mean the club is on its own.

The original team, which was naturally sponsored by the company of the same name, won American Cup titles in 1914, 1916, 1918, 1919 and 1926. The trophy was awarded from 1885-1929. The club also won five National Cup titles between 1915-26. That trophy is now known as the U.S. Open Cup and is still contested today.

How can you not love all that?

So there’s romance. There’s history. There’s a system in place that ‘purist’ fans of the game are going to love. There’s drama. There’s fun.

When was the last time you could say that about American sports?

# # #
How much will it suck if a lower level team on the east coast has to face a club from Hawaii or Alaska??
It would suck, I will grant you that. But if we get to go to Hawaii in the middle of the winter I won't say no!

I live in St. Paul, the smaller of the two “Twin Cities” of Minneapolis/St. Paul, but don’t let anyone who lives on the east side of the Mississippi River hear you say that the east side is anything less than the west.

The two cities once hated each other so much that the state’s first two major professional teams – baseball’s Twins and the NFL’s Vikings – were sent to the DMZ of Bloomington, a southern suburb, to play their games. The rivalry between the cities was so intense, the teams were named not for one of the two cities, but for the entire state – a practice which had never happened before but which is now commonplace in American sports.

Then, when the NHL’s North Stars were formed in 1967, they built a stadium across the parking lot from Bloomington’s old Metropolitan Stadium to house them.

The NASL’s Minnesota Kicks played at the old Met too, which is why I bring up this particular portion of Minnesota history at this time. That’s where a young boy could go to watch the game being played, even if some of the goings-on in the parking lot had my dad moving me past with his hands over my eyes.

The Met was falling down by that time, though, and the construction of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in 1982 signaled a sea change in relations between the two cities. Now the Twins and Vikings played in Minneapolis, and the NBA’s Timberwolves went into Minneapolis as well, at Target Center.

It wasn’t until the NHL re-expanded to Minnesota in 2000 that St. Paul finally broke through, building the Xcel Energy Center to house the team. Minneapolis responded by building Target Field for the Twins and U.S. Bank Stadium for the Vikings. Added to the $250 million cost of the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium, the city had seen about $1.7 billion worth of stadium construction projects in a six-year span.

So it was that when the NASL’s Minnesota United applied for permission to join MLS, they tried to build a stadium in Minneapolis, only to be rebuffed by politicians tired of giving tax breaks and building stadiums for extremely rich men.

That brought St. Paul back into the fold – and they successfully persuaded management to build on the east side of the river. Unfortunately, that’s where my team resides – and in terms of fan interest, my guys are so far down the pecking order as to be ridiculous.

My team is Roseville FC, located in a small suburb north of St. Paul which has a great high school team nicknamed the Raiders, a really cool shopping mall and the best Mongolian stir-fry restaurant in the world, known as Khan’s.

Minnesota United, known to its fans as the Loons, starts at the top. I start near the bottom, in the ninth tier of the new American system – in a different Premier League – the Mid-America Premier League. But we aren’t even the only team in Minnesota’s capital city, for crying out loud.

The league members are:

• AAC Eagles (Chicago, Illinois)
• Carpathia Kickers (Detroit, MI)
• Como Park FC (St. Paul, MN)
• Dayton Pilots (Dayton, OH)
• Dubuque Saints (Dubuque, IA)
• FC Peoria (Peoria, IL)
• Milwaukee Wave (Milwaukee, WI)
• Oakland County Football Club (Rochester, MI)
• Roseville FC Reds (Roseville, MN)
• Sparta Michigan (Sparta, MI)
• Troy Soccer Club (Troy, MI)
• West Virginia Soccer Club (Charleston, WV)

I was selected from a cast of several to manage this great group of players, who had yet to be determined. It was part of my job to go out and find them.

That would mean tryout camps, word-of-mouth and networking. I did have a fairly extensive network of local coaches from my days as a youth coach and traveling team coordinator. I would be leaning heavily on it.

I’d need players who would want to work hard for very little or no pay, because that’s what their manager was getting, and a group of men who could slog their way through a long season.

The other big thing about the new system – the season was changed to match the European model. If you hadn’t noticed, that would be problematic in a cold place like Minnesota.

We’re not talking England’s idea of cold. I’m talking actual, real cold. Most winters, Minnesota will have a stretch of 7-10 days where it doesn’t get above zero degrees Fahrenheit. The all time record low temperature for the state is -60, set on the second day of February.

That’s why some American leagues will now have a winter break or will have certain teams play in covered facilities. Our break will run through December and January. There’s no way we’ll have a covered facility, or even a facility to call our own, for the foreseeable future.

February, on the other hand, has no reason to exist in Minnesota. It’s a brutal month in most winters here and playing the game in that month is going to be a test for everyone. If I’m going to be on the touchline, I’m going to be dressed up like the Michelin Man and that’s that.

# # #
As for me, I’m just a regular guy.

As I mentioned before, I’m 45 years old. I played in high school and college, but I was a goalkeeper which means some people don’t think I really played the game.

I was pretty tall, six foot three with a good command of my penalty area, but I made up for that by having a real inability to leap and hands that weren’t horrible but which weren’t the kind to make anyone forget Peter Shilton or even Shep Messing.

I had a siege gun of a right leg, though, which earned me a tryout with the Minnesota Vikings as a placekicker when my real football days were through. I didn’t make it, of course, but it was fun to try.

I have three kids. My son Bobby is thirteen, my daughter Barbara is twelve and my son Brian is nine. My wife of twenty-two years, Dawn, is the center of my existence, my high school sweetheart and the most wonderful mother I can possibly imagine.

Some guys in this game have it tough because they’ve made it tough on themselves. Dawn has made certain that this isn’t the case with me, and I often use the old line that “other guys say they have the best wife in the world, but I actually do.”

She takes care of herself, she loves to walk and hike, and like me, she’s totally devoted to the kids. And we’re devoted to each other.

Sugar-coated? Fine. Call it what you want. I’m a damn lucky man and I know it.

My kids all play the game, with varying levels of success. Bobby has some talent but has to work hard for everything he gets. Barb is more skilled, but Brian is a prodigy. He has real ability and he seems to have a head for the game, something that you just can’t teach.

I try the best I can to support all my kids, and they can all play in traveling leagues thanks to my role as owner of a local technology firm. I can take time away and work from the road, and nobody can say a word.

So I can support my kids’ desires to play the game, I can manage my club when it travels this year and I can do my job all at the same time. I like the rewards of having worked hard and accomplished something and I hope people don’t blame me for that.

But I have it pretty good. I love the game, though, and after twenty years of building my company from the ground up, I think I’ve earned the opportunity to enjoy a bit of outside pursuits.

And, of course, it means Roseville FC has a kit sponsor. Not the main one – somehow, that is the Minneapolis-based retail giant Target Corporation, and I’m not sure who did that – but it is a way for me to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to the club I manage.

But for now, it’s simply time to wait for tryouts. I am a manager with no players, no staff, and no club other than the four walls around my small office at the training ground at Roseville High School. The logo on the door – a red rose inside a stylized “R” – is the only indication at this time that Roseville FC exists.

There’s a corporate office at the mall, where the managers sit, but it’s very small and staffed only part-time. This befits our status.

Our home stadium will be SeaFoam Stadium, on the campus of Concordia-St. Paul, a Division II college school located about ten miles from Roseville proper. It’s a great facility for us, with Field Turf that isn’t horrible to play on, and we’ll like the place quite a bit.

And I love the name. The guy who invented SeaFoam, which is an engine additive that cleans out gunk from your car, attended the school and donated a ton of money to help get the place built. Hence the name.

Most of the football work is going to be done by me. I’m fine with that, and part of me can’t wait to get started.

The other part of me is terrified, but that’s life in the lower leagues.

# # #
My days as a player were fun but, shall we say, disorganized.

I always wanted to be a goalkeeper. My idol was Sepp Maier, the great keeper for Bayern Munich, who I would watch on television each week whenever “Soccer Made in Germany” showed them.

So when I took the pitch as a youth player (nicknamed “stilts” because of my gangly shape and above-average height), it was into the goal I went. It took me a long time to learn how to play angles, how to command a penalty area and, in general, how to play the position. In those days, specialized goalkeeping coaches were very rare.

But all that said, I played in high school and then for four years in Division III at Bethel University in the Twin Cities. I loved to play, but clearly, when my senior year was over my footballing days were as well.

I got on the local news in my senior year when we played for the conference championship and one of the local TV stations showed up to get some highlights.

We won the match when I scored, believe it or not – off a back pass, I hit a ball about eighty yards in the air which was allowed to bounce and found its way into the opposing goal. It was one of the most sweetly-struck balls of my life and it led both to a good deal of local publicity and to a tryout with the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL.

Dennis Green was the coach back then, and Fuad Reveiz, who now can be seen on the Do It Yourself (DIY) Network as the host of a home remodeling show, was the incumbent placekicker.

I was the guy brought in to remind Fuad that his job really wasn’t entirely safe, even though it really was and certainly should have been. I do have the distinction of having kicked an extra point and a 36-yard field goal in the only preseason game in which I played, against the Philadelphia Eagles. I guess not everyone can say that.

I was allowed to keep my jersey from that game, though, and that was a nice touch. It’s framed on the wall of my den, with my old goalkeeping number, 1, underneath my name. It’s perhaps my ultimate athletic souvenir.

But as most American football fans will try to tell you, placekickers aren’t really “football” players. As such, I faded into the woodwork and started my own company.

I spent fifteen years building my company, which started as a data storage concern and now handles cloud storage for highly-regulated businesses such as financials and health care companies. It’s a growing company and I’ve got no worries about that. I could sell it tomorrow and not have to work another day in my life.

I’ve worked extremely hard, which allows me to play at being a coach in my spare time. And while I wasn’t the best player in the world, I listened very hard to my own coaches, took the appropriate courses, and found that it’s a bit true that “those who can’t do, teach.” It was true for me.

And, of course, none of this would have been possible without Dawn.

She was one of the first girls’ players in the area. Though girls’ soccer didn’t become a high school varsity sport in the state until fifteen years after we both graduated, she played on local teams and, like me, she was a goalkeeper.

That was actually how we met, at a summer soccer camp in our sophomore year of high school. The goalkeepers did a lot of drills together and we hit it off very well and very quickly. There wasn’t much doubt that when the time was right, we were going to start dating and we were inseparable from our junior year in school right on to graduation.

She went out of state to school, though – like a lot of Twin Cities kids do, she went east to Madison and the University of Wisconsin, and we learned what it was like to be apart for four school years running. We soon decided that we didn’t care for that very much, and got engaged before our senior years in school.

We got married after graduation, and have been together for nearly thirty years.

I am very happy with my situation and couldn’t be more pleased with Dawn’s gentle support for the kids. With me being gone so much with the team this season, it’s going to be an imposition on her. I can’t avoid that and my goal is to have them with me as much as possible, but I can’t expect miracles.

I do have a miracle worker at home, though, and that counts for quite a bit.

# # #
Sometimes you have to do your own marketing.

I learned that with my company in its early days and I’m about to learn that truth again as I try to get players to come to Roseville FC.

The obvious source for players is the local amateur leagues – the standard of player might not be completely up to scratch for the professional game even at this level, but if warm bodies are what we’re after, these guys might just fit the bill.

My first order of business was to design advertisements for the local league newsletters. As the snow finally started to melt and leagues all over America ramped up for their first seasons under the new organizational plan, I imagined that there were clubs all over the country trying to do exactly the same thing mine was.

It wasn’t pretty, but it did get the word out. Our first tryout camp was scheduled for March 25 and with that, I returned to my business for a few weeks. Competition for players was going to be fierce and even though I had a company to run, my thoughts started to wander more and more toward the pitch.

It was starting to get a bit fun. My evenings were spent at the computer, designing ads and plotting how I’d play my team, even though I had no idea about the kinds of players I’d attract. In that respect it was counterproductive at best, but at least it killed time. I spent vast amounts of time studying tactics and enrolled for licenses. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.

I also spent a fair amount of time on weekends at the team offices, looking at the kit design and otherwise wishing my life away until the tryouts began. I helped try to sell tickets too, which was a much harder proposition.

But I also stayed true to my youth roots and coached a winter indoor league team in Roseville. It was with u-12 players, an age which I always enjoyed coaching.

That age of player is moldable and coachable but is also starting to develop his skills, so you can evaluate his potential at the same time you evaluate his potential to play at higher levels. And despite what some parents will tell you, players of that age do need coaching, even their little darlings.

That said, I did have some method to my madness – trying to raise awareness about my team and its to-be-built u-18 side meant I’d need players and if I built coaching relationships with the better players now, they might be more likely to consider us as their first club when the time came.

That assumed, of course, that I’d still be in my post in four seasons’ time. That was a big ask, as the English say.

The winter season allowed me to keep my mind on the game in my spare time – and also to coach against my son Bobby, who scrimmaged my u-12s with his Roseville Raiders u-14s just as the new year turned.

We were supposed to lose, and we certainly did – but the interplay between father and son as the match wore on was a lot of fun.

An extremely hard worker, Bobby had a reputation for being a bit of a biscuit-tin head around goal but he scored twice on that day, and bowed toward my bench area after each goal.

Had it been a league match or something, we’d both have reacted differently, but on this day, goalkeeper father and midfielder son were on the same wavelength even when on different teams.

It was fun. It was a game. That fact wasn’t lost on either of us.

Where I was going, though, that was about to change. It would soon be more than that.

As I watched my son celebrate the simple joy of scoring a goal, I wished I could bottle the simple happiness he felt.

# # #
Thing of it is, if any team in Minnesota does anything in this game, they’re going to be treated as conquering heroes.

In terms of success in professional sports, this place is a wasteland.

Minnesota has one of the best women’s basketball teams on the planet – the WNBA’s Lynx have won three championships in the last five seasons – but that’s it.

Baseball’s Twins finished last four seasons in a row in their division, losing nearly 400 games in the process. Their last championship was almost twenty-five years ago, and the area’s last in a major sport.

Basketball’s Timberwolves have been a laughing stock of the National Basketball Association for years, as one of the league’s worst-run franchises. Some good luck in drafts has given them reason for hope but they are some time away from being a contender. The old Lakers were a great team in the 1950s but moved to Los Angeles.

The NFL’s Vikings are the poster child for spectacular failure, having not reached the Super Bowl in nearly two generations and writing the book about how to throw away games from winning positions. They used to be known as football’s version of the Boston Red Sox, until that team started winning things.

The National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild suffer from an inflated sense of self-importance, having accomplished nothing meaningful in a setting of unreasonably high expectations due to being based in the self-proclaimed “State of Hockey”. Prior to them, the old North Stars were good in the early 1980s but were a regular loser until they moved to Dallas.

In the college ranks, the University of Minnesota’s football program hasn’t been truly competitive in fifty years, the men’s basketball program is in a shambles and all the high-profile programs in the state are in decline or are moribund.

There are few metropolitan areas in the United States that experience the Twin Cities’ level of frustration when it comes to winning things. It’s bad enough that one of the major sports tadio talkers in the area refers to the region as “Loserville”.

He doesn’t necessarily like it, mind you, but the truth is the truth when it comes to wins and losses and the facts are plain: Minnesota is a place where winning goes to die.

So just about any team – be it the larger-scale Minnesota United, the independent baseball club St. Paul Saints or even a small little club in the new American game – has the opportunity to gain a following.

And if that means little Roseville grows up, that would be just fine with me.

I never liked that “Loserville” tag anyway.
# # #

July 1, 2015 – Roseville Soccer Complex, Roseville, MN

What dreck.

I mean, I try to be optimistic, but life in the ninth tier is going to be harder than I thought.

After our open tryouts, we’ve got about forty players under amateur contracts. About half a dozen of them are what I’d consider to be reasonably accomplished. The rest are unreasonably accomplished, I guess you could say.

But this is what I signed up for. The pundits, such as there are at this level, have already pegged us to finish ninth in this twelve-team league. Since we can’t be relegated past this point, I guess that’s not the worst thing in the world.

But the people who supposedly know think that old Ryan Winchester’s men are going to be makeweights. That means there’s no pressure on us, which isn’t the worst thing in the world either.

Even my board, what there is of it, doesn’t think much of our chances, asking only for us to finish mid-table. As a result, my first meeting with my new team went really well when I told them I wasn’t necessarily looking for the sun, moon and stars.

Simply clearing the trees would be really nice, come to think of it.

Our first friendly is against our own reserves and I’m really not sure whether the teams are split up appropriately. Our friendly schedule starts against local teams a week or so afterward and that’s great since I’ll be able to make judgments about how players play with each other before deciding on the long-term makeup of the senior team and reserve team.

After that, though, the friendly schedule gets a bit more difficult. I’m trying to get match action for these players but our schedule is pretty tough.

According to the experts, our league is slightly more prestigious than the First Division in the Cayman Islands, but less prestigious than the First Division in Barbados. So it’s not like we are going to overwhelm anyone.

18 July 2015 - @ Bloomington FC (NPSL Midwest Premier League)
22 July 2015 – Minnetonka City (local club team)
27 July 2015 – Minnesota Twin Stars (NPSL Midwest Premier League)
1 August 2015 – Tampa Bay Rowdies (USL Championship)
5 August 2015 – Red Wing FC (area club team)

That said, the opening game could hardly have been more non-descript.

Roseville FC 2-2 Roseville FC Reserves
July 2, 2015 – Roseville Soccer Complex

It was ugly in virtually every respect. The senior team had to come from behind in the last five minutes to earn a draw with the reserves and u-18s. I had my eyes opened.

Cory Bradford, a local striker who everyone tells me is going to be the heart and soul of the team, wound up in the book after only three minutes. Against his teammates. That was not exactly a great start. However, his side-foot volley after half an hour that opened the scoring was much better.

However, the reserves scored twice in three minutes in the second half, through 16-year old winger Guillermo Villareal and veteran winger Hector Garcia, putting my team behind 2-1 with sixteen minutes to play.

To their credit, though, they found a tying goal, with the introduction of 22-year old striker Sandro Freitas jump starting things. He slid a great ball through to Bradford with five minutes left and the 28-year old, who has played on local teams for three years, didn’t miss.

He told me afterward that he loves the idea of playing so close to his home, and as such all the interest being shown in him by other teams as everyone scrambles for players is a bit unnerving.

Nobody is getting paid in our league, so really, if a player changes teams out of the Twin Cities area, he’s upping sticks and moving to another city for zero salary. That’s odd. But this game does odd things to people, so I suppose a few are going to try.

Who knows. I might be one of those trying to convince someone to move here.

# # #
My team is a hodgepodge as most of them are at this level.

We had two weeks – or five training sessions – between the reserves friendly and our first “real” friendly against Bloomington. So it was time to take stock of my team.

Kris Garcia, 28
– Can catch a ball. If he can stand in the right position, he’s useful.
Valerio Izzo, 16 – Spent the first day of training talking about his international options. I love an optimist.

Alex Armstrong, 24 – In ten years, he has a chance to be 34.
Mark Kline, 17 – Loves to lead others. It’s playing full back that challenges him.
Chris Quintana, 25 – Functional. And I’m not kidding. Probably the starting left full back in my 4-4-2.
José María Bravo, 16 – Came off the bench for the reserves and made a real impact. Technically weak, but can run all day.
Reed Chulis, 16 – A traffic cone with feet.
Garret Chadwick, 24 – Understands marking. Decent in the air but does nothing else well. A pity.
Denis Velasquez, 24 – A starter. Marks decently, good in the air and understands his position.
Richie Johnson, 16 – The reason the varsity didn’t score more than two goals. The reserves’ best player, will challenge for time with the seniors. Can amount to something.

Ryan Lucas, 22 – An anchor man. Hopefully he doesn’t fall out of the boat.
Mike Brown, 18 – Very strong in the tackle. Has potential. Holding midfielder with some upside.
Gustavo Acuña, 25 – Can play either side and knows how to cross a football. Definite starter.
Keith Nolan, 17 – Everyone says he’s got potential but I have yet to see it. Nice Mohawk, though.
Bob Vega, 22 – Left-sided player with the hairline of a much older man.
Kyle Jones, 21 – Right-sided player with a decent turn of speed and a sense for how to cross. Likely starter if I can’t find a better option.
Guillermo Villareal, 16 – scored against the senior team for the reserves so deserves a look. Maybe not a long one, but a look nonetheless.
Stephen Penn, 25 – His real name is Smith, but anyone who looks as much like Spicoli as this guy does should consider changing his name. Central midfielder.
Israel Figueroa, 16 – Interesting name. If his skills develop to match it, I’ve got a player. Here’s hoping.
Jim Smith, 16 – There’s some talent here. Can play off the strikers and a good physical player too. Will bear some watching.

Cory Bradford, 28 – So clearly the best player at the club I can’t describe it. Hard to avoid being one-dimensional when he’s out there but everything we do will go through him until a bigger club takes him.
Sandro Freitas, 22 – Target man and good in the air. Pairs decently with Bradford from what I can see. Second-best striking option.
Tony Cochrane, 23 – If there were any sort of technical skill I could point to, I would. But there isn’t, so I can’t.

That said, these are my guys. I’m going to work with them, warts and all, and remind myself as I do that I wasn’t a whole lot better than any of them when I played. Their coach isn’t any great shakes either, so I’ll bear that in mind too. We’re all in the ninth tier for a reason.
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Just taken a read of the first few posts. Looks very intriguing to see the American leagues the way the rest of the world play. Will be watching with interest
We have two players already willing to come here.

Rodrigo Vasquez
, 27, who is presently not playing for Bloomington FC, will make the ride north on I-35E to play for us. They’re our first friendly opponent, so it’ll be fun for him to face his old friends.

Cory Hector, 17, a midfielder who somehow managed to avoid the carnage of players signing for teams all over the area, is also coming in. He’s the ninth-tier version of Roy Keane, with a Mohawk, of course. If he cracks the XI, he’ll give us some steel. For some reason, those who identify with us are really excited about this kid. I was too, otherwise I wouldn’t have signed him, but their enthusiasm borders on unreasonable.

One area where we’re getting more than a bit of complaint is from the local high school coaches, who are seeing players who would ordinarily be playing for their teams going on to the new organizational ranks. They still have to be schooled, of course, but I see some significant troubles for the powers that be if the complaints get any louder.

We also have our first import. Marc Guzan, a player I once coached in youth soccer and who still has family in the Twin Cities, is moving back home from Wenatchee, Washington, and will go straight into my team. He’s a smooth finisher and I like him quite a bit.

We’ll lose players this way, too, of course, but at least for the time being I have insurance in case Bradford gets tempted away from Roseville FC.

Dawn giggled about all this player movement when I arrived home for the Fourth of July celebrations in the Twin Cities.

“You’re a real wheeler-dealer,” she said, hugging me tight as I entered the kitchen.

“You think so?” I asked, looking into her amazing blue eyes.

“My husband, the art-of-the-deal guy,” she teased. “You’re going to do just fine at this coaching thing, just you wait and see.”

“Let’s go watch some fireworks,” I suggested. “And then maybe make a few of our own.”
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Guzan’s teammate, Bryan Larentowicz, is coming along for the ride.

The two were the strike duo for the USSF National League Western Conference team and now they’re my strike duo. Bradford has company up front now.

I now have two target men and two poachers, who fit quite well in the tactic I want to play.

It’s a high-pressing 4-4-2 which asks quite a bit from the wingers and the strikers. It’s going to take some time to get right, especially when we can only practice two nights a week, but when they get it right, the textbooks say it should work out just fine.

And I also got a starting goalkeeper from right in my back yard.

Chris Williams, 22, who was languishing with Como Park just up the road, will now play for Roseville. I saw him play in USSF leagues a couple of seasons ago and liked what I saw then. He’s perfect for us – tall, rangy, a good command of the area and a decent handler of the ball. As a former goalkeeper, I know what I like to see in a keeper and he’s as close to it as I’m going to see at this level.

The thing of it is – Como Park is a league rival. The communities are ten minutes apart. It’s not quite Everton-Liverpool in terms of scope, but they are our backyard competition for attention and fan support. It’s a good thing to take a good player from them.

The back room might also get considerably bigger, with someone finally answering my advertisement for a first-team coach.

And what an applicant it was – Richard Mulrooney, former Toronto FC, Houston Dynamo, San Jose Earthquakes and Dallas FC defender. He was also capped 14 times for the United States and has probably forgotten more about this game than I will ever know.

Yet he wants to get onto my staff. After a quick phone call to see if I was being pranked, I nearly ruptured myself getting back to him with an agreement.

At that time as well, the preseason odds were posted by some guy who keeps a league website. It’s nice to know that there is someone around our league who is wonkier than I am.

Promotion odds – Mid-American Premier League
Milwaukee Wave (1-5)
Oakland County (1-5)
AAC Eagles (5-1)
Carpathia Kickers (16-1)
Como Park (16-1)
Dayton Pilots (16-1)
FC Peoria (16-1)
Fort Wayne SC (16-1)
Roseville Reds (16-1)
Troy (16-1)
West Virginia Soccer Club (16-1)
Sporting Iowa (5000-1)

After Mulrooney and I finished laughing at Sporting Iowa and wondering what it was that made them such a lock to be a disaster, I focused on another pet peeve of mine.

“Richard, the Milwaukee Wave,” I said, and he nodded.

“What about them?”

“Well, we’re the Reds. They’re the Wave. What do you call one of their players?”

He looked at me and laughed. This was about the amazingly annoying tendency of American teams to have non-plural nicknames.

“One of us is a Red,” I said. “One of the Wave is a … Wa?”

We finally decided on “Ripple” and went out to run practice.

July 18, 2015 – Friendly #1
Roseville FC @ Bloomington FC
Bloomington FC Stadium

“Bloomington FC Stadium” was actually Bloomington Jefferson high school’s field, renamed for the use of our higher-level opposition.

Unfortunately, even though some people thought we might come out of this with a win, we played like high-schoolers ourselves. Ninety minutes, new players – and not a single shot on target in the entire match.

That said, I was happy that we didn’t lose. They were a league up on us and so should have been expected to do well. But Williams, making his first appearance in goal for us, was pretty good and even got help from his crossbar in the 85th minute, but we only looked like scoring once in the entire match.

That came ten minutes from time when, with the starters all on the bench, Bryan Larentowicz made his bid with a free header from Bob Vega’s cross. With keeper Bill Herrera hung completely out to dry by central defenders who were nowhere in sight, Larentowicz looped his header over the bar and off toward the parking lot. The good news was that of our five attempts at goal, four of them came after I lit a fire under the players at halftime.

But Larentowicz’s effort was as good as it got. We compounded not having shots on target by not having possession, either. So we have a lot of work to do.

Roseville FC 0
Bloomington FC 0
H/T: 0-0
A – 61, Bloomington FC Stadium
Man of the Match: José Manuel Ochoa, Bloomington FC (MR 7.2)

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