Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Day in Kouvola


Hey guys.  Happy Leap Day!  Maybe the extra day doesn't mean much to you, but for me I'm always happy to celebrate a holiday, even if the day isn't technically a holiday.  Leap day means the Summer Olympics are coming, and I love the summer games almost as much as the World Cup so I get pretty psyched about Leap Day.  As you know since you read everyday, I went to Kouvola today with Kenny and Vili.  It was a pretty fun .  The best thing about going to Kouvola though was simply leaving Myllykoski.  Any reason to leave this place is a good reason.  I made this video right before we left.

As you can see, it was a beautiful day to take a day trip.  The sun was shining and we were ready to go to the big city!  Once downtown, we realized that Kouvola was indeed not that big, but still interesting.  Over the next five hours we walked around the city centre and generally enjoyed ourselves.  It's a bit embarrassing, but my favorite part of the day was going shopping at Dressmann, a store that sells dressy-type clothes.  I bought some clothes on the sales rack and everything cost me 20 euros total!  I bought two semi-dressy shirts, dressy pants and a nice outdoor jacket.  The jacket was 100 euros normally, the pants 40, and the shirts 40 each.  Maybe I’ll get around to posting pictures sometime.  For now here's a picture of that shopping center.

In addition to bargain shopping, we also used this trip to take go to a few restaurants.  There are no restaurants in Myllykoski, except for a pizza place.  First, we went to Hessburger, a fast food burger place.  The boys got burgers, but I went for the fish and chips.  I went to England for the first time last year, and the only thing (other than the people) that I missed was the fish and chips.  Just one restaurant wasn’t enough though, and after a few hours we went to another one called Angelina’s and got some chicken and pasta.  We have to be ready for our double trainings tomorrow!
There’s really not much more to say about Kouvola.  It was disappointingly small.  There was plenty of shopping though, so if I end up signing here at MYPA then I will at least have a way to kill some time on the off days.  My next trip if I’m still here next week will be to Helsinki, so stay tuned.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Payday sucks when you don't get paid! And MonsterDogs.

February 28:

Today was supposed to be my first payday in Finland/Europe.  My contract with Haka was slated to pay me $2150 per month after tax + a free apartment.  Maybe MYPA will pay me for the week I’ve been here?  Lol I’m not holding my breath on that one.  Anyways…

I don’t really want to go much into the trainings here but there are a couple things I’ve got to get off my chest and since I’m absolutely sure no one in Myllykoski reads this (or much anyone outside of my family), I can say what I want.  First, our trainings have been 75% intrasquad scrimmages.  That’s fine, nothing wrong there I guess, but we only have 20 guys.  That means that we play 10v10 on an enormous field.  The result is something closer to basketball than soccer.  One team sends six attackers versus four defenders in a huge wave.  They either score, kick behind for a goal kick, get dispossessed or have their shot saved by the goalkeeper.  Literally regardless of what happens, the other team immediately begins a counterattack the other way.  It’s like this team is coached by Paul Westphal and Mike D’Antoni.  This is a ridiculous way to play the scrimmages because in the end nobody gets better at all.  In the match the team didn’t make 10 consecutive passes at any time, yet in the training we don’t try to pass, we try to run up and down the field as fast as possible.  I wish the coach would say something but maybe that’s what he’s looking for.  There’s a reason why he’s got a head coaching job and I have no job.  Maybe I shouldn’t be complaining since I get breakaways every single practice and score every practice.  If this team had more than one player signed who could score, then this approach could actually work.  I guess I’ll have to be that guy.

Second, we have a training program that makes absolutely no sense.  We had two medium difficulty training sessions on Monday, one physical training today (Tuesday) at the clubhouse, tomorrow (Wednesday) is off, then we train twice again on Thursday and once on Friday before playing Saturday.  It seems that we could find a more consistent schedule, especially since each training requires a 20km drive to the turf field.  That’s it for my soccer rambling.


People here seem to just not care about the weather at all.  I’ve been having allergy problems since Saturday, but I refuse to go to the pharmacy today because it’s snowing like the world’s about to end.  It’s only 4:30pm but it must have snowed close to a foot already today.  However, I keep looking outside and see people walking their bear-dogs.  Side note: all the dogs here have a hilarious amount of fur.  Every single dog looks like some long lost four legged creature from the Ice Age that you’d see at the Smithsonian.  One lady walked by with two dogs that must have weighed 70 pounds each and looked like wooly mammoths.  She could just have easily have ridden those things around town.

Tomorrow I will venture into central Kouvola, the most urban area around.  I’ll be heading down with two trialists who are staying here with me, Vili and Kennny.  Vili is from Finland and has his car here so we’ll make the 20km drive into town and have a nice day.  I’ll take some pictures!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Another Week in Myllykoski

February 26:

I got word today from my finnish agent that my trial has been extended for another week.  Apparently the coach was happy with what he saw in training, but discouraged by the game.  That pretty much syncs up with how I felt about my performance.  Honestly I think this team needs a player that is a speed option and has a real desire to take responsibility and score goals.  Currently there is no real speed option and only one player who scores goals.  I can use this week to show my value, but in reality everything is going to come down to the match on Saturday.  We play HJK, the reigning Veikkausliiga champions.

Other than that there’s really not much to report.  I did literally nothing today.  This morning I went to the pharmacy, but of course it was closed.  In fact, the only things open on Sundays in this town are the church, bar and grocery store.  I’m not saying that as a brief listing that includes more things; those are literally the only three things open.  Want pizza?  Sorry.  Unless you want to get one from the grocery store.

Not that you care, but for the last three days my allergies have been going crazy and I have no idea why.  Normally this happens when the leaves start to come back on the trees, but there are two feet of snow outside and no leaves whatsoever.  I can’t imagine there’s any pollen here either.  If you have any idea as to what is going on with me I’d be happy to hear it.

I’ve got to make this week count!  There’s not much time to get a contract and the options shrink every day.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Playing with MYPA: The Worst Thing Ever

February 25:
What a catastrophe of a day.  We played a League Cup match today against FC Lahti.  I played the last 30 minutes or so and was absolutely terrible.  Of course, I wouldn’t be a good whiner if I didn’t blame some of my performance on the lack of service from my teammates.  I literally touched the ball maybe a half dozen times total in 30 minutes.  To make matters worse, the coach (who yelled at everybody) yelled at me constantly to “wake up!”

One thing that I’ve noticed since I’ve been here is that the coaches seem to want me to be something I’m not.  Despite the fact that I played great in a two striker set during both training sessions, I was thrown into the match today as a lone striker.  Both of the center backs on the other team were big, physical players and they dominated me in the air.  The whole time I was in the game I never received a pass to my feet or into a space where I could get it.  I did have one bright moment when I intercepted a pass in midfield and carried the ball to the edge of the box before laying it to the winger, who promptly crossed it out of bounds for a goal kick.  It was that kind of day for myself and the team.

I haven’t spoken to the coach but I don’t anticipate getting good news.  While it’s still possible that my performances in training will earn me a contract, it’s more likely that the match performance undermined my chances.  If so then I’m not too concerned since I’m not too big on the idea of playing here anyway.  I think my next move will be to go to Sweden, since my name is probably losing a bit of weight in the finnish league.  I’ve been essentially cut by two teams and MYPA would be the third so I don’t know what my options will be with other clubs in the league.  I’ve had trial offers in Sweden before so hopefully I can arrange one or two this week and next.  I would prefer to live in Sweden anyway, so maybe things will still work out for the best after all.

Tomorrow is likely a travel day, so I’ll be in touch soon but maybe not tomorrow.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My First Training With MYPA

February 23:
Myllykoski is an extremely boring place.  The team had two training sessions today, and still I’ve had a depressing amount of free time with nothing to do.  There’s only so much Netflix and Hulu that a person can watch in his apartment kitchen!  Actually that’s a lie; there is no limit to Netflix and Hulu.  Those sites are amazing.  I love them so much.  In fact, I don’t know how I would have survived living a year in Harrisburg or how I’ll live anywhere in Finland without on-demand movies and tv.  People think that professional athletes are out all the time doing events and expensive dinners, and perhaps those players at the top level do, but most professionals I’ve ever known spend most of their free time at home watching movies or playing video games.  The top 100 rankings of most video games are predominately professional athletes.

When I actually was doing stuff today, I was doing pretty well.  In the morning we did some physical training in the team clubhouse.  It sounds more difficult than it was, mostly yoga movements and ab exercises.  We also did some strength exercises using various weird moves with a partner.  One had my partner run up and jump into me and I had to catch him ten consecutive times.  In another I had to hold a plank position while two teammates did push-ups on my back.  Things like that.  It was unusual but a decent enough workout.

In the afternoon we had the first training with the ball since I’ve been here.  It was pretty fun, as all we did was play 5v5 games then a 20 minute 11v11 intrasquad scrimmage.  My team was 2nd out of four teams and I performed well in the small sided matches.  In the full sized scrimmage, I played with the reserve team but was very dangerous.  I scored a goal (on a cheeky backheel, no less) and we finished tied 1-1.  As I’ve said with the last two clubs I’ve trained with, I’m definitely good enough to play here.  Whether or not I’ll be offered a contract is a totally different story, I’ve come to realize.

One interesting thing about my time here at MYPA is that I really couldn’t care less about the opportunity here.  The disappointments of Haka and Jaro have caused me to not get my hopes up at all about the opportunity at MYPA.  Even though I’m here as a trialist, I feel almost like I’m not playing for anything at all.  If I get offered a contract, fine.  If not, well then I have options that I’m more excited about elsewhere anyway.  This whole experience has taken an emotional toll on me already and it’s only been three weeks.  I can only imagine how things will be if I indeed get a contract and I’m here for a long time.  Hopefully I will be.

I have training tomorrow (Friday) and a match Saturday.  Maybe my carefree demeanor will be what I need to get a contract?  You never know.  Weirder things have happened.  Til next time.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Going Crazy at MYPA House

February 22:

It was my first day meeting the new team, and they’re a good bunch.  Today was just a recovery day so all we did was some dynamic stretches and easy movement exercises to help the players’ bodies feel better.  Nothing out of the usual except that a) the coach wasn’t there and b) everything was done at the clubhouse.

I should note that MYPA’s clubhouse is quite unique.  First, it is a three story building plus a basement and it houses a (very old) gym, club offices, the locker room and a sauna.  In addition it also houses a bowling alley and the awful apartment I’m staying in.  You may or may not have noticed a problem there…allow me to clarify: THERE IS A BOWLING ALLEY ABOVE MY APARTMENT!  I didn’t notice it last night because I was picked up so late that I arrived after it closed.  For the past 7 1/2 hours, (it’s 8pm now) I have been hearing bowling ball after bowling ball crash into pins and be returned to the top of the lane.  Now I must admit that the bowling balls sound an awful lot like thunder, so in a way it’s kind of soothing.  Something like a thunderstorm going on outside while you’re comfortably indoors.  But in another, more real way, it is incredibly annoying.  If a writer were trying to create a terrible apartment for a novel, he or she wouldn’t even dream of putting a bowling alley upstairs.  It’s just too ridiculous of a thought.  Surely, the author would think, no one would put a dwelling underneath a bowling alley.  Or better yet, surely no one would think to put a bowling alley on the third floor of the building!

Oh and remember when I said I was working in the kitchen?  Well the outlet that the freezer was hooked up to stopped working.  When I got back from training there was a huge pool of water coming from it.  It smells great.

Tomorrow I get to actually play soccer, which should help me to be more comfortable here.  There are actually going to be two sessions, and one of them is an all-or-nothing, make-or-break session with myself, another trialist and the two goalkeepers.  I’m pretty sure I will be judged for better or for worse based on that 60 minutes tomorrow afternoon.  But why shouldn’t that be the case?  It goes with the theme of this trip.  I’m confident though in my ability and one of the trialists here is someone I’ve actually played with long ago when my future was much brighter.  You’ll never guess who it is so don’t even try.  I’ll ask him if he minds me mentioning his name in this blog and if he says yes then I’ll mention him and tell a bit of his story.

Wish me luck!  I sure could use some right about now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Coming to Kouvola...uh, I mean Myllykoski

February 21:
Today was pretty boring but noteworthy because I have now arrived at my next trial with MYPA (mee-pa).  The club is located in Myllykoski, which is part of a group of towns that form Kouvola.  Of course, things being the way they have been thus far in Finland, I had no idea that the club was not in the center of Kouvola.  What that meant was that instead of staying and training in a relatively good sized city (Kouvola’s city center is upwards of 50,000 people in a space about the quarter the size of Indianapolis or Tampa’s downtowns), I was staying in a village of what can’t be more than a couple thousand people.  Myllykoski is by far the smallest town I have visited in my time here.  It makes Valkeakoski seem like a metropolis.
That said, at least I’m here.  After waking up and schlepping my luggage to the rail station, I took three trains and six and a half hours to reach the Kouvola train station.  There I awaited my ride…and waited. 

And waited. 

After two hours finally, mercifully, a player came to the rescue and picked me up.  The player was really nice though and put my mind at ease.  That is, until I got to the place where I’m staying.  It’s an apartment that is connected to the club office and it is a nightmare.  In stark contrast to the nice hotels I’ve been staying at up until this point, this place is more or less a dump.  The electricity isn’t even working is most of the rooms.  I’m writing this blog post from the kitchen, since the room I’m staying in has no lighting whatsoever and the plugs in the room don’t work.  My room doesn’t even have a door.  If I had a normally functioning laptop I could just charge it up and then work from my room, but like a big dum dum I bought my laptop on craigslist and therefore it carries no charge and shuts off the second it’s disconnected from the charger.  Oh well…

Complaining aside, I’m ready to get this trial going.  Tomorrow probably won’t be much as the club just played a match today (they won, 2-1).  Maybe the sun coming up will give me a sunnier disposition.  I hope so, because the way I feel now makes me wonder if coming to Finland was even a good idea.  I had a lot of optimism in traveling over here, but a series of bad things happening has made me wonder if maybe success here just isn’t in the cards for me.  I was a starter with a contract at Haka and they let me go, then I played well and was dangerous in a position of need for Jaro and they let me go as well.  Hopefully MYPA will see that I’m good enough to help and offer me a contract based on that, but even then I don’t know if I even want to stay here.  If I get an offer I guess I would have to take it since there are no others, but I have to weigh my unhappiness against the small salary and relatively long odds of moving to somewhere bigger and better.  But those are tough decisions that professionals have to make.  And I’ve got a ways to go before I can even get to that point.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

No Jaro Contract

February 19:

Bad news today as I found out that I won’t get a contract from Jaro.  I am not totally surprised, since I played very poorly in my first test match.  When I saw that I was not starting the second match, I got the feeling that my chances weren’t so good.  Even then, I played well in the second match against VPS and my confidence is pretty high considering I’ve got no club and as of this very second no trials either.  I know I can play in Europe.  I’ve seen the players who have contracts and I’ve done well against them.  I’ve been in the trainings and matches and had success.  Sometimes it’s difficult though to be a trialist.  You have to be amazing just to be considered.
On that note, I have to say that as time goes on I find being a trialist gets easier mentally.  Years ago, a trial would make me freak out and I could hardly play.  I never took any time to enjoy Denver when I was drafted to the Rapids nor did I take much time to enjoy some other places I’ve been.  Now, I just play relaxed and let my talent show.  If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.  There’s no reason for me to dwell on it and I understand that.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t worry sometimes about my future, but in the grand scheme of things it could be worse.  I’m in Europe chasing a dream.  More accurately I should say I’m in Europe chasing the first step of my dream.  Right now I’m a bit stressed because I honestly don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow.  I won’t mention the clubs that I am talking to now but they are my only hints as to where I could potentially spend the next few years of my life.  And if something can’t be arranged with those clubs who knows?  Sometimes it’s fun to not know what’s coming next, but when it’s your career or your life, the guessing game isn’t so much fun.  But I have money in the bank right now so I’ll be going on trials wherever they’ll take me until I get a contract somewhere.  I’m still hopeful that I will end up in a good situation where I’m happy.  I know of quite a few places that are more appealing to me than Jakobstad or Valkeakoski, Finland.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  I’ll keep you all posted as to what happens next!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Expensive Burgers and Boston Pubs

February 16:

Today was just a recovery day and there is nothing at all interesting to talk about soccer-wise, so I’ll give you a little information on Jakobstad and FF Jaro!
I’m not going to give you a history lesson on Jakobstad because I don’t know its history and honestly if you really cared Wikipedia is just a click away you lazy bum.  Jakobstad is a city on the western coast of Finland on the Gulf of Bothnia.  From Helsinki, it’s about 3-4 hours northwest in a car.  Maybe more.  Jakobstad is a small town about the same size as Valkeakoski.  However, so far this city feels just a little bit bigger.  I think that’s in part due to the fact that this town has a much more vibrant downtown area.  Also, there are actually places that are open past 9pm!  Nothing says big city like being able to walk around at 10pm and not feel like you’re in an episode of The Walking Dead.  I even almost bought a burger today, but the one I wanted was 8.80 euros.  That price is just for the burger.  No fries, no soda, no nothing.  Just burger, bun, lettuce, tomato.  Maybe one day I’ll summon up the courage to pay $11.25 for a burger but today is not that day.

Of course I haven’t been able to see it for myself yet, but I hear that the summers here are crazy.  Apparently, we’re far enough north that the sun doesn’t hardly set at all and apparently that’s a cue for the locals to go wild.  As I understand it, everyone seems to have small summer homes on the coastline about 5 miles from the city center and in the summer they go there and drink and party.  At any of these parties Jaro players are the main attraction.  I would really like to stay here and play I think.  The city sounds like a really fun place to be and I get along great with the guys.  I also like the coach and the way the club treats the players.

An interesting aspect of this FF Jaro is their relationship with O’Leary’s, a Boston-style Irish Sports Pub that is big around Scandinavia.  I first saw an O’Leary’s when I visited Stockholm last year.  I was just walking down the street and noticed that one of the signs in a row of bars was completely in english and had Boston Celtic and Red Sox apparel everywhere.  Once you get over the inherit weirdness of a Boston-style Irish Sports Pub in a part of the world that has no Irish people or US sport affiliations, O’Leary’s is a pretty cool place.  It’s the only sports bar in town that I know of, so it’s always pretty crowded whenever there’s any sort of sporting event, or so that’s what I hear.  Anyway, Jaro has actually arranged for the players to have a free lunch there every day if we so choose.  If I end up playing here, I will definitely take advantage of this perk, since I’m always lazy after training and never want to cook lunch.  Players can also get a free dinner any day, but this is limited to a meal known as “Jaro Noodles”.  This is a huge plate of noodles with a white sauce of some sort and slices of ham.  All of that is doused in some sort of pepper and served.  It doesn’t sound great, but you can’t beat the price and it’s actually really good.  I can honestly see myself eating this meal 3-4 times a week indefinitely.

I talk about O’Leary’s mostly to make a point.  In Europe, most of the teams have no more money than a USL or NASL franchise.  The salaries of the vast majority of professional players in Europe are similar to the bottom end of MLS.  From what I can tell, you’d be hard pressed to find a player in the Veikkausliiga that’s bringing home more than 8-10k euros a month.  After taxation that’s similar to making about $150k in the US.  Most players in Finland make far less.  I’d be stunned if I learned any player at Haka made more than 4k euros a month.  For this reason it is really helpful that Jaro has taken the step to provide its players with lunch and dinner any day they want it.  Of course, this doesn’t only benefit the players.  In a small town where Jaro is the biggest thing going, I would guess that it helps O’Leary’s business tremendously to have the club’s players regularly going there.

There’s not much more at the moment.  I know many of my posts have been relatively drab accounts of tedious day-to-day stuff, but once I sign a contract and settle somewhere I’ll have more days where I can let my personality show a bit and write about some fun stuff, rather than just recount how a match went.  Hopefully I can stay in Jakobstad with Jaro and write about the good times here!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Offsides in Jakobstad

February 15:

My first League Cup match with Jaro was today.  I played the second half, which is understandable since I have only just arrived last night.  I didn’t play great, and I was extremely tired for the last twenty minutes.  Every time I’d look at the clock, only two minutes would go by.  I’d say to myself, “wait ten minutes this time,” then I’d look up again and it’d be another two minutes.  It was terrible.  Yesterday I had two training sessions with Haka.  At the end of the first session, Sami kept a few of us behind to do about 45 minutes worth of finishing crosses.  That required quite a bit of running.  The second session was pretty rigorous itself, and then after it was over we ran fitness.  The fitness was 5x4minute runs.  This would be simple if you did it by yourself, but in a group setting you can’t allow yourself to fall behind and the last 90 seconds of each run is just awful.  My point is that I wasn’t tired in the match tonight because I’m lazy or out of shape, but rather because I did running yesterday that I would never have been asked to do if the match tonight had been on my schedule yesterday.
Despite this, in the first 20-25 minutes I was in the game, we played great and scored two good goals.  That took the score from 1-1 to 3-1.  I didn't score, but I still played ok and in the end I helped the team on both ends of the field.  I doubt I showed enough from my performance tonight to win a contract, but I did show some important attributes.  I showed off my speed, though I was called offside a lot.  Part of that was me mistiming my runs, part was my teammates not yet realizing how fast I am and part of it was the assistant referee getting a decision or two wrong.  I also worked my tail off, and even when I was obviously very tired I still chased when I was supposed to and generally gave every ounce of energy I had for the team.  I think the coach acknowledged and respected that.  Of course, working hard doesn’t get you a professional contract, so in the upcoming trainings and match I’ll need to show a bit of skill and earn a job!

One cool thing about Jaro that is different from Haka is the media attention.  Maybe it was because our matches were on the road, but no reporters spoke with any of the Haka players after our two League Cup matches.  After playing one half with Jaro though, I had three reporters asking me questions.  It wasn't big time or anything, but it always makes you feel good when people want to interview you.  Anyway, I found this picture from the match so here it is:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Worst Valentine's Day Ever

February 14:
Valentine’s Day is a day of love.  A day specifically set aside each year for couples to affirm how much they care about each other.  All around the world(The world, right? Valentine’s Day isn’t just in the US/Europe is it?)men and women are showing their affection for each other through gifts and whatnot.  My Valentine’s Day has been a bit different.  Why?  Well I’m glad you asked:
Haka told me today that I was released and now I’m in Jakobstad, Finland to start a trial with FF Jaro of the Veikkausliiga.
 I have been dumped by my club.  On Valentine’s Day.
And that is how you bury a lead.  Let me backtrack a bit.  First, we gotta set the scene.  Cue the music that plays while the heist from Ocean's 11 is explained at the end…screen fades to white to signify that we’re talking about the past aaaaaaannnnnnnddddd we’re in:
Six hours ago I was getting a massage to help recover from the double trainings that I had with Haka on Monday and today.  This morning, I spent the better part of an hour after training with Sami and the other strikers working on finishing.  In the afternoon we finished a difficult practice with fitness.  After it was all done I was pretty tired and looking forward to an off day Wednesday.  I was going to go look for a television for my room.
While I’m getting my massage, Sami hands me an envelope with the reimbursement from my flight and asks to speak with me in his office as soon as my massage is finished.  This struck me as a bit unusual, but I figured that there were only one of a few things that the meeting could be about: 1) He wants me to sign a contract for less money, 2) He wants me to sign a contract with more years since I’m going to be an obvious starter, or 3) A combination of the first two.  Before I can meet with him I get a call from my finnish agent who was provided to me by my agent here in the US saying that Sami has made an unacceptable offer and that he (the agent) will be around to pick me up in an hour to go to another club.  Quite the shocking message to receive.
By this time, Sami had to run out to do something so I went home and started to pack everything I owned back into the suitcases, duffle bag and backpack.  I was truly very sad and couldn’t figure out how or why this was happening.  Wasn’t my contract guaranteed after the 11th?  Wasn’t I the starting striker for this club?  Did I not show in training and the first match that I could help disproportionately to the value of my contract?  I even wondered if the prospect of me leaving might force Sami into reconsidering his decision.
The meeting did finally happen about an hour later at the clubhouse, with my bags packed in the agent’s car.  Sami and I had a frank discussion about the situation.  I don’t feel any qualms about discussing our conversation here because I think that info like this is kinda the whole point of me making a blog about playing in Europe and secondly because I seriously doubt Sami reads my blog.  Anyway, Sami told me that he liked my play and that he believed that I was up to the level of the finnish league, something I agree with.  However, the club is not in a great place financially and for him to make the commitment to find a way to pay my salary, he had to be absolutely sure I was the player for the job.  He said that he just couldn’t be sure.  Sami then went on to say that after the first match I played against Mariehamn, he was ready to go through with the deal 100%, but that after my performance in the 2nd match he became hesitant.  As I think about that it makes my mind go all over the place.  I believe that had the two matches been reversed and my better performance had been more recent, then the contract would have been granted.  Sami wanted me to stay for an extended trial for another week or two, but the finnish agent and I both thought that was an unacceptable request.  I also didn’t mention the fact that I have a signed contract as far as I know.  I signed a contract they faxed to me and then faxed it back.  I assumed the team president then signed the contract making it valid, but it’s possible he never did.  That would have made my contract more like a mortgage without a promissory note aka worthless.
Once Sami had his say, I had a chance to speak my mind.  I didn’t run my mouth off and yell and scream but I did make some points that I thought he should know before I left.  I started by saying that my performance in the second match was in part due to fatigue since I hadn’t played a full match in a very long time, let alone two in four days.  He agreed there and also noted without my suggesting it that the whole team played poorly and it would have been difficult for me to show well in such a game.  I then went on to say that I really enjoyed my time at Haka and I hoped that Sami changes his mind because I’d be happy to put this little mess behind us and join up again with the boys.  I also asked him to tell the squad goodbye for me and sorry that I couldn’t tell them in person.  I didn’t want any of the guys thinking I just disappeared in the middle of the night for no reason and didn’t even give them the courtesy of saying goodbye.  But, most importantly, I made sure that Sami knew that what he saw in the three weeks I was here over two separate trials was the player he was getting.  He didn’t need to see me for another week because I’m still gonna be the same player next week as I am this week.  If you need to see more at this point, you’re saying one of two things:  either you think I just need to be coached to be the player you want or you don’t think I can be that player and you just wanted to be extra sure.  I think Sami believes the former so maybe there’s a chance I end up at Haka after all.
Anywho, now I’m in Jakobstad in a hotel.  I play a match tomorrow with a team that I have never met and know nothing about.  I have no idea what formation Jaro play, where they want me to play or how they play.  I don’t know the coaches name or where they finished in the league last year.  I do know that we are playing the club that finished 3rd place last season, so we’re definitely in for a tough test.  I just hope my body can handle a match on a day that I thought would be free until a few hours ago. 

Stay tuned people and wish me luck!
Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Team Bonding on a Frozen Lake

February 12:

Hey guys!  I missed yesterday because last night I was…a little bit drunk!  That is because apparently in Finland, “team bonding with your wives/girlfriends day” is just code for “drink from noon until you fall asleep day, while taking an hour break to do games that make you look like a drunken idiot”.  Needless to say, it was a pretty fun time.
We started by having a very light training session.  I stayed a bit after the rest of the guys left the indoor facility to do some extra stretching, and when I returned I found that there were beers and sausages everywhere.  The reason everybody was so eager to get out of training was that they wanted to get to the clubhouse and eat and drink!

Around this time the wives and girlfriends started to arrive.  I met quite a few of them and about an hour later we were all on our way to a mystery location.  Fun times! 

70km later we arrived: at a big plot of nothing.  In reality, hidden behind a few houses was an enormous frozen lake.  There, we drank lots of beers, hot cocoa with vodka and other forms of alcohol.  We also tried to hula-hoop, spin around a bat ten times and run (not easy), and sled races.  It was a great way to have fun with the people who I’ll be working with every day.

After that, we went to a nearby restaurant that was cleared for us.  We ate at a really nice buffet which gave us an opportunity to talk amongst ourselves.  I got to know Obi Metzger a little bit as well as Shane McFaul and Shane Robinson.  We all speak english better than finnish so naturally we ended up sitting together in the restaurant.  I learned that Obi has played a bunch of games with the Sierra Leone national team and he has a bunch of friends playing in leagues all around Europe and western Asia.  It was cool to hear about experiences from other players with similar situations.  I’m a Yank Abroad, but my situation is much the same as a player from Africa or other parts of Europe.

After dinner, a few people from the club’s hierarchy spoke.  It was nice to meet the people who make my new club run.  Even pretty drunk, I realized that we were in good hands.  The club does not have much money, but with people like Haka has I’m sure things will work out. 

As we headed back to Valkeakoski, some players decided it was time to get on the bus’ microphone and sing.  You can probably guess how that went; Drunken Finns belting out terrible songs off key.  It was a big hit though with the crowd who were also drunk.

Of course, once we got back to the clubhouse there was only one place to go and that was Mama’s, a bar in Valkeakoski’s city centre.  After a few hours with the boys there drinking more free beer, I walked home and fell into bed.
In good news, nobody handed me a pink slip today so I assume I am now a full contract player for FC Haka!  I will go in sometime this week to put the final touches on the contract so that I can finally put that behind me.  I’ve been kind of anxious with this deadline approaching so it’s nice to have it in the past.  All in all, a good day.

Friday, February 10, 2012

League Cup Match 2: Disaster in Turku

February 10:

I was really excited about our match today against TPS.  They are a team from Turku that finished something like 4th or 5th last year I think.  Sami named me to the starting lineup again, which of course is a big plus.  If I’m going to play at Haka I want to be a starter so I can have as much time as possible to show my skills.  Also, Finland plays with 3 subs like most of the world instead of the 5 subs that were allowed in USL and NASL.  That means that there is a greater chance that if I don’t start a match I won’t play at all.  Long story short, it’s good to be in the first XI.
My excitement lasted until about the 3rd minute of the game.  I was playing as the center forward in a 4-3-3 formation with a #10 style playmaker underneath me.  The only problem was that the playmaker was Obi Metzger, a guy who has been sitting out training since I’ve arrived with injury.  I have no problem with people resting injuries and not training, and I don’t think for one second that Obi was milking any problems he may have.  Where I have a problem though, is the fact that I was made to play in a match against a team superior to us with my most important partner on the field being a guy I’ve never played with.  We’ve never even had so much as a conversation.  Once again, not knocking the guy, knocking the situation.  It sucked. 

Anyway we lost the game 1-0 but the score didn’t reflect the contest.  They didn’t have many great chances, but they dominated possession and prevented us from having any chances at all.  Other than a free kick in stoppage time of the second half, I can’t think of one chance that we created.  There were only one or two corner kicks and no dangerous flank serve set pieces.
As for myself, I was terrible.  I was gassed by the end of the first half because I spent the entire half chasing six guys (4 defenders + 2 deep lying CMs) who were happy to just pass around me while the rest of my team stayed in a tight block 20 yards behind me.  I tried to help myself by dropping back the line at which I started to defend, but it only had the effect of making the rest of the team drop as well.  So I took one for the team and ran like a dog with no hope of ever getting the ball. 

Apparently not enough.

At halftime Sami berated me, Obi and one other attacking player (I guess I should start using players’ names so you can relate better to who I’m talking about.  The other player was Topi Jarvi.).  Sami said that we weren’t working hard enough to get open and showed us certain runs he wanted to see in the second half.  The runs part was directed at me since Topi and Obi had both gotten subbed out in the first half.  I tried to do what Sami asked and in fairness I might have been clear on the goalkeeper had a cynical foul by a defender not been committed.  However a mix of fatigue and a red card to our left winger Juha Pirinen (Piri) made it impossible to be effective.
As a reminder, I have a clause in my contract which says I can be terminated on or before February 11.  I was really confident that my contract would not be terminated after the first match, but after today’s match and the halftime grilling I received I’m not so sure.  That said, I’m the starter here so there’s not really a ton of options if I’m let go.  Also, the whole team played poorly today so I don’t think Sami can place too much of that on my shoulders.

Tomorrow is a big day!  The team is having a bonding day with wives and girlfriends so I guess I’m going on that.  If they are planning on letting me go, I’m not sure exactly when they’d tell me.  It seems like it would be quite cruel to give me that news immediately before or after going to a team bonding trip.  But then again I was cut from the Colorado Rapids on picture day and the Columbus Crew the day before they left for trip to England, so I’ve been on the receiving end of some poorly timed pink slips.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Viedo Update!

February 8:

Today I am trying out a video post.  I kept this one very short, just showing the house where I’m living.  Anyway, if this works then I may well do some of my posts in video form rather than written form.  That will help me in moments where I don’t have a lot of time to write or I’m not close to a computer.  Here it is!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I'm On A Boat! But it's going to Marieheim...

February 7:

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted anything, so I apologize.  Things just weren’t very exciting in small town Finland.  Yesterday I played my first official match with Haka, a League Cup match against IFK Marienheim (sp).  Ironically, IFK Marienheim is one of the only teams in Finland I’ve ever heard of because I know a couple of their players from America.  One day, I’ll have to explain how I got to the point where I am now, and maybe later I’ll go back and put in a preface post, but in the summer of 2010 I trained briefly with Real Maryland of the USL.  There I met Josh Wicks and Mason Trafford who now play with Marienheim.  In fact the experiences of those two are what made me interested in the Finnish league.
Before talking about the game, I have to take you through the nightmare travel situation that arises with a game against Marienheim.  For those who don’t know, which is probably most of you, Marienheim is an island between Finland and Sweden.  I don’t even know if they have an airport.  Regardless, the best way to get there is by ferry.  That said, in order to get to Marienheim for a 7pm kickoff, we met at the stadium and left by bus at 5am.  This wasn’t a big problem for me, since I have been waking up at 3am every morning anyway.  From Valkeakoski we took the team bus on a 2.5 hour trip to Turku, the southwestern port city for our ferry.  From there, we boarded the ferry which really is a cruise ship for the 6 hour ferry ride to Marienheim.  We all had rooms so many of the players slept, but I couldn’t sleep at all since I had already gotten a full night’s sleep from 5pm-3am the night before.  So I just walked around taking pictures.  Yes, that is ice we were sailing through.

The match went well and we won 1-0.  The first half was much better than the second from our point of view.  We had the better of possession and created some chances.  Not many, mind you, but a few.  The team is changing formations and that is affecting our cohesion offensively.  We have not yet spoken about the attacking players in training because we are building the new formation from back to front.  That makes sense so I’m not worried about the lack of chances just yet.  I personally played well, considering it was the first full 90 minutes I’ve played in an official match since 2009 with Crystal Palace Baltimore (hereafter I might call them CPB, so bear with me).
Sami (the Haka coach, remember?) seemed very pleased with my performance.  Even though I didn’t score, I did play a part in the buildup to the goal and helped make the goal possible, which is my job.  I think that with a bit more match fitness and some time to get to know my teammates I will be more effective.  I don’t want to make excuses but it is worth noting that it’s still been only 4 days since I arrived from another continent.  That’s all for now, but before I go, I’ll put some notes from the match:
-This was the first 90 minutes I’ve played in a long time, but there may be many more to come.  Haka doesn’t appear to have any other center forwards available for selection at the moment.
-In Marienheim, the first language is Swedish, even though the island is a part of Finland.
-My buddies Josh Wicks and Mason Trafford didn’t play.  They were rested after playing only a few days ago in another League Cup match.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Small Town Finland

February 4:

Valkeakoski is a cool little town.  The population is around 20,000 and it definitely feels that way.  The pace around here is slow and there aren’t a ton of cars everywhere.  Despite the fact that it’s -15 degrees outside, people still walk around outside.  The government or whoever is responsible for snow removal have done a great job.  It’s snowed about 2-3 inches in the few days I’ve been here and the sidewalks are still easily walkable.  I mean they’re still covered in snow, but the snow is packed down so hard that you don’t even need boots to walk on it.  That’s good because I didn’t bring boots and the cheapest pair I’ve seen are 80 euros.  While walking around town exploring a bit, I took this picture of the city center.

As you can tell, the city is quite small. .  The smokestacks (are those called smokestacks?) in the back are from the paper factory that is essentially the reason that Valkeakoski exists as a town.  It used to employ most of the residents and was a major financial backer of Haka.  In the 80s and 90s, Haka was the best team in Finland winning multiple titles.  The only club with more championships is HJK Helsinki.  However, the financial crisis was truly worldwide and hit Valkeakoski hard.  The paper mill was forced to pull most of, if not all of it’s money from Haka and the club ended up in really bad financial shape.  As the result, the club has had to get a bit creative in signing players.  Hence, they’re looking to their youth team and cheap foreigners (ie. Me) to build a competetive squad.  In fact, I’m the only new signing for the club that isn’t from the Haka youth team or Yknonnen/Division 1, which are the 2nd and 3rd tier of Finnish soccer.  Playing at a club that doesn’t have much money isn’t really a problem for me though.  In my previous two clubs, Harrisburg City Islanders and Crystal Palace Baltimore, we didn’t have money either.  They were different situations, but the idea is the same.  Some of the luxuries that players may expect elsewhere are not going to happen with Haka.  Luckily (and perhaps obviously) I didn’t come to Valkeakoski for luxury.
Enough about Haka, I’ll tell more of their story another time.  For now, I’m just trying to figure out how to get my American shows to play on my computer.  I’m gonna do some investigating and I’ll have “The Office” playing on Netflix in no time!

Friday, February 3, 2012

First Training and the Valkeakoski Social Scene

February 3:

Today I had my first training with Haka.  The session went well, and it was nice to see some familiar faces.  I should mention that the reason I was able to get a contract here was that I trialed with the club last October.  Technically, I’m still a trialist since there is a termination clause in my contract between now and February 11th, the day after the team’s second League Cup match.  The League Cup sounds prestigous, but here it's really just a glorified preseason tournament.  There is a trophy though, so it’s important.  That said, teams are allowed to play trialists and the winner of the Cup does not get a berth into any European competitions.

I’ll try to stay away from going too deep in detail into trainings since that’s not really what this blog is going to be about.  However, I will say that the training started with some passing drills, then went immediately into 7v7+1 neutral player matches.  We played 4 games of 5 minutes each, and then since we were tied we played a sudden death game that my team won after 30 seconds.  I scored a goal and did well, especially considering that I felt like it was the middle of the night. 
The jet lag is still a big problem, as is the cold weather, but I was able to get out to the grocery store.  In a small town like Valkeakoski, the grocery store is like the mall.  People go in there and just walk around.  There will be 100 people in there, but absolutely no one at the registers.  I honestly think people go just to be seen.  I, on the other hand, was on a mission.  Unfortunately, knowing what you want in a finnish grocery store is almost useless if you don’t understand finnish.  Most of the products have no pictures on the jars/boxes, so instead of getting some mystery foods, I just bought a bunch of cookies and potato chips.  Laugh if you want, but I’ve got to know what I’m getting if I’m going to spend my money.

Tomorrow we have one training in the morning, then I plan to explore the town a little bit.  Til then I’ll pray for the temperature to rise!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Arriving in Valkeakoski

February 2:

Hey guys and gals!  It’s been a long day and a half but I am now in Valkeakoski!  I arrived at the club office then went to a house that is owned by the club where I will be living.  The club is called Haka, but I'll talk about them more another time.  The house is actually quite big, which is a bit surprising because I figured everything in Europe would be smaller.  That doesn’t apply to the more rural areas of the continent I guess.  The coach, Sami Ristila, seems happy to have me here, which is nice.  There’s no point in going halfway around the world to play if you have a coach that’s not interested in what you can offer.  Here's a picture of the room I'll be staying in:

After meeting with Sami, I got a ball and walked a quarter mile down the street to the indoor hall where the team trains during the winter to do some individual work.  I haven’t run in three days and I’m supposed to train tomorrow and play in 4 days so I needed to do something instead of fall asleep at 3pm.  The thing though, is that it’s -20 degrees farenheight.  That's not just regular cold.  That is the kind of cold that would literally make you die.  In my hometown of Indianapolis it gets cold.  It’s not unusual to be 10 degrees or less.  But -20 is ridiculous.  It makes you not even want to do basic things.  I didn’t eat dinner tonight because I had no food at the house and it was just too cold for me to walk the half mile to the city center to get groceries.  I’ve brought big enough coats though, so tomorrow I will venture into the cold and get food!  Or, if there’s never any more blog posts, you’ll know I’ve died from going outside for too long.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Goodbye, USA

February 1:

Today is the day.  I leave my home country to play and live abroad.  My destination?  Valkeakoski, Finland.  More specifically, I am going to play for FC Haka of the Veikkausliiga, the top league in Finland.  I just got the contract sent to me two weeks ago, so all of the preparations for this trip have been made on somewhat short notice.  Of course I’ve packed my Playstation 2 and 3, as well as my slippers (you know, the important things).  I’ve also brought a ton of clothes and six pairs of cleats.  I’ve never travelled with this much luggage, but then again my entire life is packed in there so maybe it’s sad I could only fill 2 suitcases, a duffle bag and a backpack.  Oh well the point of this blog is to talk about my life abroad so there’s no reason to keep talking while I’m still in the US.  Next time you hear from me I’ll be in Finland!