Friday, June 21, 2013

Sitting Pretty

It’s been a tense week, but we did alright.  Two games and two draws against teams at the top of the table.  We didn’t necessarily play well for large parts of either game, but then again we rarely play well for large parts of a game and we’re 2nd in the table so it clearly works for us.  Remember that fighting spirit I was talking about?  It was on full display in these last two games.  Teams that were picked to finish in the medals this year against a team predicted to be fighting relegation.  When the dust settled, we’re still above both of them.


Soccer wasn’t the only thing on the agenda this week though.  I, along with the rest of the team, visited the VPS juniors facility and watched the kids play.  A few of the players were coaches, so they were busy boasting about how much their team was gonna outplay the other player’s team and so forth.  I enjoyed getting out in the community because in general I don’t really do anything.  I train, then go home and either blog, play Playstation or watch Youtube/Netflix.  It can get pretty boring, so it’s nice to do something actually useful in the city.  Also, seeing the kids play brought back a bunch of good memories of playing for fun.  Being a pro is the best job ever, but it’s still a job.  For me, it has carried with it the stresses of a job for probably the last 10 years or so.  When I was young my teams all depended on me and now my job has taken me to a foreign country to a town I’d never heard of two years ago.  So it’s refreshing to see a ball roll directly past a kid because he’s more interested in looking at the sky because he heard an airplane.  I miss that! J


On Tuesday, it was my turn to answer questions on the facebook chat session that VPS hosts each week.  If you don’t know about it just add VPS as a facebook friend and the information should be there somewhere.  You can actually go there now and see the Q&A session, since I won’t rehash it.  The chat was fun and there were a lot more questions than I expected.  There was mention of my nickname among some fans being, “The Predator”, but I’m really pushing for “Jordan Seabrohimovic”.  I think you have to actually be good to compare yourself to Zlatan though, especially in Scandinavia.


I really hate talking about the games because anyone who cares already knows.  With the games coming so close though there’s really not much else going on.  The TPS game was incredibly boring and doesn’t deserve more mention than this one line.  The Honka game however was ridiculous and deserves to be talked about a bit.


Honka is a really good team.  They have signed 4-5 top-level talents for this league and have been storming through the league since about round 5.  How a team that lives in the shadow of a much bigger club and that couldn’t pay its players last year is able to go on a spending spree a few months later is open to speculation, but ultimately beside the point.  They dominated the first half, really giving us problems with their counterattacking style.  I can see why they have been so successful:  They have a strong backline that allows them to confidently counter in numbers.  Some teams counterattack with 3-4 players, but Honka was having counter moves of 6 or 7 guys running in all directions.  It was difficult for us to get a handle on, even though we enjoyed more possession.


The second half was very different from the first.  Honka predictably ran out of gas to play such an up-tempo counter game, so what in the first half was useless possession by us followed by a dangerous counterattack by them became just a ton of possession for us.  With that possession, and the arrivals of me and Grant Kerr to bring fresh legs and a different approach, we were able to be dangerous.  That pressure finally paid off with our one clear chance and Sebastian made no mistake.  We tied 1-1 for those who didn’t know.  The real story of the second half though, was the referee.


Now people who read this blog regularly know that I have a bit of a problem with the referees in this league.  Every game I get called for fouls that would never be whistled in America.  Things that I think are just not fouls at all.  Against Honka though our ref took things to a new level.  Not only did he blow his whistle every single time a Honka player fell for any reason (which was suspiciously often, almost like they were…GASP…diving?), but he didn’t call any fouls in our favor.  The papers mentioned two penalty kick claims that he missed in the second half, but in my opinion it was three.  The handball was obvious.  It wasn’t intentional by the defender, but his hands were away from his body so it has to be called.  It’s not even up to the ref to decide.  It’s as simple a decision as the ball rolling out of bounds.  It doesn’t matter how it got there, the call is ironclad.  The trip of Jarno was also obvious, but the ref was too scared to call a penalty in stoppage time.  The third incident actually happened against me.  Grant played me a great lofted ball into the box and as I chested it, I was clattered into by some defender.  It was as obvious a penalty as you’ll ever see and makes me wonder if perhaps I have somehow gained a reputation in this league as a diver?  I’ve never dove in my life (well…… least not recently), yet I can’t seem to get a call in this league.  I’ll been elbowed in the face twice (things that would get players red carded in America) without a call.  I’ve been tripped dozens of times this season with no call all while being whistled for 2-3 fouls a game.  Enough of my little rant though, I just wanted to mention something that I did that might make our fans feel a little bit better about the ref.  When Sebastar scored, I high fived him but ran in the opposite direction of the celebration.  I tried to get the ball to give myself a logical reason of being next to the ref, but Honka immediately kicked it to midfield.  Regardless, I ran to the referee and essentially asked if he was enjoying Finnish summer, but with a bunch of American curse words he may have thought that I was insulting him and his performance.  Not that I would do something like that J.  If you’re someone at the Veikkausliiga office who has the ability to fine players, then I’m sure I remember just asking him about the weather, nothing else!


It’s midsummer today or tomorrow or both, I’m not really sure.  I find it weird that Scandinavian people celebrate this holiday, but then again Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo by dressing in borderline-racist costumes and drinking Mexican beer made in Texas, so I guess I shouldn’t be throwing stones.  Our next game is against RoPS and Anthony is suspended so he doesn’t have to go.  He couldn’t be happier about it either, though he’ll miss us while we’re gone.  Until then though we have a few days off so I’m gonna go enjoy Vaasa!


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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Back to Reality

I’m back after a nice four days in London with Celia.  I had a good time and wish it was longer, but then again I spent most of my money and now I’m in the poorhouse.


No matter what anyone tells you, holidays are a professional athlete’s favorite time on the calendar.  The games are obviously fun (sometimes), but they’re also really hard work.  Our weekly time off typically comes on Mondays or Wednesdays and we rarely get more than one day off at a time.  Because of this, most professional soccer players never really get a chance to take a break.  I know a lot of people probably sneer at that sentiment and think that playing a game for a living can’t be that hard, and they’re right; playing soccer is an awesome profession.  But if you had to run and jump for two hours almost every single day you would see why 4-5 days of not doing that would be welcomed.


me at the market. bottom right for those who don't see it.
I’ve been to London about a half dozen times now, and every time I go I discover some new things I like.  I’ve never been in the city when the weather’s been bad, so that’s helped.  At this point, I’ve seen just about every tourist sight there is except Buckingham Palace which has irregular opening dates.  This trip was more about hanging with Celia and seeing parts of London that the locals visit.  Celia has a fascination with outdoor markets which, no offense to anyone reading, must be a white people thing because it doesn’t appeal to me at all and no other of “my people” happened to be around at any of the markets we visited.  On the flip side, I bought something called a Tastecard for 30 pound and used it to get half off on essentially all of our meals.  Unfortunately, having the Tastecard encouraged Celia and I to eat at restaurants for lunch and dinner every day and I ended up spending a fortune even though Celia paid for almost half the meals.


Of course, all good vacations are inevitably destroyed by the trip back home.  And it doesn’t help when home is in small town Finland.  I actually like Vaasa quite a bit, but no one can deny that there is nothing more somber than a flight from a place like Stockholm or London into Vaasa.  No one is getting on that plane with a smile.  Leaving Tampere to go to London was like a carnival atmosphere at the departure gate.  Coming home was more of a funeral march.  It didn’t help that Karsten, Grant and I booked a return journey that featured 3 flights.  It also didn’t help that two of them were delayed, meaning that we had to stress our connections and didn’t arrive until about 1:45am.  And then, as if SAS knew that I wrote a blog or something, my bag didn’t arrive and I was forced to go through the ordeal of reclaiming my lost luggage that didn’t conclude until about an hour ago (3 days after I got back).


But enough about me; the real long-term winner of my trip by a mile was Anthony Dafaa.  My favorite roommate’s life got infinitely better because while I was in London I bought a Playstation 3.  I’ve been pleading with Anthony for months to split the cost of a PS3 with me and he has denied every time.  He claimed he didn’t really want a PS3.  Well, now that we’ve got one there’s only one gamer in this household, and it’s not the same as the house’s blogger.  I don’t say this to condemn Anthony because I like him a lot, just to note that he was the real winner from my vacation.  And he also now has his own controller, given to him by his brofriend J.


Well I guess that’s about it for now.  We’ve now come back and had two days of training and things improved dramatically from Monday to Tuesday.  I think we’re ready to play and I’m also pretty sure that we’ll have just about everyone available for selection.  It’s been a long time since we’ve had a fully healthy squad, but we’re slowly getting there.  The break in games definitely came at a good time for us.  We play against FC Lahti, who just hired my old Haka coach Juha Malinen.  That kind of sucks for us, since the hardest type of team to beat is one who just hired a new coach.  Every player will want to prove a point.  We’ll just have to counter that and step our game up even more.  I’m pretty sure we’ll be a better team than Lahti, but whether or not we’ll be good enough to win tomorrow is up to us.  A thank you in advance to any of the Geezers who make it out to Lahti on a Thursday night.  It’s far away but those guys and gals have gone further so maybe they’ll be there!


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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Chance to Relax and a PED rant

Finally a break.

The home ground.

We’re essentially 1/3 of the way through the season and we are about to take a well earned week off.  VPS has played 10 games thus far, and our 6-2-2 record is good for 20 points and the joint top spot in the league.  That said, we’re only 4-5 point above 8th place so it’s a bit too soon to be putting our name on the trophy.  If I’m being honest, these first ten games really have not been the greatest soccer that VPS has ever played.  We’ve only really dominated one game (RoPS) and the rest of our wins have only come by one goal, some in borderline miraculous circumstances.  I’ll take the points though, and if we manage to continue at this rate then we’ll probably win the league.  But then again that’s a really big IF and the league still has a long, long time to go.  What’s for certain though is that we’re gonna have to get a lot better in every aspect of our game.


The last two games have been fun.  We won both and against Jaro we had a great crowd.  The Jaro game was especially nice because the atmosphere was in stark contrast to a lot of the other games we’ve played at home.  The fans were behind us from start to finish, and what do you know we got better and better as the match went on.  It’s almost as if our fan support pushed the team to improve itself! ;)  I took some video after the game, but I got just the ending of our two little celebrations.  You get the point though.  We were very happy to win.

I also got my first assist of the season so I was happy with that.  I’m a winger so my main job is to create goals, so in my opinion getting assists is more important than even scoring goals.  I hope to get many more as the year goes on.


The game against Mariehamn was memorable for only one reason: we won despite playing terribly and without either of our first choice center backs for 2/3 of the game.  Winning while playing bad soccer has kind of become a theme for our club (or perhaps a motif, for those of you who enjoyed English class in high school…I guess what I call English class would actually be Finnish class or Swedish class for most people reading this, but you get the point).  I would prefer that we played better, but I can’t really complain with the results.  Clearly it’s working for us and it seems we don’t need to dominate games to win, which is kind of good news.

Ball in the net against Mariehamn.  Jyrki scored and me and Anthony are happy!
If you're wondering what we were saying it went something like, "Keep walking this way so we can catch our breath."  I'm not kidding that's what we were actually saying.

I also got to see my good friend from Haka, Kris Bright.  We both kind of suffered through some really tough times in Valkeakoski and really only had each other (along with Nana Attakora) to talk to during that time.  It was great to see him starting and doing well.  Things aren't going perfectly at Mariehamn, but he's definitely having more success there than either of us had at Haka.  I also saw and spoke with a fellow Yank, my friend Monica Dolinsky.  We both grew up in Indianapolis with similar stories.  She was one of the top handful of soccer girls in the state and I was the same for boys.  We never actually spoke though until after college when we ended up in the same circle of friends.  Now our lives are mirroring each other again, at least in the geographical sense.  She was in Sweden when I was and now she's been in Finland the whole time I've been here.  I hope her next stop is southern France/Spain or something!  She plays on the top women's team in Finland so that's awesome for her.  She also gets to go home for six weeks this summer, so I'm a bit envious!
I don’t really have anything else to say.  At least nothing relevant to my life personally or to VPS.  Instead, I’m gonna go off on a bit of an off topic rant.  If you care to know what I have to say then by all means keep reading.  If not, then I’ll be back next week after I return from vacation in London.




At one of our hotels, I watched a debate (from Australia, no less) about performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs.  Now before I go into my thoughts about it I have to say that I have never used any PEDs (at least nothing that is illegal.  I would classify anything other than food as a PED.) and that I don’t know anyone using PEDs.  I don’t think I would even know the signs.  The debate though kind of struck a cord with me because it confirmed in my mind something that I’d already been thinking: PEDs should be legalized.


When most people hear someone say this the first thing they think is, “Oh no!  PEDs are bad and shouldn’t be in sports.  They take away the integrity of the game.”  But think about that…every professional athlete takes one thing or another to enhance his/her performance.  I make protein shakes almost every day to help me recover and to increase the effectiveness of my weight workouts.  Protein is perfectly legal and has no side effects that I’m aware of.  Surely no one would say that I am cheating the sport of soccer because of my protein shakes.  So my question is, “why are steroids or HGH or whatever else people are using illegal?”  These are also performance enhancers that when administered by a professional have little to no side effects.  Steroids can give you man-boobs?  Well I see man-boobs every single day so it must not be that awful.  I haven’t done a ton of research, but as far as I know, steroids and HGH have no devastating effects when taken properly.  If you don’t believe that, then explain to me why we give steroids to little kids who have asthma?  Or why steroids are in every hospital in the advanced world?  Every professional athlete would have equal access to these drugs, and if given by doctors then the risk would be minimal.


Speaking of risk to athletes, I don’t understand what argument can be made against PEDs that can’t be countered by an argument of things that athletes ARE allowed to do.  For instance if I break my leg tomorrow, I can go to the hospital and get a cocktail of drugs, use state-of-the-art technology and have surgery.  I’ll be back on the field in 5-6 weeks.  Is this natural?  Are the things that doctors would do to heal me not performance enhancing in a way that the body could never possibly do?  Then why isn’t leg surgery illegal?  I would guess there’s a better likelihood of me dying from complications from a leg surgery than from taking FDA-approved steroids on a monitored schedule.


The last argument against PEDs and the one that it’s opponents always fall back on because of its emotional appeal is the idea that PEDs ruin the essence of fair competition.  That sport exists to push the body to the limit and reward excellence.  For me, this is the worst argument of all.  Lance Armstrong used PEDs, but he still got his ass on that bike after having cancer and rode it across an entire country uphill.  I would bet that no one reading this blog could match what Armstrong did no matter what kind of steroids they had access to.  Armstrong is still a dick and a bad guy all-around it seems, but in my opinion that has nothing to do with the drugs.  That has to do with his over-the-top competitiveness and pressure to succeed.  The same applies to Barry Bonds, a former American baseball player who never tested positive for PEDs, but surely used them.  Steroids might have helped him gain strength, but there were plenty of guys in MLB that were stronger than Bonds and never hit half as many home runs.  There was clearly hard work and skill involved.  These athletes may have cheated, but only because the rules are stupid.  Armstrong and Bonds were both super athletes before they took PEDs, and both are healthy adults now after taking them.  So why are they so bad?  And before you answer that, consider that Lionel Messi took Human Growth Hormone (HGH) from the time he moved to Barcelona at age 12 until some time recently.  HGH is a banned substance, but since it’s a drug that mimics naturally occurring hormones there is no way to test for it.  Plus I’m sure he stopped taking them before he became a member of the FC Barcelona first team.  Messi is (rightfully) celebrated as a hero, even though he did effectively the exact same thing as Barry Bonds, who is a villain.  There’s a reason why Lionel Messi, who is 5’ 5” tall, has legs like a freaking elephant.  And it’s his inhumanly strong legs which give him his inhuman acceleration and agility.  I would argue that Messi’s athleticism is due in large part to HGH.  He was a great athlete who became the best soccer player in the world thanks in part to PEDs.  No one though would argue that Messi has cheated or that he has become the world’s best player because of PEDs alone.  So doesn’t that kill the argument that taking PEDs ruins the essence of sport?  Did Lionel Messi not work incredibly hard to get where he is?  And has he ruined the game?  Of course not.  But how much more fun would soccer be to watch if there were 25 other Lionel Messis?  How great could Michael Owen have been if he was able to use steroids to recover from all those injuries and HGH to prevent more from happening?  How much better would it be for fans if the greatest players could all play until 40?  These are not just hypothetical questions; they are the reality if we just removed the taboo of PEDs.  Science is at a point where taking things to improve performance are as common as lifting weights or running sprints.  You don’t like PEDs?  Well then stop taking your daily multivitamin or cough medicine when you get sick.  And don’t even think about taking Burana when you sprain your ankle.  That’s cheating!


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