Monday, July 29, 2013

A Crazy Derby

We’re starting to get to the business end of the season.

VPS is still in third place, a position it seems like we’ve held for months.  That position looks to be in a bit of danger though, as the rest of the top half of the table has effectively caught up to us during July.  We had a bit of a rough patch, then bounced back with a great comeback performance against MYPA before losing to Jaro in what turned out to be a fantastic match even though we lost.

Of the two games, I’m only going to talk about Jaro because I was at the center of a bit of controversy.  The game itself started out really poorly for us, though that was kind of to be expected with the crowd in Jakobstad one of the biggest in Jaro history.  Any game on the road is difficult in the beginning, but it’s just a matter of weathering the storm.  We did that against JJK and HJK, but we didn’t do so well against Jaro.  They put a lot of pressure on us and scored a goal early.  I have to apologize to the assistant referee in that game because it looks like he got it right not calling offsides.  I said some things to him at halftime that would have been appropriate if he got the call wrong, but based on the video I don’t think he did.  We got better after the goal and put 2-3 good moves together before things got even worse and Jarno had to come off injured.  That meant that I was in as a first half substitute for the 4th time this season, which must be close to a record in this league.

Before I talk about my role in this game, I’ll mention that I finally got my hands on some of the game footage from previous games.  Watching myself on video exposed a lot of things in my game that weren’t as good as I thought they were.  Namely, I felt like I looked incredibly lazy in most of the footage.  I always give my best effort, but it certainly didn’t look like it.  For this game I gave myself a few goals: first, I wanted to make more assertive runs and use my legs to show when/where I want the ball rather than just pointing like I’ve been doing.  Second, I wanted to keep moving constantly rather than playing so stop/start.  I haven’t watched the match video yet, but hopefully I did a better job with my movement.

As I’ve mentioned more than once before on this blog, when I play striker I’m looking almost exclusively to get in behind the defense.  That makes what happened halfway through the second half as frustrating as it is embarrassing.  I made a good run on the back shoulder of the central defender and the team (namely Tomi Ameobi) played a perfect early ball behind the defense.  I took a good first touch and was clean in on the goalie.  My striker instincts took over and I felt no nerves whatsoever.  I could have probably scored by slotting to the keepers right or between his legs, but because I was so clean through I decided to round him and score in the open net.  Unfortunately, after I touched the ball past him and went to run around, I slipped, got halfway up and slipped again, losing the chance.  That goal would have changed the game completely and I’m sure we would have won the game had I scored.  Jaro always fades at the end of games, so to tie the score with 25-30 minutes left would have been a big hit psychologically for them.  Instead that miss probably served to give them more energy.  For me personally it really sucked because I’ve been asking for that exact pass for a month, and when it came I screwed it up.  People must be wondering what I was screaming for all this time!

Anyway, after the miss life went on and after a second Jaro goal I was again involved in one of the game’s talking points.  There were about five minutes left in normal time and we were chasing a goal.  Henka played a long pass that I chased along with a defender.  The defender headed the ball then started screaming, but I wasn’t thinking about him.  I got the ball and immediately threw it in to Sebastian.  He gave the ball back to me and I one timed a low shot that found it’s way into the net.  There was no time to celebrate so I turned straight back to the center line only to almost step on the defender, who was still down on the ground.  The reaction of the Jaro players and seeing the player down made it kind of click to me that he was injured the whole time and that I had played on despite it.  That made me feel horrible because I consider myself to be a fair player.  With the exception of yelling at referees, I don’t do anything unsporting.  No sneaky elbows, no trash talk, no stepping on people’s ankles, etc.  But now I pretty much did the most unsporting thing possible without even realizing.

In my defense, it’s been a few years now since FIFA declared definitively that it is not the responsibility of any player to stop playing if someone is injured.  If the referee thought that the defender was seriously injured, then he had the authority to stop the play at any time.  Also, I didn’t see the defender so it wasn’t like I intentionally broke any unwritten rules.  To their credit, no player from Jaro blamed me for continuing to play even though they must have assumed that I played on with knowledge of the injured player.

After everything was sorted, we continued playing against Jaro’s 10 men since they had no subs left to replace the injured player.  In the ensuing 3 minutes plus an extraordinary 8 minutes of stoppage time, we seiged Jaro’s goal and had at least three great chances to score.  In the end we didn’t get the goal, but we showed great heart in how we finished the match.  That doesn’t do us any good on the day, but I promise that it matters in the long run.  It was the first time since the Honka match last month that I thought we really dug our heels in and fought til the end.  If we keep that spirit then we’ll win games.  Jaro was only able to repel us because the crowd gave them a good fighting spirit as well.  Even then, they needed a bit of luck at the end.

We’ve got two games in the next week that will go a long way towards determining what position we’re fighting for this year.  Two wins and we’d probably be the favorites to finish third.  Anything less and we’ll fall into a crowd of teams and obviously we don’t want that.  The first game is against Lahti.  They’ve been playing really well lately, but I think we’re better than they are.  If we play like we did against MYPA then we should win.  After that comes IFK Mariehamn, who are struggling to figure out their identity since losing their two top scorers.  We should be looking to win that game as well.

That’s all for now.  We’ll be looking to bounce back against Lahti this week and I hope that there’s a big crowd there to cheer us on!

The meme:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rough Summer

Hey everyone.  I’ve gone over two weeks without posting so I have plenty to write about.  I won’t talk too much about the games in general because they’ve both been pretty awful and I don’t do that much anyway.  I will however talk about my role in those games since…well since that’s what I feel like talking about.

A picture of me...with mismatched socks.
Tomi was injured, so for the last three games I spent most of my time as a striker.  It went so well that after the KuPS game we signed another striker J.  My time was less and less frustrating with each minute I played up there, but I still had some issues.  I’ve gone over them, but it is annoying when you make runs that would kill teams and don’t get the passes.  In the HJK game I finally got some and caused a lot of danger, but didn’t score.  I guess that’s just the nature of filling in for a player that is the exact opposite of me.

One advantage of being the opposite of Tomi though, is that when we play together as strikers we work really well.  We played together during the second half against HJK and caused them a ton of problems.  We both had decent chances to score even though we were playing the top team in the league in good form.  When we play together, we always have multiple ways to attack the defense.  I almost always run behind the defense, and Tomi almost always shows in front of the defense.  While our individual runs may be predictable for defenders, when they happen at the same time they are pretty difficult to stop.  Even though HJK scored two goals on us in the second half and we didn’t score we still played quite well I thought on the attacking end.

Going back in time a bit, after the Inter game (which was really depressing) we went to a little team get together at a fishing resort about half an hour away from Vaasa.  Usually after a second consecutive defeat no one wants to look at each other, but I think the fishing trip was good for us.  There are so rarely times for a team to all get together outside of training, and that can be contentious because training is competitive and we’re not necessarily there to be friends.  I will say that I was on a roll and caught two fish in about ten minutes, but due to my ridiculous fear of anything that lives in the water,  Nikki had to dehook both fish for me.  When he refused to help if I caught another, I just took my fishing pole and went back to the lodge.  Jarno eventually won a hat for catching the biggest fish while I jealously looked on.

I’ve been doing a lot more at home now that we have whole weeks between games.  It’s given us more time to just have days to relax and hangout with one another.  For example, Steven Morissey came over to spend a day with Anthony and I.  The three of us had a really good chat about just about everything.  We talked about the games, life in Europe and life back home, our careers and everything in between.  While I won’t go into any specifics, I was really interested in hearing about Steven’s reasons for choosing to sign with VPS over other clubs.  His reasons said a lot to me about him as an individual and his character.  I gained a lot of respect for him after that visit.  Also, he cooked for us!  That makes him a winner in my book.

I’ve talked about a few things, but by far the most interesting thing has happened: a team party at my place.  We had just lost to HJK and needed to recharge our batteries, so Anthony and I hosted a beer pong tournament at my house.  Long story short, beer pong involes throwing ping pong balls into cups of beer.  If I tried to explain in any more detail I would be writing for hours.  Anyway, we started off on the wrong foot by having everyone show up an hour late.  Then we got to playing.  For some reason just about everyone took their shirts off.  I don’t have anything to add, I just thought that was really strange.  I kept my top on.  The host team (Me and Anthony) dominated the competition in group play with a perfect 4-0 record.  Unfortunately, after getting iced by having a bye into the semifinals, we lost and didn’t take home the title.  As the night went on, things got a bit “party-like”.  A few guys got into a spirited argument over who loved Finland the most and in the ensuing conversation my laptop got knocked off a table and the screen was broken into pieces.  That’s part of the reason that this blog post took so long to get published.  The good news is that I know how some free money from certain individuals to go out and buy a new laptop.  They’ll be happy to know that I’m getting essentially the cheapest new laptop in existence, the Samsung Chromebook 3.  I’m gonna buy it through Amazon and it’s only about 300 euros.  Of course I’ll be spending the majority of that money, but the money pledged by the people who broke my current laptop will help.

That’s about it for me.  I had a lot of stuff happen, but in the end I didn’t really get talking too much about any of them.  We play MYPA in our next game on Friday.  It’s at 8pm for some reason, I assume so that MYPA can travel to Vaasa the day of the match and save a bit of money on hotel costs.  That could be totally wrong though.  This is a big game because I feel confident that MYPA will be next to us in the final standings.  This game is a proverbial “six-pointer” in our individual battle for placement.  Winning or losing this game could be the difference between, say, 3rd or 4th at the end of the season.  Come out and support us!  We could really use the win. 
The meme:

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Change of Pace

The unbeaten steak is over L

We almost made it through all of June without losing, but in the very last game it all went to hell.  Since I last posted, we’ve won (1-0 JJK), lost (0-1 KuPS) and tied (0-0 RoPS).  I have no interest at all in talking about any of those games, but I do want to talk about my apparent new/old position, striker.

I have no idea what we were talking about here, but let's pretend we were talking about what position I'll play.
I’ve played the last two games as a striker, my natural position and the one I played growing up.  It may not seem like my natural position, considering that I haven’t scored any goals from there, but trust me it is.  I’ve been asked quite a bit if I prefer to play up front instead of the wing and my answers have been sincere: I honestly don’t care which position I play.  That said, in the second half of this season I believe I could be a more important asset as a striker than winger.  The first reason is that we don’t have any depth at the moment with our strikers.  I’m the only person other than Tomi to play as the top striker this season and only Sebastian and I have played Jarno’s normal position.  If I don’t play up top, then that effectively means that Tomi and Jarno will have to play almost every minute from now until November.  Of course we could always just sign a striker in August, but I don’t know what the plan is there.  If money grew on trees in Vaasa I’m sure that’d be an option, but then again if money grew on trees here I’d spend a lot more time outside J.  The second reason I think I can bring more to the team as a striker than as a winger is my style.  We have two strikers at the moment who are both really good, but neither is comfortable making runs behind the line.  That doesn’t make them easy to defend, but it is a bit predictable.  When I’m paired up there with one of them things open up dramatically.  The number of chances we created in the 20 minutes I played against JJK were greater than the number of chances in the first 65-70.  I think I’m a good change-of-pace (literally and figuratively) striking option.  Tired center backs don’t want to look over and see the fastest player on the field coming on fresh at striker for the last 20 minutes. 

I know I’ve made a bit of an argument as to why I should play striker, but I truly don’t care where I play.  Winger is probably my best position at this level of competition, and a coach or two have even suggested that I play as a fullback, though I never actually have.  Wherever Oka wants me to play I’ll play happily.

I went to the league website today, and was slightly surprised to realize that we are halfway through the season.  While I do feel like I’ve been in Vaasa for a long time, it doesn’t seem like the official games started so long ago.  Because the schedulemakers were drunk when they set the games, we’ve played 16 games in nine weeks, but only 17 in the next 16 weeks.  It’s gonna be nice at first to have a full week to prepare for each game.  It’s especially nice for VPS in particular, since our effective squad size is quite small.  Going forward from now we don’t really have to worry about rotating the squad.  We’ll have to deal with some suspensions and injuries over the next four months, but there are no more three-game weeks which is a relief.  I just hope that things don’t get super boring like they were down the stretch with Haka.  By the last month there we were training for an hour a day to preserve the bodies for the guys who were playing the games.  There is such a thing as too much free time, and I fear that the slowdown in games might lead to that here.

Another thing about the midseason point is that it kind of cements VPS’s place as a real contender for the title or medals in Veikkausliiga.  No longer can we be called a surprise or written off as a fantastic start.  Now we are surely recognized by the whole league as a team that can win things.  I must admit I didn’t come to Vaasa with trophies in mind, but now that we’re in the position I don’t see why we can’t win something.  We’ve seen every team in this league and some twice and nothing has made me think that we can’t finish at the top end of the table.

With the pace of the games slowing down a bit I’m going to make a point of getting out into the city and enjoying Vaasa before it gets cold again.  I haven’t been to the swimming area yet so I’ll have to go there.  I know that Finland can be brutal when it’s cold, so I’ll make the most of my extra free time in these summer months.  Netflix and PS3 will still be here in autumn.

 Lastly, I want to extend good luck to all the finnish teams in European competition this week and month, especially IFK Mariehamn who has Kris Bright and Dever Orgill.  Even though these teams are our rivals, their success makes us look better.  If every finnish team were to miraculously make the group stages of the Europe League and Champions League respectively, then Veikkausliiga would jump to like 15th on the UEFA league coefficient and everyone would assume that I’m much better at soccer than I am because I play in that league J.  You had to know that I would somehow spin this to be about me, right?

 The meme: