Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Injury Crisis

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post.  Well, actually it’s not been that long, it just feels like a long time because so much has happened. We've had so many injuries that I guess I can say that even my blog had to sit out a week to injury.

Since I last posted, we’ve played four games, everyone has gotten injured and Celia has come to visit.  We even squeezed in a day to play with little kids and a meeting with the big wigs of VPS.  Also, shit got real on Game of Thrones, but that’s all I’ll say about that so that I’m not a spoiler!

I’ll briefly go over each of the four games and then list who got injured.

RoPS W 2-0.  We played pretty terribly in this game and made almost no combinations in the entire game.  I came on after ten minutes and played striker until the last few minutes and then finished the game as the left winger.  Fans of VPS will recognize this type of performance since it was the mirror image of the early games last season.  Injuries: Steven Morrissey, broken arm.

IFK Mariehamn L 0-1.  This game was pretty one sided as well.  We had a good spell right after I came on and looked most likely to score in the last 20 minutes, but then a fuck up/miscommunication on my part allowed a MIFK player a free header and he scored the winner in the 90th minute.  Injuries: Frido Nganbe Nganbe, hamstring.
I'm taking pictures of all the locker rooms.  This is Mariehamn.  I can't find the RoPS picture at the moment.

FC Lahti L 0-1.  Second straight game without scoring.  Or maybe it could have been better classified as a clinic than a game.  We don’t have the advanced metrics for this game like we get for league matches, but I’m sure we had less than 30% possession across the 120 minutes.  We showed great heart playing with 10 then 9 then 8 players against 11, but eventually a set play did us in and we didn’t get the chance to steal the game in penalties, although at the pace we were going we’d probably have to pull people out of the crowd to have five players healthy enough to take the penalties.  Injuries: Timi Lahti, no idea.  Cornelius Stewart, hamstring.  Sebastian Strandvall, ankle.

TPS W 1-0.  We got back on the winning track.  A deserved win, although TPS did have 3-4 good chances.  I felt like a draw would have been fair, but our winning was also a fair result based on the game.  I played in my favorite role as a striker next to a hold-up striker in Lasse and it only took 5 minutes in that position for me to create a goal.  I will readily admit that winger is my most natural position based on my skill set, but the position I have played all my life and have the most understanding is what would be termed as a “second striker”.  VPS doesn’t really play a formation that uses that precise role, but we did against TPS after Jarno went off and it got us the winning goal.  The closest I normally get to playing as a second striker is when I play on the left wing.  It’s worth noting that 4 of my 5 goals from open play last year came from the left wing position that I effectively just took the initiative to make into a second striker role.  Injuries: Frido Nganbe Nganbe, hamstring.

Moving on to life, I went to see Steven a couple of days after his surgery and he was in good spirits.  I’ve since seen him multiple times and I can relay to everyone that he’s doing well and itching to get back on the field.  I don’t want to say much more about his injury as it’s his private business and not really subject to a public blog such as this.

In between the Mariehamn and Lahti games, we took a morning out and hosted a clinic for the 5-8 year olds of Vaasa.  While I like kids and can reasonably handle groups of them (I substitute teach kid aged 6-12 every winter in Indianapolis), I absolutely never again want to deal a bunch of kids playing soccer.  Oh my god what a nightmare.  I was partnered with Jesper Engstrom and we couldn’t get any of our groups to play the (very simple) game that we were running.  All I’ll say is that those kids were lucky they were so cute!

She said she wasn't posing, but we know the truth.
Later in the week Celia came to visit and that was really nice.  I haven’t seen her in months and that time has sucked so I was happy to see her again.  We could have had more fun, but everything in Vaasa seemed to be closed the entire time she was here.  I had made plans for things to do, but we ended up essentially just doing the same things I do everyday when I’m by myself.  We did however have a long walk around Vaasa so I got to see a few areas that I’d never gone to before.  I also finally got a win in front of her.  She’d been to maybe 4 or 5 of my games and I’d lost all of them until last weekend against TPS.

While Celia was here, a couple of us guys got together to celebrate Keithy Simpson’s birthday.  It was nothing big, just a nice little celebration.  It’s so important, especially for the new players, that we take time outside the pitch to get together and enjoy each others’ company.  I’ve embraced my time with my teammates this year and it’s made the 7 weeks I’ve been here thus far go by really quickly.  Hopefully Keithy is enjoying his time and not having such a rough start to Finnish life as I had in Valkeakoski.

That’s it for now.  We have a tough test ahead tomorrow against MYPA.  They’ve had a good start to the season and will feel full of confidence.  We’ve also had a horrendous time whenever we’ve gone there so any result will be a boost.  If we get something from the game, then we’ll have 7 or 9 points from 4 games that include the three longest road trips. That’s the kind of start to the season that we’d have taken if you offered it to us last month.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Veikkausliiga Predictions

I’m doing a predictions list, and I have to put it out now because the whole league starts playing in 2 hours.  I planned on posting this two weeks ago, and I actually wrote it on April 3 or 4, but it’s just now getting completed.  I don’t really see much of this in Finland, but in America there are predictions galore.  Hell, there are mock drafts for the NFL for all 200-something picks, even though no one in the world can be sure who is going to get picked 157 or 39 or 213, not even the people making those picks know until a few minutes before.  My list is not going to be as specific as those.  Instead, I will group the league into 4 categories: Possible champions, medal contenders, middle of the pack teams and finally, relegation fighters.  It should be noted that last year I predicted that JJK would be relegated and VPS would get 3rd, though I also predicted TPS would be 2nd and Honka below top 6 (that was before Honka’s still-mysterious spending spree that brought them 5 new starters in a week).  Without further ado, my predictions.

Preseason predictions for Veikkausliiga 2014:

Possible Champions: HJK

Let’s be honest, HJK has double the budget and more talent than any other team in the league.  I think we (VPS) can beat them, but how many other teams can?  They lost their most productive player in Zeneli and a great striker in Pojonpalo(sp), but they replaced those spots with Alho(Aho?...the black guy) and Forsell, so I don’t think they’re too stressed right now.  The championships streak has to end sometime, but it won’t be 2014.

Medal Contenders: VPS, KuPS, Inter, IFK Mariehamn

I think VPS will be #2 this year, simply because I think we’re slightly stronger than last year and our competitors are slightly weaker.  Simple as that.  

KuPS is something of a dark horse.  They apparently have tons of money and every year they seem like they should be one of the best teams, but inevitably end up finishing 7th.  I think if they start well enough to actually care about the last 15 games, then they can finish in the medals.

Inter had a bad year last year, but they got Ojala back and that’s a big deal.  His set play service is worth 15 points a season.  They also obviously have the striker whose name I can’t think of right now who always scores with his head (as long as he avoids threatening referees) and the winger Duah is a heck of a player.  They also have Gruborovics(sp) who is very good and I think they still have the dutch midfielder, who is probably my favorite non-VPS player in the league.

IFK Mariehamn is a great attacking team, but they will probably be undone by their defense.  I know from experience that it’s fun to play with a team that scores a ton of goals, but nothing is more frustrating than scoring 3-4 goals in a game and losing or drawing.  Despite their talent, they have a lot of personalities that won’t like being on the bench for even one game.  A good start for this team could put them top 3, a bad start and they’ll implode and could finish 10th.

Middle of the pack: MYPA, SJK, RoPS, Lahti*, Honka*

This is the “Why are we even playing?” group.  They all have talent, but probably not enough to win medals and too much to be relegated.  

Lahti has a star because they might actually belong in the medal contender group.  I don’t know much about their players, but the striker is a beast and will score plenty of goals.  I also like the tactical flexibility of their coach.  He will have Lahti ready to play 2-3 different formations which will serve them well.  They’ll be able to adjust to tactical mismatches in-game which will allow them to earn points in matches where the initial gameplan isn’t working.  This is essentially the opposite of JJK last year, who had such a rigid gameplan that they could be beaten by literally anyone.  And they were.

MYPA, SJK and RoPS are all the same to me so I’m putting them together.  All will get sufficient points at home to not be in danger of relegation, but each will struggle, especially away and in the summer as the season stretches on.  Don’t be surprised if any of these teams is top 4 in June, but I can promise none of them will be top 3 in September or later.  I’ll let you in on a secret in the league, and that is that every team in Veikkausliiga wants RoPS to get relegated.  No one likes going there, the field isn’t very good and there’s no fan atmosphere to make the game fun.  Ironically, that lack of motivation going to Rovaniemi is a big reason why RoPS takes so many points at home and is in absolutely no danger of being relegated.

Honka is another team with a star because I think they might actually belong in the relegation fighters group.  They have a new coach who was a great player, but I don’t know what his coaching credentials are like.  There’s a reason Michael Jordan and Zidane aren’t head coaches [edit: Zidane is now]...sometimes a coach’s personal greatness makes them unable to teach less gifted players how to succeed.  Honka also is filled with young players and that’s tough.  I had that situation when I played at Enkoping and despite our skill, we lost every game to more experienced teams.

Relegation fighters: Jaro, TPS

Jaro is here every year, and they never actually get relegated so I don’t know what more to say about them.  They have one of the top coaches, but their lack of money and unwillingness to win ugly puts them in this group.  They tried to be pragmatic in the last game we played against them last season and embarrassed themselves.  They simply don’t bring in players who fit that fighting style that is so important in the first 5 and last 5 games in this league.  The ironic thing is that Jaro would probably have more success in Allsvenskan, which is a better league than Veikkausliiga, because the games are more based on possession and finesse than fighting.

I don’t know one thing about TPS except that Patrick Lomski is playing there now and that they are in financial trouble.  They had to get rid of a bunch of players and seem to be going into this season with a bunch of young hopefuls and lower division talent with a very good british guy running the midfield.  Sounds eerily alot like Haka in 2012.

That’s the preview.  Feel free to shower me with praise in November when my predictions are shown to be true.  Just call me Blackstradamus. If I'm horribly wrong, well then screw you make your own predictions and leave me alone :)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Am I Famous?

I must be, because I've been in the media (social and real) this week.

I got a bunch of twitter followers last weekend because I was mentioned on the live match tracker someone was doing.  I had completely forgotten that I had twitter, only to get 16 emails telling me that I had a new follower.  You would think twitter would have figured out a better way to do that, but oh well.  I guess I have to start “tweeting” now to justify my newfound support!  

Not to bury the lead (or “lede” for the purists out there) but I’m putting one of my email addresses in the about me section of this blog.  I’m doing this because I often get feedback via other mediums and I wanted anyone who wanted to voice their opinion to have a direct line.

I was also made aware that the story by Lari Vesander http://jalkapallolehti.fi/pitka-kotimatka/ was published.  We spoke on facebook for quite a long time and I’m happy with how the story turned out.  It was very well written (at least the google translate was well written) and a good representation of my time.  I majored in journalism in college and I can only hope to one day write a feature piece as good as this.  I had actually forgotten some of my feelings when I was doing all those trials in 2012.  It’s strange to admit because sharing my story with others has become such a big part of this blog, but originally the blog was only supposed to be for me.  A way to remember everything that I did and where I came from.  Inadvertently the blog did exactly what it was supposed to do, for me at least.  To answer a question posed in the story, the reason I did so many more posts in 2012 (February and March especially) is because it was meant only for me and a few select friends and family whom I’d tell about the blog.  In that way it was more a journal than blog.

Also you’ll all be happy to know that I’m much happier now than I’ve been at any other time since I’ve been playing in Europe.  For a three week period that included only 2 games and a bunch of double trainings, my March in Vaasa went surprisingly fast.  The days only go by faster once the season begins so I’m sure this year won’t drag on like others have.  Before I know it I’ll be in the city center in from of the people with my silver (let’s not get crazy and say gold) medal thinking, “Where has the time gone?”.

The kid problem at my apartment is starting to get out of hand. Today I was almost caught in the crossfire of a watergun battle and later ruined a game of tag just by walking into my apartment building. Back in my day kids had some sense. And we walked to school 5 miles. Uphill both ways. And always in snow, even in the summer.

In happy news, we’re done with our two-a-day trainings and the season finally feels like it’s here!  That means a lot of things, but apparently for one of my teammates that means dressing up.  Now, I’m not against wearing nice things into training, but as you’ll soon see my friend Frido takes it to a whole different level.  Can you say “Paris Fashion Week?”
There are no words.

It was -1 outside.

To be fair to Frido I put an actual picture from Paris fashion week. I typed “fashion week shorts men” into google and that was the least ridiculous picture I could find.  Don’t believe me?  Click this link.  I dare you.

First game is Sunday and I doubt I’ll check in before then.  I’ll try to take some video during the trip, but no promises.  Apparently people don’t like their daily lives to be filmed for a blog.  Who knew?

The meme (Frido's outfit if he ever gets rich enough to buy it):