Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Fall of the Coach

This post while may not directly related to the world of soccer certainly resonates through the world of sports. I've been itching to write again and now seems like the perfect time...

The sports world went to sleep last night with hopes that everything they had learned was just a horrible nightmare, unfortunately when they woke up this morning to pictures of students rioting on the streets of Penn State University and a teary eyed Joe Paterno on his front steps they had to accept that everything had indeed been true and the legacy of a man had changed overnight.

First and foremost, I believe that firing Joe Paterno, an iconic legend for the past 45 years, was the right thing to do. Frankly, it had to be done. While Paterno was not guilty of any criminal activity in the sense of the law, in most people's eyes he did violate the moral codes which we attempt to live our lives within. Can any of us say we would do anything differently? That's a discussion for you and your conscience. But what everyone seems to agree on, including Paterno, is that the punishment fit the crime and today is the first day in nearly a half a decade that he didn't wake up a member of the Nittany Lion family.

However, the purpose of this wasn't to decide if the decision was right or wrong. It was to dive into why are people so upset? Words of hate and anger started spreading all over the social networks as soon as word was released that JoePa was fired. People wishing more ill-will on a man that clearly just had his heart and soul ripped from him. What I started wondering is what made this situation different? In a society that is programmed to desensitize itself from murders, suicides and child molestation why did this suddenly pull everyone out of their shell. Stories like this run on the news every night in cities around the country but few care, and most just brush it off like it's a normal part of life. In my opinion the difference here, Joe Paterno was, the coach.

To try and wrap my head around this I thought back to how fortunate I was to have some great coaches in my life, whether in was baseball, basketball  or soccer I have been lucky to have been influenced by some great men. The person I respect most in this world was my soccer coach from when I was 10 to 18 years old, Tom Erwin. To even try and calculate the hours I, and the rest of my teammates, spent under his watchful eye is crazy. We not only grew as soccer players, but as people, friends and men. And just like any other parents of athletic children our parents trusted him with our well-being and our safety on a daily basis. I'm sure most people can remember a coach who positively influenced their life and I think that is what makes the reactions to this situation such volatile ones. People can't believe that a person they put so much blind faith and trust in could hurt them so badly. A coach isn't supposed to do wrong, we do as they say, when they say it. Knowing that they would never lead us down the wrong path. Joe Paterno didn't let us down, our view of coaches let us down. We had built up a place where we were safe from the troubles of the outside world. On that field, rink or court we only had to worry about ourselves and the opponent, and we knew that our coach would set us up to succeed.  This situation shattered the glass and made us realize that the world is very, very real no matter where we are we can't hide and I think a lot of people, whether they played for Paterno or not, are feeling violated.

This will surely tarnish the memory of one of the greatest coaches in the history of American sports. But my question is, to what extent? To the casual fan, I'm sure this is all they will remember. Nothing else will matter, you will bring up his name and they will once again become angry and disgusted and by all means they have every right too. But do you really think his current and former players will feel that way? God forbid if I found out that one of my coaches was ever involved in a situation even half as bad as this but I tried to put myself in the situation of the literally thousands of student athletes Paterno has coached, mentored and loved over the years. They aren't going to remember JoePa as a man who didn't contact the authorities. They are going to remember him as a man who cared about them, who nurtured them, who gave them a kick in the backside when they needed it. They will remember him as their coach, not a fragile old man apologizing on his front steps. While it may be naive, I would have to side with them. This is a horrible situation but it doesn't change the fact that he had a positive influence thousands of young men who undoubtedly feel indebted to him as I do with my old coaches. So sure, the rioting may be a bit over the top but when have college students ever acted completely rational? I know the wounds are still to raw too even begin thinking about the future but I hope one day his players stand up and speak to the character of a man they trusted and would trust again. Not because he was right but because while this man deserves to be dragged through the mud he also deserves a helping hand back up. We all have made a mistake, but after running sprints for an hour, who was there to forgive us and tell us to try again? Coach.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Forward Thinking

This is the first part of a four part preview of the United States Men’s National Team in run-up to the Gold Cup, to be held across the country from June 5th-25th

There probably isn’t a bigger question mark on Bob Bradley’s lineup then who will be starting up top for his team when the United States lines up against Canada for the “Border War” on June 7th at Ford Field in Detroit, MI.

USA fans haven’t felt comfortable about their top striker since Brian McBride retired from international competition and while this current crop of potential replacements may not have supporters brimming with confidence, it certainly has them bubbling with optimism.

The underlying theme from Bob Bradley’s selections this year, no matter who they are, will be youth. The youngest and most intriguing of the bunch is 18 year old Juan Agudelo who plays his club ball for the New York Red Bulls. Agudelo bolted onto the international scene and into fans hearts with a stunning cameo against South Africa that included the game winning goal in the waning minutes of the match. With that goal he became the youngest player, at the age of 17, to score for the USMNT. Agudelo has made three more appearances for the Red, White and Blue and with his second goal in a draw against Argentina he has thrown himself squarely into contention to play a vital role in this summer’s tournament. Agudelo’s strength and ensuing excitement comes from his desire to run at defenders and try things that very few American forwards have dared. This isn’t to say he is reckless, I believe he merely has skills that have not been possessed by an American forward in quite some time. Before expectations get out of control, their will surely be large amounts of caution shown by Bob Bradley and his staff so don’t be shocked if Agudelo slides into a super sub role during Group Play to both protect him and best utilize his still developing bag of tricks.

Speaking of quelling expectations. The next forward that will be invited will be Jozy Altidore. While hearing that name generally sparks memories of anger and disappointment, it will come as little surprise to anyone that he will be included in Bradley’s squad. What I like to remember about Altidore is that he is still only 21 years old and he seems like he’s been around forever. He could realistically still find himself in three more World Cup cycles. Think about that. While Jozy may be everyone’s favorite scapegoat he clearly is an athletic freak. He is still young and has never really had a support forward to play with except for a brief spell with another young man on this list. While his finishing certainly leaves something to be desired, maybe Altidore isn’t destined to be the next great American goal scorer, and maybe with the addition of some young guns around him, he won’t have to be to be considered a success.

In my mind, the biggest sure thing, in looking forward (no pun intended) is this next player. Already a fearsome striker in his second year for Major League Soccer’s Sporting KC. The player I’m speaking of is Teal Bunbury. The Canadian born striker, who guess what, is only 21, is my breakout star of this Gold Cup. After getting past a dislocated elbow that hampered him during the beginning of the MLS season Bunbury has been firing on all cylinders and should be a definite impact player on this tournaments squad. His partnership with Juan Agudelo in friendlies against South Africa and Chile has already gotten Sam’s Army fantasizing about the dynamic duo for the next decade. Bunbury’s strengths are similar to Agudelo’s in that he runs at defenders and makes them play to his style. He has an adept ability to find the back of the net from outside of the box by getting his shot off in small spaces. He also has grown into his frame a little bit more than his younger compatriot which should allow him to log more minutes throughout a hectic 20 days if Bob Bradley wishes to do so.

My final profile is this summer’s wild card. Most people know of Charlie Davies horrific accident by now, and his inspiring return to the field for DC United. What Bob Bradley wants to know is whether it is worth a roster spot to see if Davies still has the speed to outpace defenders at the international level. Was Davies performance at 2009’s Confederations Cup merely a tease of what could have been or is the young speedster truly ready to be wreaking havoc on the opposition as early as 6 months into his comeback. Now, being left of this summer’s squad should not be viewed as a failure or the end of Davies international career. It would be a big gamble to bring along a player who just isn’t ready physically and while I’m all for the sentimental moment, I’m not sure Bradley is willing to bring along a player who can’t serve him some purpose besides pulling at peoples heartstrings. That being said, nothing could be more inspirational than bringing Davies on as a change of pace striker and seeing him bag one in front of teary eyed supporters.

When Bob Bradley sits down to make his decisions he certainly won’t be short of options. Herculez Gomez finished the Mexican Primera season in fine form and seems to be a favorite of the coaches. Edson Buddle gives a veteran presence to an otherwise young group of strikers and like Gomez, was chosen for the World Cup. If it were up to me I would bring the four strikers I profiled for the simple reason that it is time to start looking forward. Buddle and Gomez will be 32 by the next World Cup and are not likely to play a role in it. I believe Bunbury is ready to start right now and playing him with Altidore gives the American’s two physically strong strikers up top. As mentioned, Agudelo could be a great 65th-70th minute spark and Bradley has never been shy to move Clint Dempsey up top if he sees the need for a more veteran presence. It’s time to let the young guns have their run. They’ll make mistakes, but more than any group before them they will take chances to pull off the miraculous and in a team that lacks creativity I believe it is worth the risk. With an eye on the future, but the ability to win now this is the step the United States needs to take.

Forward Selections: Jozy Altidore, Teal Bunbury, Juan Agudelo, Charlie Davies

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Playing for a T-Shirt

Pardon me if I get a little philosophical on y'all here today. But I'm here to talk about a very big part of my life. Winning commemorative championship t-shirts. I am playing in the YWCO Men's Competitive Division Indoor Soccer Final tonight, more affectionately known at YWCOMCDISF, and once again a t-shirt is on the line. Now playing for t-shirts is nothing new to the sporting landscape. Ever since participation trophies became uncool we have been receiving them for our victorious achievements. But back when I was a youngin' I didn't really care about a XXL Long Sleeve T-shirt that still doesn't fit me (Yes I have tried on the ones still hanging in my closet.) But ever since college and my involvement of intramural sports I think winning that t-shirt has had a whole new meaning in my life.

See in game of life we all play to win. We want more money, more power, more prestige. Sure at work we can "win" and get a raise or a more impressive title. In school we can get an A on a test or a report card, and sure you can brag about it, but then you just look like a self-anointed conceded weenie. I think what we all really want is for someone to tell us how awesome we are. This is why championship t-shirts are so great. After working hard all season, shrugging off the annoying freshman who don't know the rules, the meat heads who rage out the whole game and the over-the-hill washed up "wily" veterans, you get proof of your victories. You get to walk around town or campus, strutting a championship t-shirt. Because you are a champion, and you want the bag boy to know you can beat him at (insert your sport here).

I know this all sounds silly but I also bet you are sitting there agreeing with me. There are so few things in our life that we are rewarded for so bluntly as, "Here is a t-shirt for being awesome!" How great would that be in other aspects of life.

Boss: "Son, along with your raise, I want you to wear this t-shirt that tells everyone else how much more money you make than them."

Yes. Please.

Isn't this the basic satisfaction behind our effort. You know who says "why are you trying so hard, it's only for a t-shirt"? Losers. Losers who don't have a wardrobe filled with championship shirts and could flaunt there athletic dominance on all days ending in "y". Now I agree there are people who take winning to an extreme and I do not condone their actions. Heck, I have uttered the phrase it's only for a t-shirt. But this is normally in reference to someone who is already losing or falls into one of the categories I mentioned previously. We all know they aren't winning that t-shirt and we don't want to represent us winners in a negative light.

So tonight I go for another t-shirt. Each shirt gets added to the collection, but you wear each one with pride. You do not associate one shirt with the championship of another, even if they have the same design. You proudly correct people when they say "Oh, that's right you won 4v4 volleyball" by replying "Well yes I did, but this is for 6v6 volleyball." Booyah. That's right I'm awesome at volleyball no matter how many people are playing! Tonight holds special significance as it will be a new design that I have not yet captured, the one that has remained elusive in previous attempts. Tonight I make my conquest. Tonight I am a champion.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

One to Remember

(To the tune of Mexican Hat Dance)

You dance, you dance, you dance. SUAREZ! 
Around a Manchester hack. SUAREZ!
You dance, you dance, you dance. SUAREZ!
And lay off to Dirk for a tap! SUAREZ!

Yes, I made that up. Yes I expect the Kop to be singing it next week. Okay the second part may not be true but the Anfield faithful will be certainly be singing the Uruguaryan's strikers name in some form as long as he's wearing red. On a day when Dirk Kuyt took home the match ball with his three goal performance it would only seem appropriate if Luis Suarez wrapped it up with a bow and placed it on his mantle.

In a season full of ups and downs this is one day to feel very good about being a Liverpool supporter. It was a beautiful day for a derby match and as usual, Anfield was out in full throat to welcome the Red Devils of Manchester United. As so many of these matches tend to do, the game got off on the attacking foot with each team steaming into every tackle and throwing caution to the wind for the first fifteen minutes. It was Liverpool who I'm sure to some spectators and Sir Alec's surprise seemed to have the upper hand on the title contenders for the next half hour.

Liverpool looked poised to strike early as Raul Meireles (easily Liverpool's player of the second half of the season) was marauding into the United box at will and Suarez and Kuyt were threatening from the wings. But it wasn't until a piece of genius from Liverpool's new man broke the deadlock. In an encore to last week's Houdini like escape in the box versus West Ham, Suarez once again turned a defender within the penalty area, and then proceeded to dance his way around two more helpless United defensemen before sealing his move with a nutmeg of Van Der Sar that fell on Kuyt's foot for a sitter.

Liverpool fans only had to wait five minutes to see the Anfield Road goal bulge again. This time as United's Portuguese playmaker, Nani set up another goal, only this time for the wrong team as Kuyt was "johnny-on-the-spot" and headed Nani's wayward clearance past a bewildered Van Der Sar for his second of the match.

The minutes leading up to the halftime break provided the usual physical flair that so often accompanies this matchup and each team exchanged red-card worthy tackles only to be shown compassion from the match official and shown a yellow instead. Nani provided the drama with a flop drop and roll that was merely a week late or else surely would have won an Oscar.

United looked to step on the gas in the opening minutes of the second half but never truly threatened Pepe Reina's goal. The game fell into a rhythmic ebb and flow that saw no real action except for the everworking Kuyt and Suarez creating half chances at will. Kuyt's final goal came on another expertly delivered Suarez free kick that saw the normally surehanded Van Der Sar spill the ball back into his fellow countrymans path. Three goals from about twelve yards. Not a bad day for Liverpool's forgotten striker.

A late goal from Hernandez for United did little to spoil the day for Liverpool as record signing Andy Carroll made his debut for the final eighteen minutes of action and promptly won first ball in the air he saw. It was a very happy belated birthday indeed for Kenny Daglish as he can celebrate his 60th birthday with the satisfaction of knocking off his old arch rival and bringing his club back to the brinks of respectability... if even for just a day.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Liverpool's Number 9?

On Thursday January 27th, 2011 Liverpool Football Club seemed to be in a good place. They were coming down off a 1-0 victory over Fulham, their second victory within a week, a 7th place standing and a team seeming to grow into their identity. By Monday January 31st that identity seems to taking a whole new shape. The rumors that Fernando Torres would be heading south to London came to fruition even after an 11th hour signing of Luis Suarez seemed to be the answer to the long awaited search for his strike partner. What is even more shocking is that Liverpool, who failed to sign a suitable secondary striker in the 2 and half years that Torres roamed Anfield, actually signed a second striker to pair with Saurez in Newcastle's Andy Carrol. So where do these teams stand after the dust has settled in what brings the end to the most memorable January transfer window in recent memory. Here are my opinions, feel free to discuss, argue or agree.

The Players: Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll

The true winners in this are the players who were bought for absolutely ridiculous amounts of money. All of them are going to fatten their wallets and be able to buy a new sports car or two. But I'm not bitter, that's the nature of the beast and as long as people love soccer, owners will pay magnificent amounts of money for the services of young men who can put the ball in the back of  the net. Seriously though, this is a good move for all players involved. Torres will get a legitimate chance to compete for a Premier League title before he inevitably heads back to Spain and that was ultimately his drive and motivation in moving to Liverpool in the first place. He also gets a chance to wake up from the bad dream that has been the last 6 months, including a lackluster World Cup (at least from a personal standpoint) and a mundane Premier League campaign in which he has either been starved of service or lacking the killer instinct that made him so deadly in his freshman and sophomore campaigns with the Reds.

Suarez and Carroll enter a very unique situation that I am interested to see how it plays out. They enter as a handpicked tandem that very few managers are lucky enough to capture in one transfer window, let alone one weekend. Both are young, talented and a tad bit unproven. Suarez automatically becomes Liverpool's most dangerous scoring threat and Carrol enters with a chance to mend the broken hearts of  The Kop as the stereotypical tall, strong, English number 9. I look forward to see this pairing mesh, hopefully sooner rather than later as the season goes on, but more importantly I look forward to seeing both players enter their prime in Liverpool red. They seem to be the ideal big man, little man combo but only time will tell.

The Clubs: Liverpool, Chelsea

Chelsea may be the biggest loser in this deal. To the naked eye they just purchased a dwindling flame of a striker who needs  constant cooing and coddling to give the appearance of effort on the pitch. On the flipside, they could be the biggest winner in this if they have suddenly sparked the fire within the world's most dangerous goalscorer a mere year and a half ago. The scary part of this is that neither scenario would really surprise me. I guess when you have the money to take big chances you accept that it could be a big risk or a big reward. For Chelsea, the risk seems worth it. At best they can bring the title back to Stamford Bridge and at worst they will fall no further than fourth and qualify for the Champions League and try it all over again next season.

Liverpool's entire season could be characterized as a crossroads, but now more than ever, the club find themselves at a crossroads. A new manager, under new ownership, with new strikers... and it is February, not July and preparing to play in a handful of meaningless friendlies. Nope, Liverpool must adapt in the middle of the season in arguably the toughest league in the world. But don't expect sympathy from me, even as a strong supporter, I understand that Liverpool's past mistakes have led them to this predicament and the only way to solve it is to win matches and play themselves into a state of normalcy. It's funny to look back on the signing of the past two managers and to see how few of their "impact signings" even call Merseyside home anymore. I personally like the turn they are taking. More youth, more energy and hopefully more wins. Best case scenarios seems to be a miracle run at a fourth place spot with a Europa League title. Worst case (and I'm blocking out the subconscious part of my brain that even hints at relegation) would be a spot out of European competitions for 2011-12 and David Ngog becomes the first name at the top of Liverpool's teamsheet.

From my point of view, this is good for the league, good for the game and great for the players. I can't wait to see the new faces trot out in Liverpool red and I'm sure I'll tune in to see Torres in the unfamiliar blue of Chelsea.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 Year in Review "OTW Edition"

The final week of 2010 is upon us and so I believe the cliche thing to do is write a year in review post. I am calling it the "OTW Edition" for Off the Woodwork, I'm going to try and incorporate that more this upcoming year, yes, also a blog cliche. So here you have it, my version of a year in review... Enjoy!

Yea, yea, yea this was 2009 but this is my blog so I can do what I want. Plus, it was a soccer game that sparked mine and Emma's relationship so this makes the list. I returned home on Christmas break and got a call to come up to the local indoor dome to sub in on my buddy Eric's team. I think I scored a goal, but more importantly Emma decided it would be a good idea to see me again and the rest is history.

I played two more games over that break in a return between the posts for the playoffs of a friends league. Naturally, we won the championship, with a shutout in the finals.

Also, the World Cup draw was made as the USA drew England, Slovenia and Algeria.

Okay, so this is where the real review can start I suppose. In review this was to be the semester I spent abroad in England, a mere 30 minutes by train to Liverpool. I had been set on this for almost a full year before I balked and decided I wanted to spend my last semester of college domestically. Fortunately, my favorite team, Liverpool got the memo and decided to rattle off their worst season in nearly a decade. They were only in the middle of their downfall around this time but the writing was on the wall when their BIG signing was Maxi Rodriguez.

This month also marked the start of Intramural Indoor Soccer Season as Scrantonicity 2 looked poised for a three peat and my new Co-ed team, The Main Attraction, was an early favorite to bring home the T-shirt.

Scrantonicty 2 and The Main Attraction were wrapping up their undefeated regular seasons. Liverpool kept losing. I celebrated my 22nd birthday and the Champions League Round of 16 got underway.

Went on spring break to Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. Juggled the soccer ball on the beach so I think that counts for this review.

Scrantonicity 2 was upset in penalty kicks in the first round of the intramural playoffs but The Main Attraction went on to capture the title as far and away the best team in the Co-ed bracket.

As was already aware, a new team would be unsettling the usual "Big Four" in the English Premier League. What few expected was that Tottenham would be that team. Chelsea and Manchester United were battling down to the wire for the title and the Champions League Final was set to be Inter Milan v. Bayern Munich.

I graduated college on May 8th, outside, in the snow. Chelsea won the title on the final day of the season, Inter Milan beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final and we were a mere one month away from the World Cup!

World Cup, everyday, all the time. Wasn't the summer great? The USA, with some help from Robert Green, drew with England in the first game of Group C that set the table for an pulse racing three weeks. Remembering back to watching the Slovenia match I recall having two thoughts. The first was at half time which was a very sure "Well, there is always 2014." Boy was I wrong. After an inspired second half and an absolutely BRUTAL call by the official I was suddenly thinking "Holy crap, we are still alive!" As we all know, this set up a must win match against Algeria, which 90+ minutes into looked like a hopeless dream. Until an Algeria cross went from Howard, to Donovan, to Altidore-off the goalie-saved!-rebound-Donovan-on-the-put-back-GOOOOOAAAAALLLL!!!!!!! Absolute ecstasy across the country. I have goosebumps writing it right now. Sure we lost in the first round to Ghana, again. But I know I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.

EDIT: Emma and I also started a co-ed soccer team with friends in the area. We were cleverly named Melons & Bananas and although we both left before the end of the season, we won the championship and received coolers as a prize. Note to tournament/league officials just give cash or t-shirts as a prize, not something stupid like a rolling cooler. I also scored a "beautiful" diving/falling header in my swan song departure game that easily ranks in my top 5 as best goals scored.
In the whirlwind that was the month of July I found myself watching the World Cup final by myself in the apartment in Athens. For all the criticism the game received, I thought it was entertaining and the best team won. I thought it was a great World Cup, and maybe that's because it was the first one where I saw almost every match. I thought the USA was one of the most exciting teams (at least most dramatic) in the tournament and I think the entire country was swept up in World Cup fever which was pretty cool. I will not however miss vuvuzela's.

With a rekindled dedication to watching the Premier League I followed the first weekend's morning games on ESPN's gametracker at work. Blackpool proved early they would be a promoted team to be reckoned with and Chelsea took an early stranglehold on the league. Liverpool got off to a sluggish start and even found themselves in the drop zone! And Emma and I got engaged! (See why December was important!)

For my devoted followers, you will already know what happened in my life. But for my first time readers, I started reffing and playing in a men's league at the YWCO. The Mean Machine Fall 2010 version was just beginning.

The Colorado Rapids captured the MLS Cup in frigid Toronto in what was probably the only full MLS game I watched this past year. Tottenham worked to prove that the '09-'10 was no fluke while Gareth Bale terrorized opposing defences with his blistering pace. Chelsea came back to the pack and Mean Machine got off to an undefeated start.

Mean Machine went into the playoffs as the second seed and won their first round playoff game in overtime. Liverpool looked poised to climb their way back up the table with a couple of impressive victories. The Champions League was wrapping up it's Group Stages without many meaningful matches left.

If I told you to decide which location you would like to spend a summer playing soccer which would you choose? Option 1 is a developed country, mild to hot weather, freedom to drink, to choose your religion, and your sexual preference, passionate fans from almost every country in the world and you could come play right now and your stadium would be ready. Option 2 is a developed country, summer highs that reach 110 degrees, no beer, no jews, women can't show their skin and your stadium still has to be built AND it's going to be air conditioned outside, o yea and it might be in another country, in the winter. I'm sure if you think like FIFA you will choose Option 2. So yes, the 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar/Surrounding Countries that Weren't on the Ballot and barring the real life re-creation of "The Day After Tomorrow" it will be the hottest world cup to date. As a side note, Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup.

In real news, Mean Machine lost in the finals after an undefeated season.

From a personal standpoint, 2010 was my best year to date. I learned a lot about who I am, what I want to do and where I want to be. I returned to the soccer field with a new passion and joy for the game and can't wait to get back out there. From a global standpoint, I think soccer has never been stronger. The 2010 World Cup brought the country of South Africa under the microscope and they didn't flinch one bit as gracious and enthusiastic hosts. I think their road could be a little rough in during the post tournament hangover but I don't think their residents would regret one minute of it. An unseen passion swept across the United States as the working men and women of the country found new excuses each week to sneak off to the bar to watch our country play. 2010 has been a fantastic year all around and here is to a healthy, happy, shot stopping, play making and goal scoring 2011!


Monday, December 13, 2010

Back on the Pitch: Finals Reflection

Yesterday marked the final game of the Fall Men's Competitive season. It ended sadly with a 1-0 defeat in the finals. It was our first loss of the year but we can hold our heads high knowing we played well. It really was a good game and unfortunately, as the cliche goes, someone had to lose.

A funny thing happened as I was preparing for this game and that was that I realized this was probably the most significant match I had played in since I got out of high school. Now, this isn't to discredit any of my Intramural championships, but in the sense of playing true soccer, where everyone on the field cares about the stakes and will do anything to achieve those, this was certainly a long awaited welcome. With this thought in mind it has given me the opportunity to look back on the past six months in Athens (will be half a year in January) and how getting back on the pitch has been as therapeutic as anything I've done here to getting comfortable in my new environment.

I started this blog with the purpose of talking about soccer. The issues, the games, the players, but as you can tell I have slacked a bit on that aspect. The main reason my blog was created was out of sure boredom. I was alone, in a new state with a new job and not much else going on. So based on this theory it is a good thing I haven't been posting because; a.) I'm no longer alone b.) I'm growing comfortable in Georgia c.) I've settled into my job and d.) I have stuff going on. Now the most important factor in relation to why this entry is important is d. I have stuff going on thanks to my love of soccer. I found a team (which I'll come back to in a moment) and I recertified as a soccer official. The officiating was actually a lot more enjoyable this time around. I think having a few more years experience and not being a bratty teenager who didn't realize this was the easiest way to make money, played a big role in my new attitude. I ended up reffing about 20 games, and made some nice headway towards funding the big 2012 event. Back to the team. More specifically, Mean Machine. Now I can't thank Mr. Iain Halstead enough for this past fall. I sent an email out of the blue and wound up playing keeper for one of  the two undefeated teams in the league. The trust and faith (or just blind desperation) behind putting a keeper he'd never seen before between the sticks is something I'll always be grateful for.

Not only was this team successful, it had some of the best chemistry I've experienced from a team of thrown together players. About the only thing we had in common at the beginning of the season was that we all wanted to play soccer. We had our moments and our growing pains but we quickly became a formidable unit that played together and supported one anothers strengths and weaknesses. As any of you who know me, it didn't take long for me to find my voice and start barking orders but I knew my words weren't falling on deaf ears. These were players who wanted to be the best for the fifty minutes they were on the field and those are the best kind of teammates.  I'd like to say I've made some good friends, truly my first friends here in Athens. Naturally I've made the best connection with our sweeper, Brennan, a bond that usually comes from two people who have an interest in preventing goals, playing Halo and watching Dexter. (Substitute Dexter with the Office and you essentially have Eric, happy birthday btw)

These past six months have been a whirlwind, but soccer has provided a peace and calm to my life. It always has. I think I find comfort on the soccer field because it is an honest evaluator of who you are. You're actions always speak louder than your words and your true talent always shows through. You can't fake or lie your way through a game, let alone a full season. It may only be a game, but it is an expression of self, it is not defined by points or baskets. A player can be clever or skillful, brash or brave, smart or courageous and will be appreciated regardless if they contribute to the score sheet.  For the duration of the game there is only one target that every member of your team is working towards achieving. You succeed and fail together, but in the end we all go back to our lives and hope the next game gets here quickly.