Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hat Trick Hero!

Hey guys.  Just noting that yesterday would have been my 2nd payday at Haka.  $2300 ($4600 total) down the drain.  Awesome.  Today we played a match against a club called Silkejbo or something like that.  They are in division 2, which is one league below ESK.  We won the game 7-0 and I scored three goals.

That's me being excited about my hat trick by the way.  It's not some random naked homeless person.  I have pants on so everyone just calm down.  It's 11:50pm and I don't wear shirts at those kinds of hours.  Back to the post.
That’s right, everyone’s favorite Swedish lower-divison player scored a hat trick!  It was a left-foot, right-foot, header hat trick as well.  I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever done that before.

Anyway, as good as the match turned out for me, it didn’t start well.  I wasn’t in the first XI and only came on when the right back got injured.  We put me in as a winger and moved one of the wingers already on the field to right back.  That was right around the 35 minute mark.  At the time the score was 0-0 and ESK hadn’t had any chances.  The first thing I did was carry the ball past the outside back and cut back a pass that was cleared for a deep throw-in.  We scored immediately from the throw-in to lead 1-0.  I scored the second goal from a header a few minutes later and we went into halftime 2-0 up.  The picture is from another game but you get the idea.

The second half was a slaughter.  I won’t go through the goals, but long story short I scored two more and assisted another in rout to the big win.  I hope that I have given the coach a lot to think about as to who will start in two weeks in the season opener.  Today was our last training match so there’s no more time other than training to prove that you’re worth a starting spot.

After the match everyone was very supportive.  All the players and coaches knew that not scoring was weighing on me a bit.  My terrible miss in Turkey had kept me up at night wondering if all the players on the team were talking amongst themselves about how much I suck when I’m not around.  It was really nice to see the reception I received when I scored my first goal.  It was a team genuinely happy for me to score.  The celebration wasn’t like it would be in a league or cup game, but definitely more than the other “celebrations” from the match.  Every player made the effort to come personally congratulate me for the goal and that was a big deal to me.  Not that I absolutely needed the pat on the back, but to show that the team was pulling for me to score.  To me, that means that they see value in me and believe that I may just be the thing they need to be the best team possible.  Back to the point though after the match Siggy (the head coach) personally congratulated me for the hat trick.  That felt good because he’s the decision maker and his opinion of my play is more important than anyone at the moment.

After the match I stayed at the stadium for about 80 minutes to wash and dry my clothes.  I hadn’t properly done my laundry since I arrived in Europe.  I had been able to throw things like underwear and socks in the wash with training gear at various clubs, but the shirts and shorts were being washed for the first time in two months.  Everything is super fresh now!  Once that was done, I made my way over to the townhouse rented by Robert, Daniel and Fabian, something that has become a bit of a daily occurrence over the past week.  To my surprise, when I opened the door the only person I saw was Siggy!  He was just lounging in their living room watching an Allsvenskan match.  This wasn’t just any match though, it was Elfsborg vs. Djugarden.  Siggy coached Djugarden in 2007 and 2008 and some of the squad are still his players, so he took a special interest in the match.  Djugarden lost, but Siggy’s mood was still good because of the resounding win earlier in the day.  In fact, Siggy was in such a good mood that he made me a deal.  He told me he would buy me dinner.  In fact his quote was (and this isn’t kid-friendly) “Every hat trick gets you a dinner.  Two goals gets you lunch, and one goal gets you fuck-all!”  Siggy gets his English curse words from England.  He played there for many years.  In fact he spent three seasons at Arsenal (yeah, that Arsenal) and they paid 400-something thousand pounds for him.  That was in the late 80’s so he must have been a big time player.

Anyway we went to a thai food place which was very good.  Then an hour later we went to another restaurant for a few drinks.  Only Fabian had a beer though so it was kind of pointless to go there.  I’ve noticed that Swedes love to linger places.  In Turkey, all the guys would stay in the cafeteria for an hour for each meal.  I typically was in there for 15 minutes.  The same was true at the restaurants tonight.  Between the thai place and the second restaurant we were out for three hours.  It was good though, I got to know Siggy a bit more and I enjoy the company of Fabian and Daniel.

I’m home now and I’ll be going to bed soon.  Today was a good day, but I need to do some work to be a starter.  There’s better places than Enkoping where I could sit on a bench.  I’m here for the opportunity, but it will only come if I’m playing so I need to get firmly in the XI.  Siggy suggested today to me that I should work a bit on my fitness and told me to go for a 10km run tomorrow.  They call that a mile, so it was funny when Siggy said, “go on a long run tomorrow, like maybe a mile.”  I had to clarify that he didn’t mean 1600m but 10,000m.  Big difference.  So tomorrow I will do that then head over to Daniel and Fabian’s place to watch AIK vs. Mjalby.  AIK is one of the favorites to win the league and play some of the best soccer in Sweden so I look forward to watching the match.  It should be fun!  Til next time guys!

Friday, March 30, 2012

What the H is TMS?

Hey guys I’m back.  I wish I could say I was calm, cool and relaxed but to be honest I’m in full-fledged panic mode.  As you know, I signed a contract with Enkoping SK earlier this week.  However, the deal cannot be finalized until various forms are filed with the appropriate entities.  As far as I know, all of these forms need to be submitted by the transfer deadline, which is today (the window is open until the end of the last business day in March).  All the forms have been done, but apparently I need my old club, the Harrisburg City Islanders, to confirm something called TMS (transfer matching system).  I’m not sure of the importance of TMS, but it has been explained to me as a way for FIFA to officially track all player movement worldwide.  It seems pretty straightforward, but the Islanders have said that they are having problems with the system and won’t be able to complete their end of it until next week.  Of course, next week might as well be two months from now because if the TMS confirmation isn’t completed by the end of business today I will be ineligible until the summer.  Since my contract is only for four months, being forced to sit out the first two might be a dealbreaker.  That would also mean that I’m SOL for finding any team since no transfer window will be open.  My only hope would be to train with some club and finance my way from now until June 1 (and I'm not sure but I think the summer window might not open until even later in Sweden).  Also ESK could honor the contract and just wait until June before playing me, though that seems unlikely to me.  I don’t even think I’d be eligible to sign up with an American club, but I’m not sure of the rules.
Other than this little TMS crisis there’s not much to report.  The team here trains at 5:30pm, as most of the players are still in school.  I didn’t mention before but the team here is very, very young.  At 24, I’m the 4th oldest player in the squad.  We have a couple 17-year-olds, and probably a half dozen 18- and 19-year-olds.  The team here really reminds me a lot of the teams I played with at the University of South Florida (USF for all the non-cool kids who don’t know the lingo).  We’re young, technically very good, but naïve.  One of the guys (Dillon, a 19-year-old starting center back) has grown fond of something I supposedly say a lot in training.  I quote, “This isn’t (radio edit) Barcelona.  Cut that Barcelona (radio edit) out.”  I didn’t think I said it more than once, but if I said it more it’s because there’s truth to it.  As good as the players are here, they maybe don’t have the maturity to know that it can’t be pretty all the time.  If you have Xavi, Fabregas and Iniesta as your central midfield, then okay you can be pretty all the time.  But if you’re in the Swedish 3rd division, there are times when you must just hoof it up the field and go from there.  Don’t get me wrong, I like to pass as much as the next guy, but nothing annoys me more than a scoring chance for the opposition that could have been avoided by just clearing the ball from danger.  Especially when the danger comes from a team pressing and leaving me 1v1 with an outside back or winger.  In that situation, the best and easiest play is to put the ball into space and let me go get it.  I’m guessing that a lot of these guys are not too far removed from youth teams where they could get away with anything.  Also, the jump from division two to division one is a pretty big one so maybe the level of competition will dictate that they play simpler this year.

I’m off now to the grocery store, but since my first payday isn’t until April 30, I’m kind of living in poverty.  I’ve been lucky enough to mooch dinner off of my teammates the last couple nights but at some point I need to cook for myself.  I’ve been living this past week off of corn flakes, milk, bananas and bread with jam.  I bought chicken, but at 30SEK a pop I can’t afford it every night sadly.  I hope to one day soon look fondly back at a time when $4 chicken felt like a luxury.  I guess it’s kind of like college off the field as well as on the field.  Oh well, maybe one of you have a recipe for cooking and eating newspaper?  If so that recipe would be worth its weight in gold!  I’ll be back in touch soon.  Fingers crossed that the whole TMS thing sorts itself out.  I think it will since there’s no dispute between the clubs.  It should be pretty straightforward.
Just this second, Fabian (I don't know his official title, but in the US he would be a general manager) has come to the apartment and told me that I'm going to the Swedish FA offices in Stockholm with ESK's chairman in 30 minutes to finish up paperwork.  He doesn't think the TMS situation will be a problem, but I can figure everything out there.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It's About Time: My Contract is Signed

I’m back!  Sorry for the hiatus.  There was no reliable internet in the room at the resort in Turkey and the lobby had no place for me to lug my old laptop and crank out a post.  Maybe if I had a decent laptop that could function without being plugged into the charger 100% of the time, but I play the hand I’m dealt thus there were no posts for a week.  Maybe this photo will help ease the pain.

I have two things to post about: my contract and the training camp.  I’ll start with the contract because that’s what everyone always wants to know.  First of all, I signed the contract last night as soon as we got back to Enkoping from Turkey.  I always hate when contracts are announced but the terms aren’t, so I’m happy to tell you the details of my deal.  It’s only for 4 months from April 1 to July 31, meaning I’ll be a free agent in the summer and free to sign with any team on the planet.  That was something that my agent requested so it would be easier for me to move as soon as possible.  Since my contract ends within six months, soccer laws dictate that I’m free literally as of today to sign a pre-contract with any club.  That means that if after two matches a club in Allsvenskan wants to sign me then they can without paying a transfer fee to ESK.  In that situation though the club would have to wait until August 1 for me to arrive.  The  contract pays 14,300SEK (Swedish Kronor) a month, which is roughly $2100 (the exchange rate is somewhere between 6.5-7SEK per dollar).  However, that is before taxes, apartment and food costs.  Taxes are not as bad as I feared, but they still eat up around 4000SEK a month.  Provisionally, the club has offered to house me and feed me, but at a cost of 4000SEK a month for the apartment and 3000SEK a month for the food.  That comes out to around $615 for an apartment with no freezer, cable, internet or shower [edit: cable and internet are being taken care of, as well as a cell phone.] and $450 for food each month.  Even factoring in a higher cost of living in Europe compared to US, I can do better than that.  I will definitely opt out of the food option and just take the cash and will look for cheaper housing options today and the rest of this week.  The housing price isn’t even that expensive, but the place is literally just a few rooms in a building that the club president owns.  He used to use the space as a cardroom, but now it sits empty.  By arbitrarily charging me 4000SEK a month, he’s making money on an otherwise empty space.  I think if I talk to him the price will go down a bit.  I’m thinking around 2000SEK is a fairer price for the place, but we’ll see what he says.  It may be that a similar place is worth double what he’s charging me in which case I’ll take it and like it.  Also to be fair to him he has said that he will install and pay for internet service, which was one of my two preconditions for living there (along with a shower) when he asked me if the place would suffice.  However, at the time I was under the assumption that living there would be free which makes the place a lot more appealing.  Paying $615 a month for that place feels like I’m being robbed.  There are no bonuses in the contract for those wondering.  I’m not sure what else there is to mention so I’ll leave it at that for now.  You can always ask me a question in the comments if you have any.

Training camp in Turkey was fun, if not kind of pointless.  It had a purpose for me, as I got to know every player during the camp.  From a soccer standpoint though it didn’t have too much value.  Still a fun trip though, and it was in a beautiful place.  It’s been so long that I don’t even remember if I mentioned it, but I assumed the training camp was going to be in Antalya, Turkey.  It wasn’t; Instead we fly into Antalya and then took a 90 minute bus ride to a resort on the outskirts of Alanya, Turkey called Lunicera World.  These video show a bit of the resort.

Lunicera World is a nice place and I’ve included a few pictures of the resort.  However, most of my time in Turkey I’ll just document in pictures and videos.  I had a good time and played ok in the matches, though in the second match I had a great chance to score when I got to a through ball before the keeper, but my nonchalant shot hit the post with the whole goal open.  I couldn’t believe it, but it’s ok.  It’s more of a running joke with the guys now than anything.

Like I said before, the resort wasn’t actually in Alanya which is a tourist spot.  So one day about ten of us guys went into town and hung out at the beach and played some volleyball and did some shopping.
This is the beach in Alanya.  We spent most of the time drinking beer and playing volleyball, but I did brave the cold water and got in the sea for a bit.  You can see part of the castle at the top of the moutain to the right of the flag and also the opening of a cave at the bottom of the mountain where the sand, water and rocks meet.

Alanya was really nice.  I wish we could have stayed there instead of 20km away so I could have explored the town more, but the day I spent there was still really nice.

We also had a team night in which we went into the Alanya and got really drunk at club Robin Hood (that is it’s real name).  I made these videos the next morning.

Hangovers aside it was a fun trip.  Now I’m back in Sweden and it’s raining for the first time since I’ve got to Europe.  It’s snowed a lot, but this is the first sign of rain.  April showers coming a bit early I suppose!
Thank you to everyone who has read my blog up to this point.  It’s kind of like a member-only blog because I’ve only told my parents that it exists.  I was afraid of everyone knowing I was over here and then not actually getting a contract.  Now that I have one though, I’m going to go to facebook sometime soon and announce the blog to my friends there.  If you’ve read any of my blog before or up to this post, then you are a true supporter and I appreciate you.  If not, you’re on the bandwagon.  Even still I appreciate you as well since I don’t have many fans so I can’t be choosy!

Posts will be happening regularly again and will start to focus a bit on the team so you can get to know the people I’ll likely be referencing in my posts going forward.  Thanks for the support!  I leave you with a photo of a harsh Turkish reality.  You may wonder, what is this for?  But c' know what it's for.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Talking Turkey


That’s right, yours truly finally scored my first goal since I arrived in Europe.  We played Enkoping IS, another (the only other?) club in the town.  I was the only player to start both of the first games to play today, but it worked out well for me.  I played very well and was probably the player of the game.  We won 3-1.  In addition to my goal I also got an assist and should have had two more.  If the other starting attackers were playing then we would have won 8-0.

My goal was a rebound.  We crossed the ball in and got a strong header.  The goalie made a good save, but the rebound spilled to me and I finished it.  I was happy with my performance, but the game itself was terrible.  We dominated but just didn’t have the composure to create great chances.  We didn’t pass enough to open up the defense so we ended up just banging our head against a wall.  Even though we won, by the end of the game all of our players were incredibly frustrated.  This picture was posted on the team's website.  The other guy is another American named Tim Ritter.  He scored 35 goals last year in the 5th tier and he's definitely good enough to play for Enkoping and be a big part of the team.  Hopefully they sign him.

Moving on from the game, the coach and I had earlier planned to talk about a contract today but he’s sick now so the talk didn’t happen.  Maybe we can figure it out tomorrow.  The wages being thrown around at the moment aren’t amazing, but they are definitely good by my standards.  I’ve heard through the grapevine that in Sweden there is a minimum salary for foreign players of 15,000 kronor per month, which is about $2100. If that’s true, then I’ll happily accept any contract they offer.  I’ve said it many times, but I’m not playing for the money (not yet) but instead the opportunity.  I want to make lots of money, but I’ve got to start somewhere.  The first stop doesn’t have to pay great as long as the rest of the stops do.

I’m sorry, but I have to now go on a rant about one of the trialists here with me.  His name is Eric and he is an absolute nightmare.  First, he arrived here with no money whatsoever.  Not just no Swedish money, but no money at all.  That means that I’ve had to pay for everything for him.  Groceries, a sim card and minutes for his phone and as of tonight a 6-pack of beers.  I don’t really mind paying for someone, but he hasn’t said thank you even once.  In fact, as I type this sentence he’s come into my room and opened up my bag of candy and helped himself.  He didn’t say one word to me, just walked in and took some candy and walked out.  Are you kidding me?  Who does something like that?  I’ll stop ranting because there’s no reason to dwell on it.  I am 100% sure though that he will never pay me any money back.

Ok I said I wouldn’t dwell on it but I lied.  I have to mention this.  Eric has been wearing my coat, gloves, hat and scarf because he’s cold.  That means that I have no gloves, scarf and a not-so-heavy jacket.  Also, Eric has nothing to entertain himself.  No books, Ipad, laptop or anything.  So he just comes into my room without knocking and sits on the bed and just watches whatever I’m watching on my laptop.  He is bothering me about going to a bar, but I don’t want to, mostly because I know that I’ll have to pay for everything.  There’s nothing fun about supporting an adult man that you can’t stand to be around.  Now I’m done.

Enkoping SK has the next two days off and then on Tuesday they leave for Turkey for training camp.  The coach wants me to go, but it will depend on if they can convince the travel company to give them favorable rates since I’m such a last-minute addition.  If I go that’s awesome, but if not I guess I will just take a vacation somewhere.  I’ll have to see what the cheapest flights out of Stockholm are and then visit there.  Or maybe I’ll take a train to Denmark.  It’s possible I could train with an Allsvenskan or Superettan team during the week just to stay in shape, but that’s up to the Swedish agent to find it if I’m not going to Turkey.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Fruits of My Labor

Hey guys.  I’ve been away for a few days but now I’m back!  Today was a good day.  Before training today the coach (Sigue, btw.  I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned that until now.  It’s pronounced See-gay) told me that he had seen enough and was ready to talk about a contract with me and the Swedish agent I’m working with.  The talk is planned for tomorrow after our game.  The game is at 2:00pm and we’re scheduled to go to dinner afterward.

I apologize in advance, but please give me a minute to be happy…


I got some other news before training which was less exciting.  I learned that the whole team was going to begin training by running the dreaded Yo-Yo Intermittent Interval Test, better known as the Beep Test.  I was shocked by this because I’ve never had to do a fitness test of any kind the day before a game, no matter who the competition was.  I was too happy though by being finally deemed good enough to be offered a contract somewhere that I wasn’t even fazed by the beep test.  Long story short, I scored 20.6 and finished exactly in the middle of the team, which was my goal.  I wasn’t out to be a hero, just to blend in.  I’ll get my fitness from matches so a test score doesn’t mean all that much, especially a month before the season starts.

That’s it for today.  I’m going to talk turkey tomorrow so I’ll soon have some contract information for you!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Golden Opportunity Wasted

I blew it.
When I last posted I mentioned that in an ideal world I would play so well that AIK would want to sign me.  I reasoned that if I scored two goals in the match that I would have a great shot of signing directly with AIK and jumping two division and a boatload of prestige in the process.

Well I had two golden opportunities.  I missed them both.  Not only didn’t score, but missed the goal entirely both times.  Goals that I have scored before and goals that (if I ever get a contract) I will score again.  The first was about 10 minutes in and we had just conceded a goal to go down 1-0.  The attacking midfielder played a ball over the left back and I ran onto it and controlled it perfectly in stride out of the air.  That left me one on one with the goalkeeper on the right side of the box.  I decided to strike the ball on the volley, but scuffed it badly and hit the outside netting of the near post.  Glorious chance missed.  I did by far the harder skill by controlling the ball with ease, then blew the (relatively) easy part.

The second chance came with us down 2-0.  It was maybe 25-30 minutes in.  The attacking mid played a hard ball to my feet and I ran at the left back.  I ran at him at full speed, which pretty much meant he had to guess which way I was going to cut to have any chance of tackling me.  He guessed that I would go to my right foot…wrong.  I walked past him and had only the keeper to beat from 15 yards and inexplicably tried to use the inside of my right foot to guide the ball into the keepers near post.  I assumed he’d be cheating to his far post, since my momentum was carrying me that way.  I was also an idiot for using the inside of my right foot for a ball that was in the middle of my body.  Either a toe poke or left footed shot would have been a better choice there.  A second great chance missed.

We lost the game, 2-4 btw.

The silver lining in my performance was that I did a good job handling the winger for AIK.  His name is something Mutumbo and he’s considered the top winger in Allsvenskan.  He was the only player on that team that I’d heard of going into this match.  Once I was subbed off he scored within two minutes.  I also “assisted” the first goal.  I put that in quotations because I don’t know if it was credited as an assist.  Mutumbo was trying to dribble out of trouble deep in their end and I tackled him.  The ball went directly to our attacking midfielder who cheekily chipped the goalie.  Technically it did go directly from my foot to the person who scored, but anyone watching knew that it was not a pass but instead a quite fortunate tackle.  All the same some credit must be given for winning a tackle that leads directly to a goal.

I have nothing else today.  I think I’m in a good position at the moment to win a contract, but then again this isn’t the first time I’ve thought that and I’ve been wrong the other times.  I feel like I absolutely need to score a goal in our next training match on Saturday to ensure my position.  We’ll see.  If nothing else the Swedish agent who I’m working with here saw me play for the first time today.  He will have seen that I can play at this level and if Enkoping doesn’t work out then he’ll be more inclined to work to find me another club because he knows I can cut it, even if Enkoping doesn’t agree.  Talk to y’all soon.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My First Match in Sweden

Thank God I am in Sweden.  Finland was okay, but Sweden is a country in which I feel at home.  For those who don’t know, Sweden is a bit more populated than Finland.  In addition, the teams in Sweden seem to be in larger cities/towns than in Finland.  For instance, Stockholm has roughly 10 teams in the metropolitan area in the 1st-3rd divisions.  Helsinki has three teams over the same range of leagues.  Even Enkoping has 40,000 people.  That’s double the number of people in Valkeakoski or Jakobstad and even more than double the number of people in Myllykoski, all cities of Veikkausliiga teams.  Of course being American I’m used to living in big cities.  The smallest place I’ve ever lived was Harrisburg, PA and that city had over 100,000 people.  So it’s nice to be in a place like Enkoping and also to be so close (50 miles) to Stockholm.

Yesterday me and my new team (Enkoping SK, or ESK) played Sala FF, a team in the sixth division of Swedish soccer (division 4).  Since ESK is third division and yesterday was a good training, I expected the game to pretty much be a walk in the park.  I started as the right winger in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and for the first 30 minutes everything was going exactly how I expected.  We were all over them and had scored two goals and it was only a matter of time before we got the third.  The first goal was created entirely by me.  I intercepted a loose pass at midfield and ran on the counter at the two center backs and left back.  Our striker ran into the space left by the other team’s right back who was behind the play and I played him a pass which he controlled and fired into the net with the next touch.  1-0 to the good guys.  The second goal came off a deflection, but it was well deserved.  However, after 30 minutes things changed.  We made 8 subs and the only players who stayed on the field were the goalkeeper, the striker and myself.  Within a minute of the subs, the other team’s striker got on a breakaway because of a terrible offside trap and our center back had no choice but to take the striker down.  He got a red card and Sala FF got a penalty kick, which they scored.  Ten minutes later they scored a header off of a set play.  We went into halftime 2-2.

In the second half I played 15 minutes as the striker.  It was pretty uneventful.  I barely saw the ball since the team refused to play through the middle at all.  I was frustrated, but the center midfielder playing underneath me was furious.  He was screaming at his teammates to give me and him the ball.  It was actually pretty funny.  I came off after 60 minutes and the rest of the game was pretty uneventful.  It ended 2-2.

Overall I was pretty happy with my play.  I was the best of the wingers in the game and I feel like I impressed.  The head coach didn’t say a word during the second half, but in the first half he seemed pleased.  The assistant did most of the talking and he was very happy with me.  He didn’t have a negative word to say to me, which was very different from what he had to say to most of the rest of the players.  I don’t speak Swedish, but his tone toward the other guys was clearly a negative one.

Tomorrow we play AIK, the 2nd place finishers in Allsvenskan last year.  I think that ESK is a good team, but we’ll see how we match up against a superior team.  I see this as an opportunity to impress and hopefully get some buzz around me.  If I play well tonight, there will be more than a few teams who will know my name going into this season (assuming I get a contract).  In a perfect world I would do well enough tomorrow night to get signed directly to AIK or another of the Allsvenskan or Superettan clubs in Stockholm who will surely have eyes on the match. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 12, 2012

New Town, New Opportunity

Hey everybody!  I have started my new trial at Enkoping in Sweden and things have gone pretty well so far.  Unfortunately, there is no internet at the place where I’m staying so I don’t know when this post will be up.

I have to start by mentioning how awful it is traveling with more bags than you can easily handle.  I had two checked bags, one 23kg and the other 30kg.  In addition, I have over 10kg of carry-on luggage.  Getting from the MYPA apartment to the train station took 20 minutes and had me in a full sweat, even though the train station was only 400 meters away.  I then had to lug the bags for a train change which sucked, and then once I got to the final train stop I had to run to the bus to the airport.  Then, at the airport I got off at the wrong terminal and had to take all my bags across the entire airport to get to my check-in counter.  There I got a bit of luck, as I wasn’t charged extra for my extremely heavy bag AND the woman let me check a 3rd bag because it had my hair twist cream in it and couldn’t be carried on.  I just had to turn on the charm!  All of that was before I even got to Sweden.

Yesterday was not an ideal situation for a trial.  My plane didn’t get into Stockholm until 3:45 and then the person picking me up was late and I had to train at 5:30.  Considering that Enkoping is close to an hour away from Stockholm’s airport, I cut it really close.  I arrived at training a few minutes after it started but I didn’t miss anything.  After a few warm up and passing drills we jumped straight into 9v9 on a half field.  There were three teams and each game 2-3 players had to stay on so the numbers were right.  Each game was 6 minutes and the level was actually quite good.  I was really surprised by the quality of a third division team.  The level of play tonight was as good as any of the teams I trained with in Finland, and they were all in the top division.  I played well, creating a few goals and going close to scoring myself many times.  This was pretty good since I was playing as a right midfielder instead of a forward.  I don’t know where the coach plans to play me in the match tomorrow, but it looks like there’s a decent chance I’ll be playing right midfield.  It’s not my favorite position, but if that’s what it takes to get a contract then I’ll happily do it.

Enkoping is a pretty nice town.  It’s small, but much bigger than Myllykoski or Valkeakoski.  The place that the club has housed me is on the outskirts of the town, but it’s still within walking distance to anything.  In fact, Raza (another trialist who I’m staying with here) and I walked to the supermarket at 9pm and got some stuff for the week.  In Myllykoski that wouldn’t have been possible.  I don’t know too much about the town just yet, but I’ll have more either tomorrow or later in the week when I have some free time.  For now I don’t have too much more to say.  We play a much lower division team tomorrow and the coach has told me that I’ll be playing at least 60 minutes.  We play another game on Wednesday against AIK, one of the top teams in Sweden’s Allsvenskan.  My goal is to score 2-3 goals in the first half Tuesday so that I can come off and be allowed to play Wednesday against AIK.  I imagine that if I have to play 60+ minutes tomorrow then there’s not much of a chance of me playing again the next night against AIK.

Tomorrow should be fun! 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

MLS First Kick and My New Audition

Finally I have lots to talk about.  Get comfy cuz this is going to take awhile…

First, I finally have a new trial.  It’s with Enkoping in the Swedish first division (3rd tier).  The club is about 50 miles west of Stockholm’s center, so it’s not far from a big city which is a big plus for me.  I will arrive on Monday and train and then the club’s website shows two matches on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I figure I will play in at least one of those.  The one on Wednesday is against AIK Stockholm, one of the biggest clubs in Sweden.  They play in a 36,000 seat stadium, though I doubt the match will be in it.  Even still, Swedish clubs in Allsvenskan get huge preseason attendances and I wouldn’t be surprised if 10,000 people showed up to the match.  It will be a great opportunity for me if I play that game.  Also, Enkoping wears green and white just like USF so the universe seems to be sending me signs that this will be a good club for me.  I’m just really anxious to get out of Finland and start fresh somewhere else.  If you would have asked me on February 1 if I’d be happy in the third tier of Sweden I’d have said no, but now I could want nothing more.  I just need a contract and a team where I can be an important player.  Enkoping promises to be both.  Btw, Enkoping has the two little “dots” over the “o” so if you look up the club it might not direct you straight to where you need to go.  But trust me, everything I’ve said up to this point has been correct.

Second, today is March 10 which means it’s First Kick in MLS!  I have a lot of friends playing in MLS these days and even more who are floating around in no man’s land and are with MLS teams but not yet actually on the roster.  And speaking of MLS, because I know you care about my opinion, I will give my two cents.

MLS has been brilliantly run.  Commissioner Don Garber deserves a holiday among soccer fans in America.  It’s a different story from the players’ point of view, especially players who gave everything to MLS and are now retired, but overall the league has done wonders for all involved.  When I started playing soccer, there was no MLS.  When I started high school the only hope of going pro before college in the US was a Project 40 contract that paid $40,000 a year and gave you tuition money if and when you eventually went to college.  Now, in a neverending maze of new rules and bending of current rules, MLS has mechanisms in place for 15-year-olds to train alongside pros and as soon as a player is ready he’s plucked up by a team and paid handsomely.  Project 40’s replacement, Generation Adidas, has college kids now coming out making $200k a year.  Somewhere between 2006-2010, for the first time in US Soccer history it made more sense for the best college players in America to choose MLS rather than Europe or South America.  Think about that.  The league only just began in 1996 and already we’re paying young stars far more than they would receive in all but the 10 biggest leagues in Europe.  I don’t know how Brazil and Argentina pay, but I would bet Steve Zakuani wouldn’t do too much better financially by playing for Flamengo in Brazil than he is here.  The only players you hear leaving for Europe now are the big players getting sold, teenagers going to top 6 leagues and scrubs like myself trying to find a better life in Scandinavia than we had in USL.  The product on the field is much better.  I can say having watched both leagues live that MLS is a stronger league than Allsvenskan, the top Swedish league.  If I had to rate MLS generally in the world regarding quality on the field, I would say somewhere between 10-15.  I would guess it is somewhere with Belgium, Denmark, Argentina and maybe Japan.  But that is just the on-field product.  Off the field is where MLS is really remarkable.

In just its 17th season (and with most teams less than 10- or even five-years-old), MLS is easily one of the ten most marketable leagues in the world.  The leagues that share a similar level (Belgium, Denmark, Argentina, Japan) don’t have nearly the consistency of an MLS in terms of attendance figures and marketing power.  Of course, in Argentina and Japan there are clubs that dwarf the popularity of any MLS club.  But those leagues can’t compare top to bottom with MLS.  The lower end of the Danish league averages 2000-3000 people.  The league averages in Denmark and Belgium are both around 10,000.  Only financially reckless spending by the clubs in those leagues allow them to have similar levels of play as MLS.  If MLS decided to let its teams spend as recklessly as European and Asian clubs do, then MLS could be a league on par with Portugal and France tomorrow.  NYRB and LA Galaxy could build Champions League-quality teams overnight and still show a profit at the end of the day.  Unfortunately, that would also mean the end of a lot of franchises as well.  MLS has been run very well though by Don Garber.  If LA and NY had been allowed to spend recklessly, then the new stadiums going up in Houston and San Jose and one recently built in Kansas City would not exist because all three of those clubs would have folded by now.  So good for Garber.  Sure, I wasn’t happy that if I had been offered a contract by the Colorado Rapids after I was drafted that it would have been for $12,900 a year, but no other team to this day has offered more (Haka did, but then took it back), so maybe the league wasn’t ruining those players’ lives the way everyone, myself included, claimed.

Enjoy MLS opening day and wish me luck.  I’m headed west!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hot Food and Cold Training

Well I’ve noticed that the blog automatically puts the date that I write my posts, so I’m no longer leading with that.  So let’s jump right in.

One of the worst things about these small towns in Finland where I’ve been staying is that they have no convenient fast food restaurants.  They also don’t have the super-easy meals that I lived off during my past seasons in Baltimore and Harrisburg.  This means that every single day I have to cook a meal in order to eat.  The result?  I eat a lot of cereal and chicken and rice.  In fact, I’ve had chicken and rice each and every day that I’ve been in Myllykoski.  You wanna see my skills?  Your wish is my command:

How good does that look?  I know, I’m pretty impressive in the kitchen.  If my future wife is ever hungry for a very specific set of meals, then I’ll be able to give her the best dinner ever!

Tonight I trained with PEPO, the club that Kenny is trialing with.  It was godawfully cold, but my feet unthawed just enough for me to dominate the session.  The level at PEPO is pretty low, and my talent shined through.  I did so well that after training the coach took me to meet the club president and talk about a potential contract.  I told them that I was planning on going to Sweden to play, but they still decided that I should have their information in case I did in fact want to come and play for them.  Tomorrow PEPO plays a friendly and the coach has invited me to play in it.  I don’t know if I will, mostly because the club doesn’t have the money to provide insurance for me during the game.  That means that if I get injured the club not only will not pay for, but financially cannot afford to pay for my treatment.  You can see how this would be a problem if God forbid I tore my ACL or broke my leg.  Even if I only turned my ankle, it would severely affect my chances of impressing on a trial in Sweden or anywhere else where the level is more challenging.  So right now I’m leaning towards not playing.  I’ll sleep on it and see if I want to take the risk.  I could use a game right now and the confidence I’m sure to get from playing in it could be what I need going into another trial.

One other thing: PEPO is fourth tier, not third.  They call it division two.  Even though PEPO wants me to play for them, I don’t think it’s in my best interest at all to play here.  Because the team is so low on the league ladder, even if I scored two goals every game it would still not get the attention of the Veikkausliiga teams.  My best hope would be to move up to the Finnish 2nd division, but if I was interested in playing in that I would just take a trial there now rather than sign two leagues lower and try to impress my way up.  I have no problem starting at a lower league, but I have to have some sort of belief that wherever I’m playing is just one step away from somewhere much better.  I couldn’t honestly have that feeling at PEPO, so I think one day playing with them is enough.
If I don’t play the game tomorrow I think I’ll go into Helsinki for the day.  It’s supposed to snow though, so maybe I’ll just spend another long, boring day at the apartment in Myllykoski.  I’ll keep you posted!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Potential Opportunities and The Worst Game Ever

March 8:

Still not much to report.  I’m still in Myllykoski waiting on an opportunity.  It looks like I will get a shot in Division 1 in Sweden.  Despite its name, Division 1 is actually the 3rd tier of Swedish soccer.  I have no idea what the level will be like there, or the pay, but at this point I just need a team that believes in me.  Last year, there was a striker who started the season in Division 1, then went to Allsvenskan and before the calendar year was up was signed by Celtic in Scotland.  If I sign in Sweden, that level of success is my goal.

Anyway, speaking of division 1, last night I went with Kenny to a match in Lapeenranta.  Kenny has been training with PEPO, a team there in Division 1 while still staying at the apartment here with me.  The coach of PEPO comes every day to pick him up and make the hour-long drive to and from practice.  The club had a game so I decided to tag along and watch.  Kenny didn’t play because it was a Finnish Cup match for the team.  This is different from the League Cup that I’ve mentioned a few times here before.  The League Cup is only for Veikkausliiga clubs; The Finnish Cup is open to all teams.  The Finnish Cup is the equivalent of the US Open Cup in America.

On to the match…it was…the…worst professional game I’ve ever seen.  And I’ve seen professional soccer in Vietnam.  This team PEPO apparently won this league last year, but then lost a playoff to move up to the 2nd tier of Finnish soccer.  I honestly can’t believe that.  The team (in the purple and yellow jersey) played with no midfield whatsoever, made terrible mistakes in the back and countless simple technical mistakes.  A misstrap here and there is ok, but when it becomes a common occurrence you have to wonder about a team.  Also, PEPO reintroduced the ‘ol “kick it out of bounds play”, something I haven’t seen since I watched girls high school soccer at North Central.  If you’re not familiar, the “kick it out of bounds play” is when, for no particular reason and without any pressure, a player kicks the ball straight out of bounds.  This is not a defensive tactic, but rather a result of the player being absolutely terrible.  I’ve included a gameplay video but it doesn’t do this terrible match justice at all.

I’ve been told that I have a trial in the same tier over in Sweden, and if the level there is anything like it is in Finland, then I don’t think I’ll stay at that level for too long.  I’m not overstating when I say that this game was similar to what you’d see at the Fowler Fields at USF during intramurals. 

So I’m confident now of being offered a contract, even if it’s at a lower level than I’d like.  My goal was to sign in Europe somewhere and see how far my skills could take me given a fair shot to be seen that I could never get in America.  Not a single player is going from USL or NASL to a big team in Europe.  Brad Rusin went to the worst team in the top league in Denmark, but that’s about as good as any lower division player in America could hope for.  Meanwhile as I mentioned, lower division players in Sweden can dream of signing for Celtic and making 15,000 euros a week.

Wish me luck.  I think I’ll be going to Sweden soon, but I’ll wait for the people who arrange these things to confirm it.

PHOTOBOMB!  That’s my baby niece, Amani.  She’s super cute and needs to be seen.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Video Update! #2

Ok so I made a quick update.  Not much to say which is why I made a video and didn't type out a long, dull post.  The only note I have is that for some reason, my voice sounds very feminine in the videos and I hate it.  I don't think I sound anything like I do on the videos.  In fact, I think my voice in these videos sounds like Landon Donovan, and I HATE his voice.  I love him as a player; I think he's good enough to play on any team in the world (yes that means Madrid and Barcelona), but his voice annoys the hell out of me.  I've become what I hate...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

MYPA a "no go" means I'm looking west

March 4:

We all know the drill at this point…I was not offered a contract by MYPA.  I didn’t post yesterday because I didn’t have any news and I figured no one reads this anyway so nobody got left hangin.  If you were on eggshells waiting for me to post, well then I’m very sorry.  Bad news can always wait though, right?

Now I’m in a very uncomfortable situation.  My Finnish agent doesn’t at the moment have anything for me and I haven’t heard from the Swedish agent I work with in 10 days or so.  That means I’m stuck sitting in Myllykoski, Finland with nowhere to go.  I can’t take a trip, because at any time one of the agents could call and I’d need to get my two huge suitcases and two smaller bags and go.  But sitting here isn’t gonna do me any good either.  The only good thing about being here now is that it’s rent-free.  If I had to pay for a hotel for a week out of pocket it would ruin me financially, so I’m pretty much stuck here until the next trial comes along.

Now you may be wondering two things: 1. Why are you not getting signed by these clubs if you think you’re doing so well? and 2. What are you doing to help yourself?  Well, I’m glad you asked.

In all three of my trials now, I have been let go not for a lack of ability, but instead for a lack of fit within the team.  Now don’t get me wrong, ability does play a role.  If I showed up at any of these clubs and was head and shoulders better than everyone, then of course the club would find room for me regardless of how I fit into the system.  However, I’m not that player.  In fact I don’t think my game could be less suited to a trial.  I’m super fast, but when I first play with new teammates they almost never adjust right away.  Often my first couple of games with new teammates will feature a ton of underhit through passes or mistimed runs for offsides and so on.  Unfortunately, in a trial those first two games are always the only thing the coach sees.  Since a striker is almost required to score on his trial to be offered a contract, I’ve been put in a tough situation because I am virtually incapable of creating my own goals.  I’m more Darren Bent than Lionel Messi.  It’s ok, I accept that I won’t be the most talented player on every field I play on, but I do feel that I can be very effective at this level.  I don’t know if I mentioned a trial I had last fall in Sweden, but it was with a team called GAIS and they finished 5th in the Allsvenskan, which is the top league in that country.  They told me the exact same thing that all the Finnish clubs have said.  To paraphrase, "We like you and you're good enough, but we have no need for a player like you at this time."  The reason I mention that trial is because I did just as good or better with that team as I did with any of the Finnish teams I trialed with, even though the Swedish team was a clearly higher level.  The reason is that better teammates make me more effective since I rely on quality service from the players behind me.  Maybe if I get a trial in Sweden I can put that theory to the test again.

As for what I’m doing to help myself, I’ve started an email campaign that would embarrass even the most ardent self-promoters.  If you want to know who I’ve emailed, look at the league table for Norway and Denmark’s top division, start at the bottom and work your way up to about 7-10th in each league.  If I don't hear from them, I'll start emailing the second division teams starting from the top down. I haven’t emailed all the teams, partly because these email addresses can be quite hard to find, but at least 40% of them have gotten or will get an email in the next 3 days.  It seems crazy, but professional sports teams find players this way.  If you think that a top division Norwegian team getting an email from me and then offering me a trial is farfetched, I put one question to you:  How big do you think these teams’ scouting budgets are?  Most of the teams average 5-8k a game and put the majority of that revenue to player/coaches salaries.  The scouts probably aren’t going too far other than the occasional trip to a neighboring country.  An email from me is a free player with almost no downside for the club if they are indeed looking for my position.  I offer to travel to them out of my own pocket just for a chance.  Hopefully it works out.  I’ve also emailed a friend or two who may be able to help.  Sadly (I prefer humbly), I’m not above begging!

So now I wait.  I honestly don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  There are a few realistic things that could happen in the next week:  I could go on another trial in Finland (probably the Veikkausliiga, but I would consider the 2nd division here if the city of the club was nice), a trial in Sweden, one of the clubs I emailed in Norway or Denmark could call, or less realistically Jaro could decide that I’m better than the new trialists they have and ask for me to come back.

The biggest comfort I have in my situation is that I have such a strong base of support.  My mom and dad are nothing but wonderful and encouraging.  I won’t make them do it, but they would support me financially and emotionally if I wanted to stay in Europe and keep taking tryouts for the next 7 months.  I also have great agents working for me both here in Finland and in Sweden, not to mention my actual agent in America.  Those guys have done a great job and had I been a bit better, we could have toasted a contract long ago.  I’m sure they’ll find a good place for me.

I can’t say when my next post will be.  If I end up leaving tomorrow it may be 2-3 days before I can settle in somewhere and put out a new post.  Or I might just be sitting in Myllykoski and have nothing to say.  You’ll know when the next post hits the presses!  Til then wish me luck.  I need it!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Changing Formations, and Crazy Grocery Prices

March 2:

The weather is getting better, so Finland is finally starting to get some color.  In the month that I’ve been here, I haven’t seen a single blade of grass.  However, the last two days have been above freezing so the snow is starting to melt.  Maybe sometime soon I’ll get to see the beauty of Finland that people around here have been talking about.

I missed yesterday, so I’ll recap that in ten seconds.  We had two trainings, I scored a bunch of goals in each and then I watched 6 hours of Netflix and went to bed.

Today we had training in the morning and it was pretty simple.  The coach today though inexplicably debuted a new formation that we’re going to play tomorrow against HJK.  We’re going to change from a 4-3-3 formation to a 3-4-3.  For those not so technically involved with soccer, that is ridiculous.  It essentially causes every single player on the field to have new or expanded roles.  In addition, the formation has forced two players in the starting lineup to play in entirely new positions.  That’s not a good thing.  We’ll be lucky if we don’t get killed tomorrow.

Speaking of the match, I have once again been selected from the pool of trialists to play in the match.  I don’t know if I mentioned before, but in the League Cup matches a team may only play two trialists.  Last week we had four trialists, but this week we have six, so I’m happy to have been selected once again.  I’ve even been selected ahead of the trialists who haven’t had the chance to play in a game yet.  I feel like this bodes well for my chances, but getting my hopes up is useless because I have no idea what the coach is thinking.  I’m not starting, so I won’t have much time to show my worth.  If I do well though, I expect that a contract will be offered pretty soon.  Send me positive vibes!

Other than training not much happened today.  I spent almost 30 euros today on candy and bakery products at the grocery store, which isn’t even saying all that much because groceries here have freaking heroin prices.  A couple of things, notably milk, are quite cheap.  However, everything else is very expensive.  In Europe, or at least in Scandinavia, food is more expensive in euros than the same food is in dollars in America.  For instance, in the US a 2 liter of Coke costs around $1.79.  You can argue the number but it’s close enough for my point.  Here, they sell 1.5L bottles of Coke for 2.19 euros.  Considering that a euro equal about $1.27, that’s a significantly higher price.  The same discrepancy goes for essentially all other food.  Of all the money that I’ve spent in the 30 days I’ve been here, at least 90% has been on food and train tickets.  The good news is that I’m becoming a Top Chef over here and I’m learning to make good meals from the cheapest possible foods!

I’m starting to get used to Myllykoski now that I’ve been here for 10 days or so.  I’m not saying that the town is any better than when I got here, I’m just accepting it much better than before.  I put a picture of the town center so you can see how slow it is. If I sign a contract here, I will just hole up in my room and watch Netflix all day.  Hulu too.  I guess if boredom is my biggest problem then I will be able to say that I have a good life.  Hopefully I’ll get to that point.

Next time you hear from me I will have played in my second match with MYPA.  Hopefully I play well and have good news for you!