Saturday, June 30, 2012

Matchday 12: Different Process, Same Result


We lost again today, 1-0, to Eskilstuna City.  They were terrible and only created a handful of chances the entire match.  We on the other hand dominated the game, though we also only created a few chances.  I came on in the 58th minute as a striker and had a big chance from a scramble in the box, but the goalie blocked it.  Perhaps I should have scored but I didn’t have much time to really size up the goal and the keeper saved it with pretty much just throwing his arms up.  He did a good job of making himself big and in the end made the save.  Also, for the second successive home game, I put the ball in the net only to have it called back.  Last game I had no idea I was flagged for offsides and neither did the goalie.  Today though I thought I might have been off even though I didn’t see the linesman.  I don’t know if the goalie saw the flag go up, but I suspect he did because I rounded him rather easily.

I won’t go into much detail about the match.  The only thing I will say is that we’ve totally abandoned the passing game we played in the preseason in favor of long balls.  No offense to anyone on our team, but we have no Andrea Pirlo’s in the squad.  For that reason, we can’t be trying to unlock defenses with 40-50 yard aerial passes  from just inside midfield or our own half.  Today our strategy was to breakdown the defense with long passes from one of our holding midfielders.  He would come equal to our backline and then try to play perfect passes to streaking runners on either flank.  It’s the soccer equivalent of calling a Hail Mary every single play.  The problem with playing like that is two-fold.  First, you start off every attack with a pass that has a 30% chance of being completed.  By that logic, you will only retain possession for more than 10 seconds roughly 1 in 3 times you get the ball.  Naturally your players will be forced to chase the ball more and tire out.  The second problem is that the other team simply drops deeper and deeper, making the strategy almost impossible.  That reaction is the equivalent of a defense in football using 8 DB’s when they know your team will do a Hail Mary.  What was a 30% chance becomes too low a chance to really even be considered.

When I came on, I looked to change things a bit.  In the early moments I was successful, linking up with Daniel and Erik quite well and getting that goal that was called back.  Also was a chance where I linked up with the midfield and played a ball that would have put Erik in on goal, but was blocked by a sliding intervention from the center back.  Those were both within 10 minutes of coming on.  Things were looking good.  But then we went back to long diagonal balls and we hardly had another chance.

Training this week wasn’t very good.  We played last weekend, so we had plenty of time to rest but still prepare properly for this match.  Monday was a complete washout because it rained the entire day.  There would have been no way we could have had a decent training in the downpour.  Me and some of the guys didn’t take the day off though; we met at the stadium and lifted weights, while I ran some difficult fitness out on the track since I had only played 20 minutes the day before and needed to do some running.  I did a track-soccer hybrid type workout.  Pretty much that means that I use track distances, but with a soccer rest.  Actually that probably doesn’t help you so I’ll just tell you the workout.  I ran, in order, 200m-300m-400m-200m-300m-400m.  The rest was to job half the distance of the previous run.  So, after the first 200, I jogged 100m and then ran 300m then jogged 150m and so on.  It was quite difficult since my body isn’t used to making runs longer than 60m maximum at a time, but that’s what it takes to get truly fit.  You have to push yourself beyond your comfort zone sometimes.

Anyway, because Monday was rained out the team didn’t get to do anything together that day.  Tuesday all we did was have a intrasquad scrimmage with some filler players from the youth team.  It was largely pointless and afterwards we ran some really difficult fitness, which was even harder for me since I had run so hard the day before.  Wednesday was off (for my birthday, I presume J) and Thursday was a good training, though we didn’t actually work on anything for the match.  Friday was simply a walkthrough.  So, despite the fact that we have been consistently giving up set play goals, we didn’t spend any of our three trainings working on defending set plays.  That’s what made this week of training bad.  We worked hard, but accomplished very little in my opinion.

For those of you who care, I still don’t have my contract situation sorted.  My contract ends at the end of July and I don’t have any offers as of now.  I’ve played in every game I’ve been eligible so far this season except against Vasalunds (a 5-1 loss).  With the injuries we have at the club right now I think that I’ll be offered an extension, I just worry that once everyone heals up that I might get buried on the bench here.  I’ve said it before, but I’m too old to be buried on any lower-division bench. If an MLS team wants to pay me $90k a year and put me on the bench then I’ll happily sit, but for essentially $1200 a month(before tax)  I get here, no thanks.
Lastly, Allsvenskan started back up today after their Euro Championships break.  I like that Allsvenskan schedules games on a stagger because it gives me a game to watch every night during the summer.  I'm excited for the league to be back and running!
Actually I lied, that wasn't the last thing.  To quote one of my favorite shows in America, Pardon the Interruption, a melancholy happy trails to Tom Noden and Philip Zamayeri.  Both of these players have left the team.  Noden's contract was up today and Zamayeri left the team for his own reasons which I don't fully know.  Even if I did know I wouldn't put those reasons in a public forum like this.  I got along well with both of those guys and I'll miss them.  I wish them nothing but the best with their new clubs, whoever those clubs might be!  When you see this photo imagine Boyz II Men's "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye" playing in the background...
Zamayeri on the far left, Noden in the grey sweater in front.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It Is Your Birthday.

The title is an "Office" reference, by the way.

It’s my birthday!  And I’m so cool that I’m taking the time to write my blog.  I’m turning 25.  I won’t be long because I’ve got big plans and can’t spend too much time writing.  I’m kidding of course; I have absolutely nothing to do whatsoever.

Anyway, when you have a birthday you tend to think about life a little bit.  I’ve had the chance to do that and I’m ok with where things are at the moment.  On one hand, I’m 25 with little savings, no real close friends living locally and playing at a level that isn’t so thrilling to me.  In athlete terms, I’m just about middle aged.  On the other hand, I’m chasing my dream.  I’m seeing a part of the world and learning about a culture that I never would without soccer.  I have so much free time and so little stress.  I have no debt of any kind and using my free time to learn Swedish and html, among other things.  I’ve made a few new friends that are really important to me and gotten new experiences that can’t be gained through a book or even a vacation.

Some of the things that I’ve thought about are specific to being abroad.  For instance, as I get older I start to sense my time in Europe coming to a close.  Now I don’t think that I’ll move back anytime soon, but eventually I plan on returning to America to live.  I would actually like to come back at some point and play in MLS (not “the” MLS) or USL/NASL if it’s in the right city.  It would be a dream for me to play for DC United or the Philly Union, but in my opinion it’s more likely that I make a big club in Scandinavia than get a decent salary and position in an MLS team.  That’s the main reason I decided to have a go in Europe.  In my ideal world, I get 3-4 years of big time soccer in Europe then come back to MLS around 29-30 on a good salary and so I can still be an important player.  My game revolves around my athleticism, though I think I’m pretty smart as well.  When I’m 33 though, I probably won’t be the fastest or strongest guy around.  I don’t want to return to America and MLS so late that no one wants me.  In that case though I could still see myself very happy at the Tampa Bay Rowdies or some yet to be created USL/NASL team in Indianapolis.  I just want to play soccer for as long as I can without ruining my future.  I don’t want to wake up on my 35th birthday still playing soccer in a lower league in Europe with no money.  At some point you have to grow up; luckily for me 25 doesn’t seem to be that point.

Enough now of me talking on this day of days.  I realize that the blog has been a bit stale this month.  To be honest I keep writing it as much as a keepsake for my future self as for possible readers.  You can be sure that I will keep writing it for as long as I’m in Europe.  That said, things will definitely get more interesting in July.  My contract is effectively up on July 15 and at the moment I have no idea if I will be offered an extension.  Also, the team has two weeks off for the midseason break in the second half of July so I’m sure to do some traveling and perhaps even some new trials during that time.  Uncertainty is a big inspiration for me to write.  That’s why I wrote a blog almost every day in February and only about once every 3-4 days in June.  Everything was new then and my situation changed almost daily.  July will probably be bad for my nerves, but great for the blog!


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Matchday 11 and Midsommar

We played our eleventh game of the season today against Sandviken IF.  I came on and played the last 25 minutes but we lost, 2-1, in a game where we could have maybe gotten some points.  Sandviken was good, but we created a lot of chances.  They also created a ton of chances.  It was a pretty open game and it was obvious that both teams were playing to win.  Unfortunately for us, not only did we lose, but the two teams down on the bottom with us both won.  That means that we’re last place again.  I took these photos of the stadium before the game.  I am not going to go much more into detail into the match.  As always, you can go onto www.esk.nu and read the match report if you care to.  The one thing I will say is congratulations to Kevin Sharro for scoring his first goal.  For a 17-year-old who started the season as our 3rd string left back, he's managed to play the last four games and now seems to be a regular.  Good for him!



As I’ve mentioned a few times here, the sun barely ever goes down here in the summer.  This has lead somehow to a holiday called Midsommar.  I could tell you the history of the holiday, but I don’t know it.  Maybe Wikipedia can help.  Anyway from whatever started the holiday it has now become a day for Swedes to drink to excess.  We had a game two days after the holiday so we weren’t allowed to drink.  That didn’t stop me from enjoying the day with some of the locals.

I spent the day with Emil Strok and his family and friends.  Emil is one of the players who lives in Enkoping.  He is also from Enkoping so his family was all in town to celebrate Midsommar.  I ended up hanging out with Emil, his older brother Marcus, his neighbor Tobias and another neighbor whose name I can’t recall anymore.  Emil is about a year older than me and his friends were all 27 or 28.  I was so happy to be in a group of people older than me for a change.  When I hang out with the other guys who live in Enkoping I’m always the oldest and it can get kind of weird sometimes.  Well anyway the day was really nice.  I ate a lot of traditional Midsommar dishes: there was fish marinated in like a pickle juice and serve raw.  There was also a homemade potato salad and bread.  Lastly, there was porkchops that were really good.  I love to try new foods so all the traditional dishes were nice, but I still enjoyed the porkchops the best.  We ate everything at a table outside under the sun.  I should have taken a picture of all the food but it somehow slipped my mind.  After we ate, we played a game that is kind of difficult to explain, but it’s a similar idea to the bean bag toss game you see at tailgates in the US.  With the sun still up, we went inside to watch the European Championships game between Germany and Greece before going home.  My first Midsommar wasn’t the crazy alcohol-fest that some people had described it as, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Matchday 10: Last My Ass

We tied our game on Monday, 0-0.  I was on the bench again, but I came on the last 20 minutes and did ok.  The point means we're no longer at the bottom of the table!  I’ll get to the game in just a minute, but first I have to tell you that I’m pretty sure that a freaking Chubacabra lives outside of my building where I live.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Chubacabras, while obviously real, don’t live in Scandinavia.  Well then to you I pose this situation.  Yesterday I put out some trash.  Today I walk out and see this:


Game. Set. Match.  Or, to quote ‘How I Met Your Mother’, “lawyered”.

Realizing my goal was ruled offside.
The game last Monday was against Dalkurd.  They were near the top of Division 1 last year, but this year they are firmly in the middle of the table.  They were pretty good and were absolutely the most deliberate of any of the teams we’ve played thus far.  That kind of played to our advantage because it caused us to play a bit calmer than we usually do.  I’ll skip ahead to the 60th minute, when Siggi summoned me from my warm-up to go in.  As kind of a metaphor for my season, instead of putting me straight in Siggi had a change of heart and had me continue to warm up next to the bench.  It was kind of weird.  Anyway 10 minutes later I came in for Daniel as a left winger.  Now I think I’ve mentioned already that we tweaked our 4-2-3-1 formation a bit to push our fullbacks higher up the field and also push our winger higher and more central so that they play a bit more like strikers.  On defense we’re still 4-2-3-1, but now on offense we look much more like an old school 4-3-3, with all three strikers playing within the width of the 18 yard box.  I point this out only to explain how with maybe five minutes left I ended up in the right side of the box scoring a goal.  A disallowed goal, but a good finish all the same.  Robert, who was playing center midfield instead of his usual center back, played a great deep cross to me between two defenders.  Instead of trying a header from 15 yards, I took the ball off my chest and finished from a half volley with my left foot.  Unfortunately I was whistled for offsides, though I’m quite sure I was not offside.  Attackers never think they’re offside, but in my case I was standing a yard in front of the defender when the ball was played and ran past him as it was in the air.  Our disallowed goal was almost identical to a goal Spain scored against Croatia two hours later, just I shot directly instead of passing.  I'd put a video up but it would surely be taken down by UEFA in ten minutes so you can just look it up yourself if you want.  www.tvgolo.com is the website I use for highlights.

Yesterday we were back to work with a whopping eight people at training, including the goalkeepers.  None of the guys who started trained but instead jogged and did recovery stuff.  Meanwhile, the guys who did train were treated to the hardest freaking training of the year.  Essentially we did drills intended for 10-14 players, but with six guys.  That meant no rotations in high tempo games that would normally feature a 1:2 work-to-rest ratio.  It was difficult, but good.  I’m never one to shy away from hard work and I could use the fitness anyway.

I only slept five hours last night because I had to wake up to watch the end of the NBA Finals game 4.  I’m a big time supporter of the Miami Heat so I want them to win the championship.  Actually, to be fair I’m just a big time supporter of LeBron James, so I’m rooting for him to finally win a championship.  Without getting into it so much, I think that James is incredibly scrutinized unnecessarily.  He’s the best basketball player on earth, but people hate him.  He appears to be a much nicer person than Michael Jordan (who is better) ever was, but people loved MJ.  If you’re not from Ohio and you have a grudge against LeBron James, then that’s a YOU problem (to quote Colin Cowherd).  I’ve got 99 problems but hating the best player in the NBA ain’t one.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Homesick

‘ello!

That’s me being British, by the way.  I’m only doing it because I got over 100 hits from the UK over the last 48 hours.  I think the fact that my blog is in English and talks a lot about soccer in Sweden is the reason so many Brits ended up at my blog on the day England played Sweden at the European Championships.  Besides that, sorry I’ve been away for a bit.  To be honest things have not been going very well here in Enkoping or in my personal life.  I won’t go into the personal things, but they play a major part of my life.  Just not really for the blog I guess.  The point I’m making though is that this week has really sucked and for the first time in my life I am truly homesick.

It’s a weird thing being homesick.  At least for me it is.  When I was 18 I left home to live in Tampa for college, then subsequently Baltimore and Harrisburg and now Sweden (and very briefly Finland).  I’ve spent plenty of time at home during those years.  In fact, I lived there for 4 months this past winter, which were awesome because I got to know little baby Amani.  Still, I’ve spent a lot of time far away from home and not once have I ever felt the way I felt a couple days ago.  I won’t talk about the personal life stuff, but I will say that I got hit with a couple of doozies within 72 hours of each other.  Those were coupled with the facts that I’ve been relegated to the bench for what are probably my last five games with ESK and the uncertainty of becoming a free agent in six weeks.  I emailed my agent contacts in Sweden and Finland, but neither has responded as yet.  That’s not good.  Typically when an agent doesn’t respond it’s because they have nothing for you.  An agent who has options for you is happy to talk and work out a contract.  Maybe I just need to be patient.  I would be happy to stay at ESK for the rest of the season, but not if I’m going to be buried on the bench.  I can sit on the bench in America.  Or in a city that has more to do off the field than Enkoping.  Hell, from what I saw when I was there, I could probably walk into a 2nd division Finnish team no problem.  But that stuff isn’t for me to find, it’s for the agents.  There’s money in it for them so I know that they’ll look.  I'm not saying I necessarily want to leave ESK; in fact to get to Allsvenskan I'll probably need to play the whole season at ESK anyway.  I can't imagine a team taking me from the bench of the third tier to Allsvenskan in the August transfer window.

This is getting kind of disjointed but oh well, back to being homesick.  I’ve missed home before, but I’ve never considered myself to be homesick.  It just kind of seems like everything in my life is going to hell all of a sudden.  My dream of playing professional soccer has taken me to the last place team in the third division of Sweden, where I've done nothing to help the situation and sit on the bench.  My contract will be up in essentially one month and from there I have no options at the moment.  The only person in the entire country who I knew before I got here is my ex-girlfriend.  Think about that, you’re in a faraway place and you’re miserable and the only person you can possibly talk to is your ex-girlfriend?  You’d be homesick too.  She and I get along well, but you know what I'm saying.

That is literally all I have right now.  I wish I lived somewhere exciting, but I don’t.  We have 2 out of every 5 days off so 40% of the days I do absolutely nothing.  The only thing keeping me sane right now is entertainment in the form of Netflix and the Euro Championships.  I guess I could go to Stockholm again.  If nothing else I could just walk around the city.  I really like visiting big cities, even though I wouldn’t want to live in one.  I bought a new Playstation 2 game as well, so that should take up a big chunk of time.

I’m feeling better now, so you know.  I’ve had a rough week, but that’s par for the course when you move to a very new place.  There’s gonna be bumps in the road and it’s all about how you handle them.  It could always be worse.  I mean (knock on wood) I have my health, and my moviestar good looks!  I still believe that I will make it in a good league here in Europe.  Maybe it’ll be Sweden, or maybe it will be Finland, Belgium, Denmark or some other place. Or the 2nd divisions of one of the bigger leagues.  I believe in my ability, and just as importantly I believe in the ability of the people who find clubs for me.  Hopefully I can prove my worth here at ESK and make a move from that, but if not there’s other ways to get where I want to be.  Keep supporting me.  I know I’ll make it!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Things in America I Miss


Sometimes when I’m going off talking about random things going on in my life and season, it’s easy for me to forget just how unusual my life is.  I’m 24 going on 25, and I live in a northern European country playing the game I love.  Even though things are not going as well as I had hoped, I’m still happy with my life right now.  I also have high hopes for what the future may bring and I don’t plan on leaving Europe anytime soon.  That’s all well and good, but there are some things that I truly miss from America.  I figure I’ll use this post to list those things I miss.

1.       Amani – Amani is my niece and I miss her more than anything in this world.  I obviously haven’t seen her since I got to Europe.  She’s now 10 months old and I just want to give her the biggest hug and kiss and carry her around!  I will go back to the US in November, so I’ll see her then.



2.       Fast Food - When I initially put this on my list, I hadn’t been to a fast food restaurant in weeks.  Still, I rarely eat fast food here.  In America, I would get fast food a couple times a week.  And that’s not just McDonald’s, I’m also including Chipotle and Taco Bell and Chinese food and other fast foods.  In America I always took for granted that there would be plenty of fast food places within a reasonable distance.  Here, there’s only a McDonalds that takes me 20 minutes to bike to.



3.       Driving – Unlike most people, I love to drive.  And I don’t mean driving fast or aggressively, but just cruising around.  I love the freedom of having a car.  You can take a day trip much more cheaply and easily than with public transportation to any place other than Stockholm.  When I first moved to Baltimore, I spent three hours just driving around the city getting to know it.  As a result, I felt like I knew the city of Baltimore far better than I know the equivalent area in and around Enkoping.



4.       Political Television – Even though I rarely mention it in the blog, I am a big fan of politics.  One of my true interests in life are the dynamics of politics in America and the game of politics.  To me, politics in America have turned into something fascinating and very frustrating at the same time.  Also, I think there’s something to democracy the way we do it in America.  It seems counterintuitive, but it takes more than a good idea to get things done.  You have to be able to work with people and with challenging ideas.  And all of this typically plays out in front of dozens of cameras and countless media sources.  It all makes for incredibly entertaining tv, which I can’t see most days because the stations don’t show in Sweden (and I don’t have a tv anyway.)  Also lumped in the group of stations I miss are HGTV, DIY Network, Cartoon Network and Comedy Central.



5.       Pop Tarts and Grape Jelly – Most of the food that I eat in the US is available in Enkoping.  For some reason though, there are no Pop Tarts or Grape Jelly.  I can kind of understand pop tarts, but grape jelly?  I figured that would be pretty universal.  I mean, Enkoping grocery stores have a zillion marmalades and jams but no jelly.  And when I asked the guys about where to find grape jelly, they didn’t even know what I was talking about.  Thus, my daily peanut butter and jelly sandwich is really a peanut butter and marmalade sandwich.  Nothing like what mom used to make.



6.       The last – and honestly most important – thing that I miss is the commentating brilliance that is Ray Hudson.  Anyone who watches GolTv back in the US knows about Mr. Hudson.  He is the greatest, most hilarious commentator who ever lived.  I can’t describe his delivery better than just putting in a video, so I’ll put one here.  I have to preface it by saying he has a severe man crush on Messi and Riquelme.  Enjoy and I’ll post again soon!
You're welcome.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Matchday 9: Stockholm Saturday!


Whatup crazy kids!  I had quite a day yesterday in Stockholm.  We had a match, watched the Euro Championship matches then had a night (and day) on the town.

The reason I was in Stockholm for the third time in a week was that we were playing against Vasalunds.  This marked the fifth time in nine games that we were playing the team currently in first place in the league.  In fact the only team we’ve played that wasn’t in the top 5 was our only win against Akropolis.  Anyway, we got killed 5-1.  I was available on the bench, but wasn’t used.  The game was awful and we were on the back foot the entire time.  Vasalunds scored in the 4th minute then continued to pressure the rest of the half, though they didn’t create many more great chances.  In the 22nd minute, we scored completely against the run of play.  We cleared a ball to our attacking midfielder Ernesto, who played a really great through pass to Erik who scored a great goal with his left foot.  That was a great moment for us, but our happiness only lasted until halftime, because the second half started with them scoring again.  From that point, it was only a matter of how many they would score and by the 70th minute it was 5-1.  Vasalunds continued to press, but our guys showed some good pride and prevented the scoreline from getting even worse.  We even had a goal wrongfully (in my opinion) disallowed for offsides.  Long story short, it was a forgettable game.  The fact that I didn’t play just made things all that much more disappointing for me.

After the terrible match, we were in need of a fun night.  So Daniel, Robert, Joel and I took the subway from the stadium to Gamla Stan (Old Town) to watch the European Championship matches.  After being initially turned away from O’Leary’s, the same chain of Boston-themed restaurants you may remember me going on about while I was in Jakobstad, Finland, we looked for another place to eat and watch the games.  However during our search, we ran into Kevin and his pops who incidentally owned the O’Leary’s we were turned away from.  After a quick phone call, we were in a booth at O’Leary’s with no wait.  VIP service!

Most of you will be unfamiliar with the various areas of Stockholm.  For you, I will explain a bit about Gamla Stan.  This area is a small island that makes up the very center of Stockholm.  I have done no research to support this next claim, nor do I intend to, but I think Gamla Stan used to be the entirety of Stockholm.  That may or may not be true, but considering that the only thing connecting current day Gamla Stan to the rest of the city are bridges, then there must have been some time when the island was the whole city.  Well, Gamla Stan is tourist central in Stockholm.  It is the location of the Royal Palace as well as the Nobel Museum and many other historic sites.  Amazingly though, among all that history and tourist attractions are hundreds of apartments that people still live in.  This leads me to the next part of my story where we visited Tom’s house to watch the 2nd game of the night after we left O’Leary’s.  Tom lives in Gamla Stan and was gracious enough to host us for the match.  We had fun watching the game and drinking a little bit, then we went out to a club.  We snapped this picture in the subway station on our way.
L-R: Philip, Daniel, Tom, Me, Joel, Robert, Heradi

There’s not much to say about the club.  It was really more of a lounge feel but with much louder music.  One thing I absolutely do not like about Sweden and Europe in general is that most clubs only play house music or some sort of house/dance music hybrid.  I haven’t been going to clubs for too many years, but I’ve been to enough to know that I prefer rap/hip hop clubs to house music.  It’s just my preference in music.  I find it easier to dance and enjoy myself when my favorite kind of music is playing.  For that reason, I spent the majority of the evening hanging out with the guys in one of those huge curvy sofas that clubs have watching drunk Swedes dance and being peer pressured into taking just one more drink, one more shot, etc.  I’m not saying I didn’t have fun because I did, it just isn’t my ideal nightclub.  I don’t know if my ideal nightclub even exists in Stockholm.

We left the club at around 2:30am and were faced with a dilemma: no public transportation to Enkoping was leaving until 4:49am.  That meant we had two hours to kill in 50 degree weather and with nowhere to stay and nothing to do.  So, like the majority of Stockholm it seemed, we went to McDonald’s.  That only took up so much time so we just kind of walked around aimlessly.  Finally, we stopped at some steps and decided to just hang there until the train station opened.  For the story I’m going to tell you, you need to know that at 3:30am in Stockholm in the summer it is as sunny as the middle of the day.  That’s not an exaggeration: sunrise is around that time in the summer.  Anyway, we’re standing at the top of these steps when a really drunk (or on drugs) guy starts walking up.  There were about 40 steps total, and maybe ten steps from us the guy stops and decides he’s going to pee.  It’s the middle of the night, so this kind of thing isn’t the most unusual thing in the world.  However, it was sunny outside!  There was no cover of darkness that would usually protect someone doing something so stupid.  When this guy started peeing, we all kind of looked at each other (Me, Daniel, Joel and Robert) like, “Is this guy serious?”  He must have noticed, because he turned around and started aiming his pee at us!  We ran away to wait for the train a bit further down the street, but not before the guy walked up to us and uttered some nonsense along with a buddy of his who rambled on about leaving 60,000SEK somewhere and having it stolen.  I could tell by his eyes that the second guy was on drugs.
3:50am in Stockholm.  About to get peed at.

About five minutes into our waiting for the train station to open, a guy came up to us and offered us a ride.  When he heard that we needed to go 60km to Enkoping, he was shocked.  Once he came to grips with that, he made his offer: 300SEK per person to take us.  It would only cost half that to take public transportation so we denied.  However, after a bit of haggling with him and another guy we agreed to pay 200SEK per person.  That led to us getting a ride to Enkoping in a 2001 Audi A4 with some guy who was clearly not a taxi driver at 4am.  I fell asleep and when I woke up we were going 100mph on the highway.  I felt like I was going to die in an awful car crash.  Fearing for your life: the fitting end to yet another terrible matchday.

The season has been awful so far, but now we go into a stretch of matches against teams that aren’t in the top five of the league.  If we’re going to survive in this league, then we have to get results against the teams in the bottom half of the table.  We’ll train for a week then go for some points!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Soaked in Stockholm and Team Talk

I'm the king of alliteration.

You know, since the day I got here people have been telling me about summer in Stockholm.  People say, “Just wait until June.  Stockholm is so nice at that time,”.  So being the dutiful foreigner I am, I waited until June and then visited the capital.  I went to watch Neven and the Serbian national team face Sweden at Rasunda stadium.  Unfortunately, summertime Stockholm didn’t quite live up to its billing.  When I arrived, it was a bit chilly but nice and sunny.  However, in the hour it took me to walk from downtown to Neven’s hotel to get the tickets, the weather started to change.  It actually made the walk more pleasant at first.  The overcast skies prevented me from sweating during my walk and I even saw some cool stuff like a bridge rising for a ship.  However, shortly after this video the rain came. 
video



Me standing under a tree in the pouring rain.  You can't see the rain because my camera is my US cell phone and it can only do so much.


It was awful.  I had no umbrella because trusty weather.com said that there was a 10% chance of rain all day.  I also had no idea where I was since I have no gps on my phone here.  My US phone has gps, but that doesn’t work in Europe so I had to wander in the rain looking for the nearest metro station.  After about 30 minutes of looking in the rain, I just gave up and walked back to downtown on the exact path which I came.

Once back downtown I did some cool stuff.  I visited the palace and royal treasury (sorry, no pics from the palace, they're not allowed), then sat down for lunch at my favorite restaurant (McDonald’s) before heading to the stadium for the match.  The game itself was actually pretty bad, but I enjoyed it a lot.  I got to see one of my favorite players in the world, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  He’s one of my soccer idols and I can only dream about having his talent.  Also, Neven scored for Serbia so it was pretty cool to be in attendance for that.  The general play though was kind of sloppy.  Both teams were finishing a long camp and had one eye on the future: Sweden on the Euros and Serbia on sandy beaches around the world.  It didn’t help that after a day of storms the geniuses at Rasunda decided to water the pitch just before kickoff.  As a result the play was very choppy and all the goals came from set pieces.  Sweden won, 2-1.  I took a few pictures before my phone died on me.  For that reason I don’t have any pictures of after the match, when Neven came over and talked to me and the guys who came to the game with me.  He was even generous enough to give me his jersey, something I had not even thought to ask for.  I really appreciate that he did that and I hope I can make it over to Germany for one of his club games.  That would be pretty awesome.
video

While I was getting rained on in Stockholm, back in Enkoping the team got together and had their crisis meeting.  Apparently I was wrong on the attendees: it was players only.  Some stuff stays in the locker room, but what I can say from the reports I got is that the players believe things can and will get better and that our problems start on the practice ground.  We haven’t been pushing ourselves hard enough in training to prepare us for the games.  It was agreed that our lack of intensity in training was a big reason why we were having trouble dealing with the pressure and intensity that comes in the matches.

Curiously enough, after that team meeting, instead of training the boys went next door to a miniature golf course.  I actually think that that decision was a good one.  We have a lot of young players who may be a bit burdened by this season we’re having.  It is important that we do some things together that don’t have the shadow of a 1-7 record hanging over it.  I think that a team function would do wonders for us at this point.  If we were a BPL or Serie A team, the manager would have taken us to Cyprus or La Manga or somewhere to get away from it all for 3-4 days.  Then we could come back to our hometown ready to start fresh again.  I don’t know if the people who decided do miniature golf were thinking that way, but hats off to them for that decision.  It also made me feel better about missing training.  I probably did more aerobic activity by walking 4-5 miles than any other player on the team that day.

Yesterday’s training was a bit higher intensity than usual.  It was also a bit of a fitness session, though that term used here pales in comparison to what it would mean in USL.  I hope the team meeting has a positive impact on how we train from this point forward.  It was also the National Day of Sweden, which is something like US’s Independence Day, just that Sweden never had to declare independence from anyone.  I spent the day doing a whole bunch of nothing, and I loved it.

Our next game is Saturday afternoon against Vasalunds.  They’re currently in 2nd place in the league so it should be a difficult game.  As always, I think we can win it if we’re confident and play to win.  The teams in this league are so similar in talent that your mind can go a long way towards whether you win or lose.  If the game tomorrow is 1-1 with 20 minutes left, then I would bet that the team that more believes it will win will find the winning goal.  If that situation comes up and we’re thinking that we should just hold on to the tie, then we’ll surely lose.  The inverse is also true.  Hopefully we’ll get the win and move from the bottom of the table!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bad Timing

I have terrible timing.  Today is the first time in my professional career that I will miss training because of a previously arranged trip to Stockholm to watch Serbia-Sweden.  I’ll get to that later though.  The reason my timing is especially bad is because I found out yesterday that the club is having what I would call a crisis meeting after training tonight.  Personally, I hate non-player-induced meetings of any kind, but if the powers that be think that this is the way to turn things around, then I have no problem with that decision.  Unfortunately I won’t be there.  I’m sure I will get the information tomorrow anyway, which is probably the way I would have gotten the info anyway since I wouldn’t understand the meeting itself as it’s in Swedish.

Moving on, and I don’t have much time because I have to catch a train, the reason I’m going to the match tonight is because my old friend Neven Subotic is playing for Serbia.  Some of you may recognize that name from a post I wrote a week or two ago about Yanks Abroad and some of you may know that name just from generally following soccer.  The point is I hadn’t seen this guy for six years and he contacted me more or less out of the blue and said he was in Sweden and that we should meet up.  So Celia and I went to Stockholm and had lunch with him, then he went to do some team stuff and Celia and I explored Stockholm.  I have pictures but I still can’t get my phone to load them so it will be a few days before they’re up. [edit]: phone and computer are talking again so now I have a few photos.
Celia

Neven

That’s all for the update now.  I’ve been pretty boring since Celia has been here, so there’s no real stories to tell.  I’ll put some pictures up from the match tonight as soon as possible and also give you an insight from the crisis meeting, or at least as much as I can say in a public space.  See y’all!

I copied some pictures from facebook from the last game (at least the parts I was in) so I’ll post a few since I haven’t put any pictures up in a few days.  I hope you like them!

This is the pass that got me my first assist!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Matchday 8: Very Bad Day...

Hola amigos.  We just finished our 8th game of the season and our 7th loss.  The opponent was Ostersunds and we lost 4-2 but were never in the game.  We were down 3-0 after 27 minutes.  This season has been kind of a nightmare and today was the worst of all the days.  First, we changed our formation and it was an absolute disaster.  We played 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield.  I started on the right, but this was nothing like the winger position I normally play.  I was asked to do much more defensive work and to cover far more ground than usual.  The only problem was that I was never told of the additional responsibilities I was being given.  Thus, as I played as I always have, Siggi and the rest of the staff were freaking out on the sidelines.  In the run of the game I couldn’t quite digest all the information they were giving me.  I just figured we’d sort it out at halftime…wrong.  I was subbed out in the 42nd minute.  That pissed me off.



I know that some of my readers are not soccer players and don’t really understand what a first half substitution means.  If you watch 100 matches, you will see a first half sub in maybe two or three games.  Of those, they are overwhelmingly for either one of two reasons: either the player gets injured and cannot continue or he is playing so poorly that the coach has no choice.  Maybe others will argue, but I don’t think I fell into either of those categories.  Obviously the staff thought that I was playing horribly, but to take me off in the first half seems to be a bit more than tactics. Mine was certainly not a tactical shift.  The person who came on for me was Rasmus Fries and we’re essentially the same player.  I think the sub was made to embarrass me because the staff thought I played poorly and deserved that embarrassment.  I hope I’m wrong but that’s my belief.  All this in a half where I was our most dangerous attacking player and created our only goal of the first half.
On a positive note, I finally got my first assist of the season.  I’ve made my fair share of good runs and passes but none have been finished.  I also haven’t gotten too many attacking opportunities since we’ve been the 2nd best team in most of our games.  I don’t want to make excuses for my lack of productivity though and the one positive from today was that I finally was able to contribute in a concrete way.  Based on when I was subbed today, I don’t know when I’ll get my next opportunity, but when I get it I’ll be sure to build on the small foundation I laid today.  The positive parts, not the stuff that got me yanked out of course.

In other news, Celia is back visiting again!  We went to Stockholm and met an old friend of mine who I’ll reveal tomorrow or whenever I can get my photos to load from my phone to computer.  Anyway, that’s why I haven’t posted in 3-4 days.  I hate to have Celia sitting bored while I blog!  Stockholm was pretty fun, even though it was terribly cold and raining the entire time.  Stockholm is one of the few cities I know of that actually looks good in the rain.  It kind of seems like the city is suited to the glum, grey background, something like Gotham City.  I’ll post the photos after the fact, so check back in a few days. [edit]: photos are up.



Other than that I haven’t been up to too much.  Celia and I have been exploring the cafés of Enkoping since I never go to them otherwise.  It’s pretty interesting how many places I pass that are actually nice cafés.  In case you’re wondering, tonight is taco night and I plan to make some pretty sweet tacos!  I know you guys are impressed!  For some reason, Swedish people love tacos and both grocery stores in town have huge taco displays.  I couldn’t help but get involved.

That’s all folks.  As soon as I get my pictures loaded I’ll reveal my mystery friend that I met with in Stockholm and tell that story.  Until next time!