Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Three Little Birds

Bob Marley fans will get that title.

I was offered a contract today.  I haven’t signed it yet and I’m incredibly scared of the offer going away for some reason so I won’t mention the team just yet.  However I’m traveling tomorrow to go sign the contract so I should be able to let you guys know soon enough.  The contract is for a net sum of $1500/month.  Of course I won’t be paid in US dollars but that’s the equivalent amount.  I will also be given an apartment, so my only real expense will be food.  Maybe I can work out a deal with a restaurant once I arrive.

This offer means that my time in Enkoping is definitely over.  I pretty much knew that before, but it’s kind of hitting me now.  While I wasn’t in Enkoping for long, I did make a few pretty good friends and I will miss them.  I will see them in the future, but it’s a bit weird to know that some of the other guys I will never see again.  The same way there are plenty of guys from my Harrisburg and Crystal Palace Baltimore teams that I will never see again.  I guess it’s just part of the job.  My teammates are really just co-workers, and if one of us changes jobs then that’s it.  We just go our separate ways.  It’s a part of this life and I just have to accept it.

I can’t say I’m too sad though.  I’m going to a good opportunity and success at this club could mean really big things for my career.  I expect that I will have success, but then again I would expect that even if I was going to La Liga or the Bundesliga; I have a confidence that can never be destroyed.  It wavers sometimes, but nothing/no one will ever take my self-confidence.  That will never happen.

That’s enough with the mystery.  I’ll be traveling tomorrow but maybe I can get a post up in a few days once I’ve sorted everything.  Please send happy thoughts my way, because if this offer comes off the table between now and the time I can sign it then I will be really down in the dumps.  I wish I could sign the contract right now, but it will have to wait at least until tomorrow afternoon.  As soon as I get to the new club I will try to sign the contract before they realize I’m not any good!  Haha the reveal of the team is coming in the next post!

And last but not least, today’s meme.  It's actually a photobomb, but it sums up how I feel right now.  No need to dwell on the semantics.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Peace Out Sweden: It's been real...

My time in Sweden seems very much to be coming to an end.  I have a trial scheduled for later this week in Finland and nothing after that.  I’m a bit wary of that because my ankle is still not so good.  If that trial doesn’t work out then I honestly don’t know what I’ll do.  I guess I’ll just email every team in Europe until someone responds, but even then I have no idea where I’d stay in the interim time.  London I guess.  But as of now I have 32-33 days to find a team, impress them and sign a contract.  That’s really not a lot of time.  It gives me the possibility to have three, maybe four trials if I’m lucky.  I’m already stressed about that; I can’t imagine what I’ll be like if things are the same in two weeks.  Even if I don’t find a team, I’ll still probably try to stay in Europe and get a job, likely in England because of the language, as a newspaper reporter or something (I have a degree in journalism).

Ok, tangent--------------------------------

For Americans who follow soccer, it is common knowledge that England is the highest paying country for soccer.  It is also common knowledge that it is almost impossible for Americans to get a work permit, because those who apply for a work permit to join a soccer team must pass rigorous guidelines which I won’t outline here.  All you need to know is that I have a better chance of having a baby (like me actually having the baby) than getting a work permit to play in England.  But there’s always been something that I’ve wondered:

Can I get regular work permission in England (like a green card equivalent), then use that to qualify to play in England? 

I don’t see any reason to deny me to play for a League 1 or League 2 team if they want me and I already have active work permission in England.  On top of that, it seems a bit unlikely that at that level anyone would even notice.  At the same time, a League 1 team in England could pay salaries of like 6000-10,000 pounds a month.  That would be a sizeable raise for me without being an unreasonable raise in quality of play (from the highest I've played I should say.  It would be a big jump from division 1 in Sweden).  I mean the top attacker in League 1 last year was 36-years-old.  That doesn’t discourage me from thinking I can play there.  So my point is that if I don’t find a team by September 1, then maybe I’ll go to London, stay with Celia (I haven’t run this plan by her, in case you were wondering lol) and work at a newspaper.  There’s like 100 of them in London anyway and I’m good at writing news stories.  Much better than I am at writing stream-of-consciousness blogs J.

End of tangent-----------------------------

I trained today with ESK since I didn’t have anything else to do.  I’m pretty much just killing time until I leave Wednesday.  I paid Robert for his bike, which was stolen while I was in London.  That sucked, paying for a bike because it got stolen a week before I was leaving.  I could have kept that money in my pocket by keeping the bike at my house when I went to London rather than leaving it locked up at the train station.  Oh well, you live and you learn.  There’s criminals everywhere, even Enkoping.

Tomorrow I will train again and then I’m off to Finland.  I’m looking forward to telling you where I’m going, but nothing is 100% clear at the moment.  Developments are happening all the time and for that reason there’s no point in trying to look too far into the future.  Maybe I’ll do the trial this weekend or maybe I’ll sign tomorrow for another club entirely.  Or maybe everything will fall through and put me back at square one.  The last scenario is by far the worst for me, but would probably make for the most interesting blog.

No pictures because I’m literally sitting in Enkoping wishing I had more money.  I’ll put a meme instead.  A USA-themed one because of the Olympics.  It's from the hilarious Comedy Central show "Workaholics".  Enjoy!



Saturday, July 28, 2012

Well, At Least It's Not Raining...

Well I’ve got news, but unfortunately it’s not good news.  Not necessarily negative, but certainly not good.  I flew back to Sweden Thursday and met with ESK’s GM on Friday morning.  We had a very brief chat in which he told me that the club has no money and that they would not be offering me an extension.  Of course, that lack of money didn’t stop them from signing two new players, but what do I know?  This was unexpected, but not an unwelcome development for me.  I had resolved to leave ESK quite a long time ago and I’ve been able to secure a few trials.  Speaking of which…

Yesterday I started my first trial, with Vasby United of the same league as ESK.  Today it ended.  More on that in a bit.  As you may recall, I mentioned that Vasby and IK Sirius were the best teams in the league, though Vasby is in the bottom half of the standings and has very little chance of being promoted to Superettan this year.  To train and trial with Vasby though is still a good opportunity.  They are a club with resources and ambition, so it’s a good place to train and play, even if they aren’t going to likely win the league.  There’s a big problem though.  My ankle.

My ankle has been bothering me ever since I injured it in my last game with ESK two weeks ago.  I was only able to go for a jog a few days ago, but the ankle is at about 70% right now.  I can get through a training, but I’m certainly not impressive.  This is a big problem because I have to stand out in order to get a contract offer from Vasby.  They already have 22-23 players contracted so they won’t be signing anyone just to do it.  That said, obviously I got the trial because Vasby has seen me play multiple times and was interested.  That’s what made it so strange when after training today the coach asked to speak with me.

I had just played very well in training despite my ankle being injured.  We did all small sided stuff, and the only time I could really show was as an extra player in a 6v6+1 game to goal at the end.  In this drill I was brilliant and created goal after goal, though I didn’t score any myself.  That’s because as the all-time offense player, I tended to stay in the middle of the field.  That way, if the team I was with suddenly lost the ball, then I wouldn’t be in a position where I’d normally be counted upon to defend.

My point is I played at the highest level I possibly could considering the ankle.  And the coach knew about the ankle via the physio.  So you can imagine my surprise when he told me that I would not be continuing my trial.  He told me that I was more of a 2nd striker, not a “#9” which is what they are looking for.  That’s fine, in fact it’s true, but how would he know that?  I had only trained for two days and we never played on a full-size field.  In small sided games, there really isn’t a way to play as a #9.  There’s no space to create and you end up playing with a lot of interchangeable midfielders.  In addition, they’ve seen me play at least twice, and every time they will have seen me playing as a winger.  What made them bring me in to train?  And if they wanted me to be a #9 and not a winger, then why not tell me?  You just see me play great then say, “Well, he’s good enough but we’ve already got 5 wingers.”  I don’t get it at all and I feel like this trial was a total waste of my time.  I am not a #9 in the traditional sense.  I can play as a center forward in a 1 forward system, but I cannot play as a big bruiser and ball winner.  I can play the position using my speed and intelligence to keep the center backs occupied, much like I did in college.

I know I mentioned that I loved my time in England with Celia.  Now, I feel like I left too soon.  I assumed that I’d be offered a contract extension from ESK and even if I didn’t accept it, I figured I’d still perhaps be forced to train the last couple days of the month or be fined.  That’s why I left London when I did.  I could just as well have had my meeting with the ESK GM on the phone and not done the Vasby trial until my ankle fully healed.  Nothing would have been different.  In fact, things may very well have been better because I could have shown myself properly when I actually had the trial.  Or sorted out what they were looking for before I arrived.  Instead, I ended up stuck in Enkoping, paying ridiculous money to take a 90 minute each way public transit journey to trial with a team while I’m effectively injured.  If I was going to waste my money, I’d buy the Olympic swimming competition tickets for the very top where you can’t even see the pool.  Not take a train and two buses to suburban Stockholm and back.

Lastly, I’ll go a bit off topic and talk about the Olympic Games.  I have always been a huge fan of the Olympics, in part because track and field always seem to be a big event and I’ve always been fast.  I remember watching Michael Johnson break those world records (200m, 400m) in Atlanta and how crazy my dad went over that.  He ran track in high school and college and admired Johnson’s ability.  My pops also ran with Edwin Moses in high school.  Moses went on to become the greatest 400m hurdler of all time.  I’ve met Moses.  Maybe meet isn’t the right word because I was a baby, but I’ve been in his presence.  I dreamed of running in the Olympics long before I dreamed of playing in the World Cup.

The way things are going at the moment, I have half a mind to just go back to London and soak up the Olympic atmosphere and spend more time with Celia.  I could still sort out a contract after the Games were over.  But I know I can’t do that.  I have to suck it up and make things work.  I’ll be going to Finland next week for a trial and we’ll see what happens.  It’s already been setup and confirmed, but I’ll wait until I’m actually there before I reveal the club.  It’s just easier that way in case anything happens in the interim.

Those of you who have stuck with me for 1150 words deserve a treat, so I’ll tell you an amazing story.  Maybe not amazing, but definitely strange and perhaps funny.  It took me four hours to get home after training today with Vasby because the public transit is much less frequent, meaning I had to wait 45+ minutes two or three times on the way home.  During one of those stops, in Balsta, I was sitting on a bench about 50 yards from the bus stop at like a bus station café, though it was closed.  Whenever I travel I read so I had my kindle out and was reading Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s autobiography.  There were probably five people in sight.  Out of nowhere some lady comes around a nearby corner kinda quickly and brushed my hair with her hand.  It caught me off guard because I didn’t see her coming and wasn’t expected any contact at that moment, so I looked up towards her (she had taken one or two more steps at that point and was about five feet away) and you’ll never guess what she did.

She, in a comedy cartoon style, put one foot like six inches off the ground and farted.  It was the weirdest thing ever.  It sounded like a trombone.  Then she looked around for a second like she was going to sit but instead just walked away.  Keep in mind, we’re not talking about like some adolescent girl.  This woman must have been in her late-30s.  She looked kind of trashy though, so maybe she was drunk or something.  I just figured you’d enjoy that little insult right at the end of my day.  It reminded me of a Family Guy clip:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

London in Pictures

I’m back after a week out.  I had a wonderful time in London and did too much to even begin to cover in this blog.  Instead, I’ve decided to put a bunch of photos from the trip and put captions on a few of them.  I hope you enjoy!
In contract news, I have a meeting tomorrow with one of the top people at ESK.  I’m keeping an open mind for that, but I’ve also had opportunities put forth to me in both Sweden and Finland so I’ll have to take a good look at those.  I don’t want to name clubs just yet because if I re-sign with ESK then they will be irrelevant anyway.  If I can’t agree terms with ESK, then I will take a few trials pretty soon.  I’ll let you know more as I learn more.

And now: London in pictures!
Natural History Museum of London

Bald Eagle: America!



Nice looking Underground station

Hyde Park

Celia and I on the Thames (pronounced Timms) River


Tower Bridge, NOT London Bridge

20-story tall photo of the Royal Family.  No idea why it's in black and white.

double decker bus!


one of the Olympic mascots

Cutty Sark ship and museum

Crystal Palace Park.  Nice looking park full of incredibly trashy people.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Lundun

'ello gubna!

That was my written attempt at a british accent.  The reason for that is because I'm in London!  I'm visiting Celia for the week and taking in one of my favourite (see what I did there?) cities.  So far things have been fun.  Celia had the day off from work so we went towards the city center and visited the Natural History Museum of London.  It was nice, but also a bit hit or miss.  There were really cool exhibits like the one about dinosaurs or birds, but then there were real flops like the fish exhibit or the bug exhibit.  All in all, not so bad. I had a good time.  We had planned to go to a planetarium, but Celia's childhood memories failed her and we went to two museums that didn't even have a planetarium!  We ended up looking like big dummies, but oh well, we kinda are.
Bald Eagle. America!

Celia looks a bit like the Dodo.


The Natural History Museum of London.

Dodo

After the museum, we went to a cake shop that Celia swore was amazing.  Of course as we started to walk there it began raining.  Typical London.  Anyway we got there and the cake was actually really good, so she was right about that.  I haven't had cake since I came to Europe so it was a really nice treat.

As for my ankle, things are improving slowly.  I can walk more or less without a limp now and the swelling is mostly gone, but I still can't run at all.  The pain is mostly now in my leg just above my ankle, so I'm not really sure how to fix that other than just rest.  I bought a compression sleeve for my ankle and a reusable ice pack to things should start to heal faster.

Lastly, I spoke with my Swedish agent and he has a couple of teams that are interested in me.  I'm not clear on how strong the interest is, but it looks like I will be able to continue to play in Sweden if I choose to do so, even if it's not with Enkoping.  I'm set to have contract talks with Enkoping when I return to Sweden in a week, but they have hinted that I will need to take a pay cut and I'm not interested in that.  I can barely get by with what I make now.  I've also got one or two potential teams based on contacts that I have made in Sweden and I'm pursuing those myself.  I'll be sending out a few emails while I'm in London to get that sorted.

In case you were wondering, tonight is a drinking night!  Celia is a 'party girl' so I'm gonna get to see her acting partyish.  Wish me luck in my first night out in London!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Seventh Time in Stockholm

So I spent all of yesterday in Stockholm.  By all of the day I obviously only mean 2pm-11pm because, c’mon, I don’t even wake up until 11am.  The trip was my 7th to Stockholm since I arrived in Sweden back in March, but only the 3rd time I went specifically for leisure.  The Swedish agent I work with got me a couple tickets to an Allsvenskan match between Djugarden (who could use me, btw) and IFK Norrkoping (who needs a bit of everything), so I headed down to Stockholm to visit around for a few hours before the game.

Djugarden and a bunch of geese who were full of themselves.
Now, originally my plan was to do a bit of shopping before the game.  Unfortunately, I never considered the fact that you can’t go into a professional sporting event with shopping bags, so those plans got canceled.  Instead, I decided to walk around areas of Stockholm that I hadn’t discovered yet.  This plan also backfired, because my ankle was still awful.  It was no longer the size of a baseball – now it was a tennis ball.  Still, I soldiered on and for two freaking hours I walked around downtown Stockholm and vicinity.  Among the highlights were a few randomly placed parks, Djugarden and a very odd military clothing store called ‘Indiana Store’.  Djuagrden was interesting mostly for the geese-looking birds who had absolutely no fear of humans.  In fact, they seemed to have a sort of contempt for people who dared wander into their path!  The lone lowlight of the day was the fact that I was walking with a severe limp, and I’m pretty sure people mistook me for homeless.  Between the limp, the hair and the fact that I was wearing a long sleeve button-up shirt despite the relatively high temps, I don’t blame them.
Indiana Store.  Apparently Indiana is synonymous with the military!

Stockholm Stadion: Home of Djugarden.
I met up with Daniel Alund, who is spending his midseason break in Stockholm, and we had a bite to eat before heading to the Djugarden game.  Djugarden play at a really old stadium, but despite that it was an enjoyable place to watch a match.  In the video you’ll notice the poles holding up the roof.  If they annoy you in the video, then multiply that by 1000 and you get the feeling I had during the game.  The game itself was pretty good; Djugarden dominated much of the match but gave up a late goal and tied 1-1.  The wing play from Djugarden was average in my opinion, but then again the oldest winger was 23-years-old so they can be forgiven for not being the finished product.  I took a video of the teams walking out for the lineups.  The stadium only holds about 12,000 people and wasn’t full, but when the fans got singing and chanting it was a pretty good atmosphere in there.  A little Yanks Abroad side note: One of the Djugarden players is a winger from UVa.  His name is Brian Span.  He played the entire second half as a replacement for the starting winger who got hurt.  He did ok, but didn’t see so much of the ball.  He’s been criticized before for his defense, but from what I saw he did quite well defensively.  He also would have scored had he not slipped as he was shooting.  The grounds staff put way too much water on the field and it caused a lot of players to slip during the match.
-----------------------------------------------------------------
For those who care, I don’t think that there is much chance of me returning to ESK after the midseason break.  I have not been offered anything, and reading the papers it seems like the club is not intent on re-signing any of the three players whose contracts are up this month.  They seem instead intent of getting older players on loan who can be like “team fathers” for our younger players.  I think I’ve earned an extension, but that’s not up to me.  The club has to do what it thinks is in its best interest both financially and sportingly.

On the other hand, I’ve finally got some interest from my emails.  I got nowhere emailing top league teams, so I started emailing 2nd division teams in Scandinavia and I’ve now gotten a couple of responses.  Perhaps I will be starting a trial soon!  Also, I’m supposed to speak with the Swedish agent any day now about potential options in Sweden.  Unfortunately for me, none of my good performances in Division 1 came when scouts were watching, so it’s not easy for him to find me something.  That said, one of the specific teams he and I discussed will surely be signing at least 2 attacking players next month, so I believe there’s a chance for me in Sweden still.

Random park in Stockholm.
I don’t know when my next post will be.  I’m going to London on Thursday and I don’t know exactly when I’ll be returning.  I haven’t bought my return flight yet.  The last time I flew into London without a return ticket I was held in custody of the airport for five hours because my situation seemed like a lie to them.  Long story short was that my little “interview” at the customs stamp area didn’t go well (ie. She didn’t believe that as an unemployed person I was just going to England for 7-14 days without a plan.) and my holding cell interview went even worse.  This is pretty much how that went:

Officer:  “Who are you staying with?”

Me: “Celia Moran.”

Officer: “Where does she live?”

Me: “I have no idea.  Somewhere in the south.  I was gonna call her from the train station.”

Officer: “So you have an international phone?”

Me: “Nope.”

Officer: “Then how were you going to call her?”

Me: “I dunno.  Payphone?”

Officer gets up and leaves the room.  He comes back 10 minutes later…

Officer: “So the customs agents tell me you play football, but you currently have no club?”

Me: “Yup.  I’m staying with Celia until I get a call from my agent.”

Officer: “Oh yeah?  Who is your agent?  How will he contact you?”

Me: “Email.  And his name is Farrukh...”

*ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE*

I was in holding for another 3-and-a-half hours after that lol.  Let’s hope my next trip to London Stansted airport isn’t so eventful.

And how could I forget, the daily meme:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Matchday 14: Another Loss

We played our last game before the midseason break today and lost, 1-0, to IFK Lulea.  Just like last game, we played even in the first half and dominated the second.  We still aren’t passing as much as we should be, but that’s not our biggest problem at the moment.  The problem is that we simply cannot score.  We get into seemingly dangerous situations, but often don’t even get a shot off.  In my opinion this ineptitude in front of goal comes from a lack of training finishing during training.  Not shooting drills that have no pressure or defenders and simulate long distance shots that we’ll never take in the game; I’m talking about games that have pressure, but are designed to create a bunch of realistic chances.  Then, when those come in the game they’re second nature.
Now, I’m not blaming our poor finishing today completely on a lack of training.  There are many contributing factors: some good saves from the goalie, some bad luck and some simple poor shots.  No amount of training is going to stop those three factors from causing misses.  However, we only needed two of our 15 chances today to be a goal, and I think with confident attackers we get those two goals and probably more.

After being the Man of the Match last game, I wasn’t quite as influential today.  I still played well I think, but I was severely hampered by an ankle injury I sustained in the 20th minute.  I was chasing a through ball and fouled the defender in front of me.  Ironically, when I pulled him down he fell on my left leg, trapping my ankle underneath him.  It hurt like hell, but wasn’t so bad that I had to come out.  My lateral movement was very limited, but I got on with it and finished the half at about 60%.  At halftime, I took a bunch of pain pills and got an awful tape job and I figured the ankle was as bad as it was going to get.  Unfortunately, I aggravated the injury and was forced to come out at the worst possible moment.  Erik made a good steal just inside our attacking half, and me and Joel made good runs.  Erik played the ball through and honestly either me or Joel could have been in, but the ball was a bit closer to me to I got there first.  The goalie came running out, but he was way late.  I took the first touch with my right foot past the goalkeeper.  With literally no one between me and my first goal of the season, I never made it to the ball.  The cut across the ‘keeper was too much for my injured ankle and I fell over in terrible pain.  That was the end of my game.  From potential glory to devastation in one second.

Despite the loss I think we played pretty well, just like I felt after our last two games.  Of course, playing well means nothing without results, but at least we’re moving in the right direction.  To his credit, Siggi didn’t yell like a madman today.  I don’t know if someone finally told him how distracting it is to the players, or if he simply didn’t have much to yell about since we were dominating most of the match.  He was kind of a dick to me when I came off, saying nothing other than, “You should have scored.”  Oh, is that what I was supposed to do?  I thought I was supposed to injure my ankle and come off.  When I said as much (but much less sarcastically), he just turned away, acknowledging my statement with his non-acknowledgment.  Almost like he thought I wasn’t actually injured.  As if for some reason I would just fall over in agony with the goal at my mercy.  I didn’t take the exchange personally though.  I know Siggi is super-intense and the way the game was going (and the season for that matter) didn’t help anybody’s stress levels.

After the match, I was briefly interviewed by the biggest regional newspaper.  He told me that I played very well, which was nice to hear from a neutral observer.  The guy asked me about my contract situation, and I told him that I was out of contract at the end of the month and that I was hoping to get an extension worked out over the break.  I wouldn’t mind staying at Enkoping for the rest of the season, but I seriously worry about what Siggi thinks of me.  It’s not like I’m on some big contract and I can just “Wayne Bridge It” and sit on the bench collecting checks.  I need to go somewhere where the coach values my skillset and considers me an important player.  I don’t get that feeling at all at ESK, even though I’ve been one of our best players the past month or so.  I think that as soon as we get healthy again (and we will) that I’ll be buried on the bench.  I know that Mtaka, Kerim, Daniel and Ernesto are all ahead of me on the depth chart, so when they return to full fitness where will that leave me?  Wherever I play will be based on how much value the team sees in me.  Unless it’s an Allsvenskan team, where I have no problem starting at the bottom and working my way up.  But that would also mean that I’d be earning 3-4x as much at least.  To be clear, this sentiment has nothing to do with ESK in particular.  If I was in the same boat on the first place team in the league, then I would leave and sign with ESK if I thought I’d be significantly more valued here.  The more I play, the more I can show my talents and get offers and/or trials in the winter.

So now the midseason break begins.  I find this to be a very peculiar practice, as there seems to be no reason why we couldn’t just play straight through until the end of the season.  Especially in a lower league, it would give players the opportunity to train/test with Allsvenskan and Superettan teams after the season if we played straight through.  However that’s not the case and I’m sure there’s a good reason why, even if I don’t know it.  If I don’t have any trials, then I will be heading to London on Thursday to stay with Celia for a week!  I’ve been to London once and loved it.  Now, with the Olympics on the way, I think it will be amazing.  The blog might be sporadic since I’m not bringing my laptop.  If there’s no posts don’t worry…I’m still active just not near a computer!

Lastly, I’ve started to go a bit crazy with Memes recently.  As a result, I’ve decided to end each post with a meme or something similar.  This may last for a week or go on indefinitely, but I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!  I'll start with one about the universe.  It's not actually a meme, but it interests me.  I watch 'The Universe' every night on Netflix so I'm kinda hooked!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Real Work Sucks


Hey guys,

I have a few pictures that I’ve taken over the weeks that I never posted so I’ll put those at the end of this post.  The only news I have at the moment is that I spoke with my Swedish agent today.  He doesn’t have anything for me at the moment, but we discussed my possible Swedish options.  I won’t go into what those are, other than the possibility that I will stay at ESK.  I don’t know what the situation is there, but I can’t worry about it because it’s not my decision whether or not they offer me an extension.  I was happy that the agent called me though.  I hadn’t spoken with him in like six weeks and I was beginning to wonder where the hell he was.  At least now he’s had a chance to hear my thoughts and ideas about what my future holds.  I’ve said it before and I believe it now as much as ever: I’m too old to be on the bench of a relegation-threatened division 1 team.  If I’m playing and contributing it’s a different story, but I think that Siggi has made up his mind on me and if I return then I will spend a good portion of the next three months on the bench.  In my opinion, if I just want to sit on the bench, then I can do that at an Allsvenskan or Veikkausliiga (finnish top division) club.  The money, prestige and lifestyle would all be better in those leagues anyway.

Robert and his brother Mattias playing.
After training today, a lot of the local guys went to K14 for a little night out, so to speak.  I was told that this would be a dinner thing with a bunch of ESK guys and that Daniel and Robert were going to perform on their guitars.  “There will be free food,” they said.  “It’ll be fun,” they said.  Well…this night out turned out to be a fundraiser for ESK in which the players served as waiters for the evening.  We also served as the entire cleanup staff as well.  For those who don’t know, cleaning up after people at a restaurant is an absolute nightmare.  To think that people do this for a living (for minimum wage, no less) is incredible.  I spent about two hours in the washroom rinsing and scrubbing plates, pots and pans and it was absolutely awful.  We did get the meal for free, but then again after four hours of work it certainly didn’t feel free.  Thank God I have a job where I don't have to clean up anything.

An interesting thing happened during the night out: Siggi got me setup to eat meals at K14 for free.  It was a really nice gesture by him.  He didn’t have to step in and make that happen but he did, so I’m very grateful for that.  What’s interesting about it though is that my contract effectively ends in 48 hours.  After that, I’ll be gone for the better part of two weeks then a few days later my contract ends.  Either Siggi plans on me being around for the rest of the year or he simply forgot that my contract ends and has no interest in bringing me back.  I surely overthinking this, so I’ll stop, but that’s what career uncertainty can do to ya.  In June 2010, I quit Crystal Palace Baltimore because of ongoing issues I had with the club.  I assumed I’d find a team and be playing again by the end of the month.  I never found a team and was completely out of soccer and working as a car salesman by July.  I don’t want to go back to selling cars or whatever other ridiculous job I’d surely try if I don’t sign a contract by the close of the transfer window in August!  I need to find a team, and as of right now the clock is ticking.  50 days and counting…
The entrance to Enavallen (our stadium)

I took this the night we all went out drinking.  This picture was as I was walking home and was taken at 3:30am.  The sun's already up!

Warning sign for the elevator.  Apparently there's a big risk of breaking your neck.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Matchday 13: The Great Green North

Lulea
It’s legitimately hot today.  At least in my room it is.  You see, there doesn’t seem to be air conditioning anywhere in this country.  Instead every place has really big windows.  You rarely see the double hung type windows that seems to be on every house in America.  Anyway it’s hot and I have no A/C, so I’ve been forced to open both my windows and my curtains.  This, for better or worse, has caused me to see some things that I’d rather not know were happening right outside my place.  One positive thing is that I saw the greatest thing anyone could possibly see in Enkoping: an old man walking a cat.  Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’ve never ever seen a person walk a cat.  What joy is there for either party?  The guy was forced to just drag the cat along, and the cat seemed like he had no interest in being outside.  Maybe because it’s actually hot outside.

We played our 13th game yesterday and tied, 1-1, to Lulea.  Lulea is 800km away from Enkoping and less than 100km from the artic circle.  Look it up on a map, it’s comically far north.  I have absolutely no idea how they can afford the travel to play in this league, but then again, it’s not much different from every single team in USL and NASL and they make it work.  I played perhaps my best match of the season and assisted on our goal.  I also drew three yellow cards (one of which was a stone-cold red, no question) and ran the left back into the ground.  He got a cramp in the 70th minute and had to leave the game.  I’ll get to my performance in a minute, but first my impressions of the team.

I thought that the game yesterday was ESK at near our best.  Before I go further, I need to mention that Siggi didn’t make the trip up north because of an illness he’s been fighting all week.  Also staying home with Siggi was our philosophy of near-constant pressuring.  The majority of that burden is carried by the front four players in our 4-2-3-1.  The result is that when we actually get the ball those players have no energy to run and create goal scoring chances.  In Lulea though, we played a much calmer style and were able to have much more possession than we typically enjoy.  Per Ake (our assistant, who was the head coach for the game) did very little yelling during the match and more or less allowed us to sort out our own problems in the match.  The result was that we figured them out and became stronger as the game went on, rather than just running more, working harder, defending harder.  We struggled for the first 30 minutes and they scored around the 30th minute, but after that it was more and more in our favor.  We still insist on playing too many long passes, but I’ve given up hope of that changing without a change in personnel and that seems unlikely. 
Area next to the stadium


I can’t be sure, but I think I felt the liberation of playing without the pressure from Siggi the most of anyone.  I was picked as the Man of the Match for my performance.  When I went to the bench a month or so ago, Siggi pretty much told me that it was because I didn’t do enough defensive work.  As a result, a lot of the running I’ve done in subsequent games has been “show running” where I run real fast and real aggressive to nowhere in particular.  It’s cynical, but my minutes went up every game I did it.  In Lulea, I did the defensive work that the game dictated and no more, giving me the energy to make the hard runs that drew all those yellow cards.  In addition to assisting our goal, I could very well have scored on two other occasions.  The first was from a penalty kick that we earned with 15 minutes remaining.  As soon as it happened, I went and got the ball and walked to the spot with every intention to take the shot.  I would never have taken a penalty in a tie game were Siggi there, since I know that in the event that I missed, he would never forgive me.  In the Great Green North though, I had no problem stepping up.  Why not?  I was full of confidence.  Another player took the penalty and had it saved.  That’s fine, no worries there, but I would have shot to the other side because I prefer to take penalties to that side so I think I would have scored.  The second opportunity, and the one that made me a bit upset, was deep into stoppage time.  A long cross or shot was caught by our ‘keeper who played a brilliant quick punt to our striker.  Lulea was pressing to score and had left only two players back.  I took off sprinting down the field and caught up to make it a 3-on-2 counterattack.  The defenders committed to the other two player so all I needed was an easy pass to be one-on-one with the goalie.  Instead, the striker shot from about 25 yards and was saved.  It was the last play of the game.  I had just sprinted 80 yards in the 93rd minute and gotten myself wide open only to never get the pass.  I was upset.

Today is my day off and the most interesting thing I’ve seen is the guy walking his cat.  I’ve also started to pack because it seems that I will need to be ready to go on short notice anytime after our game this Saturday.  If it’s not for a trial, then it will be to visit Celia in London.  I can say for sure that I won’t spend my 10 days off in Enkoping though.  No word on a contract extension so I have to look for another place to play.  I will be talking with my agents in Sweden and Finland a lot more in the next few days and weeks to figure something out.  As soon as I know something I’ll be sure to put it here so you know too!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bored

There hasn’t been so much going on in good ‘ol Enkoping recently.  We’ve had training a few trainings and a day off, though we haven’t really accomplished much in those trainings.  The only real relevant takeaway in terms of this blog is that I’m back in the starting lineup as the right winger.  I’d say this was an accomplishment, but in reality it’s more a consequence of all the injuries and player departures that we’ve had.  Still, I think I’m a good option there so I have no doubt that I’ll play an important part in helping us get our 2nd win on Sunday.  We play one of the bottom teams so it’s very important that we get the three points.  It’s also very important for me to play well, because I need to get a new contract.  If ESK doesn’t offer me one, then I need a few more good performances to help me get opportunities elsewhere.  There’s no news on my contract situation at the moment.  As soon as I hear something I’ll let you know.  At the moment my Swedish and Finnish representatives are MIA, so I’m feeling a bit alone in this process right now.  I’m sure they’ll come around though.  I’ve worked with both of these guys plenty of times and they always find me something good.  The saying goes, “a team can have enough defenders, a team can have enough goalies, a team can have enough midfielders…but a team can never have enough strikers!”  That saying is very true, so I know I’ll find something.  I’m getting a bit old to be playing in the lower divisions, so hopefully wherever I land will be in a top division somewhere.
On to things that are slightly interesting, at least to me.  I don’t know why, but there seem to be an extraordinary number of old American cars in Enkoping.  I’m not talking 1990s, I’m talking vintage 1960s or 70s Chevys and Fords riding around town.  The drivers of these cars are exclusively high school aged guys, so I’m assuming it’s some sort of weird high school fad here.  But it makes me wonder, how did these cars get here?  Of course, I know that these cars were sold here decades ago and just have survived til now.  They’re also probably the cheapest cars available since they are all in general disrepair.  On the flip side, it’s still weird to see a bunch of American cars here.  Especially cars that you barely ever see in America.

In case you were wondering, I am becoming a bit famous around these parts.  I’ve been recognized around town a few times in the last week!  Everyone loves a Yank Abroad!

Sadly, that’s all I have for now.  Like I’ve said a few times before, I live a life of total boredom.  I wish more interesting things happened here, but they don’t.  Soon the transfer window will open again and my life will get (for better or worse) a lot more interesting.  Stick with me until then.  Things will get more entertaining!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Party People and Where's the Beef?!

S’up. 

I'm so gangsta. 

It’s been three days since I posted last, and I actually have some stuff to talk about!  Not important stuff, mind you, but random biased opinion!  If you were expecting more then you have comically overvalued my commitment to journalistic integrity.  This blog is more or less a gossip column about people you don’t care about.  In short my target audience is people who want to know about the European soccer experience so badly that they’re willing to sift through the boring tidbits of my daily life to get to some useful information every few days.  Today isn’t that day my friend, but I think you’ll be entertained all the same.

On my contract situation, I still don’t know anything.  ESK haven’t spoken to me about anything so I assume that decision will come later.  Meanwhile, I sent my Swedish agent an email today just to set up a time to meet.  I asked him to put out feeler for me, while passive aggressively suggesting who those feelers should go to first.  We’ll see if he comes through.

Now I wrote about the game and how it didn’t go so well and why I thought that was.  Well, after the game we decided that the only way to sort things out was to…go and get really drunk.  And we did; at least I did.  I was reintroduced to the idea that if you drink 7 beers while sitting down, then when you stand up you will feel like you drank 100 beers.  I was also reintroduced to the awful taste of hard alcohol, clear and dark.  Lastly, I learned that when Enkoping parties, they party as a community, so if you get really drunk expect to see every single person you’ve ever met in the city all at once.

The night started not long after the game.  Most of the team met at one of the guy’s house and played drinking games on the deck.  It was nice to hang out with the team.  I saw some guys who I never expected to see outside of training like Mica Tuhkanen, so it was nice to hang out with those guys.  After a few hours, we went to the city center.  There was a concert with the artist Laleh (the one who won the Motherf*cking Eurovision Song Contest) and a Swedish rapper named Timbuktu.  We got there after the concert was over, but we STILL had to pay 250SEK to get in!  Essentially, they put a fence up around public space and charged me $40 to get in, and like a chump I paid it.
Me and "the gang" looking exactly how we felt.

Once inside though, we had fun.  We went to a club-type place and danced for like an hour.  I took this picture inside the club and it pretty much explains how things were going at the time.  The girl’s name is Lina and along with her sister, Stina, is kind of like a new member of the gang.  It used to be Me, Robert, Fabian and Daniel, but now Fabian’s gone (he moved to China to work with his brother’s company) and has been replaced by Lina and Stina.  Lina wasn’t invited to the photo but popped in anyway!  Also you may notice the new face in the back: that’s Robert’s brother, Mattias.  Mattias played for ESK last year and since then has made incredible upward progress to the Atletico Madrid reserve team.  He has even had 1st team offers in the top two leagues in Spain.  Living in Madrid, he knew how to party and thus was in much better shape than me.  I wanted to go home, but I got peer pressured into going over to Emil Strok’s house to drink some more.  On the way I made this video.  Please note that there is nothing to be learned from this video.  I didn't really see any reason to put it in the blog other than the faces that Joel and Robert make starting at 0:50 of the video.  Enjoy! 
Twenty minutes after the video, me and a couple of other guys gathered on Emil's balcony around this:
Tequila, whisky and vodka.  WHY???

Needless to say, that was bad news.  I went home and got in bed.  Two hours later I woke up and puked.  Then I slept for another 8 hours and woke up early Sunday evening.  Eggs and bacon saved the day.

The next day at training I got my pay for the month of June. 

*warning*  If you don’t like listening to my moaning and complaining then the post is over for today.  If you’re like me and take joy in hearing about the tedious problems of other people’s lives, then I’ve got a treat for you today….

So I get my pay for June and I start looking at the receipt (or whatever they call the thing that says where all your money has gone that you aren’t receiving directly) and I see:

Taxes – 2850 or so

Rent – 4000 (I still don’t have a shower or cable.  I gave up on those dreams weeks ago.)

Restaurant – 1500

Wait, what?

I haven’t gotten a single meal from a restaurant since I’ve signed my contract, and three months later they’re still deducting the money from my check?  Sensing my opportunity I chased after the guy who gave me the money and asked about the mystery deduction.  He sent me to Stefan and we had a conversation.  It wasn’t an argument and I don’t want to say things got heated, but they were contentious and perhaps a bit combative.  I pretty much was arguing that since I never have gotten a meal from a restaurant that I should get the money reserved for the meals.  Stefan told me that the club didn’t have the money to do that and that I needed to go to the restaurant.  My response was that’s fine, but I should still get the money for the food I didn’t receive in April, May and June.  Not to mention that the restaurant wasn’t even open in June because it had a fire.  His response translated roughly to, “tough titties.”

The club, he said, doesn’t have any money so the meal plan is the only possibility.  Not taking the meals is not possible because presumably the club can’t spare the 1500SEK each month.  But wait a second…didn’t two players just leave the club?  Surely their combined salaries were over 1500SEK.  How would we have survived if they had stayed?  The answer is simply the business of soccer:  If you are wanted then there is always money.  If you’re not a priority then money is always tight.

That’s not actually a big problem for me.  I know that there are a handful of players at this club who would NEVER have had to have the sort of conversation I had with Stefan.  But then again, what have I done for this club?  I’ve been here 15 weeks and we have 4 points.  I haven’t scored a goal in the regular season.  I understand that I’m not gonna be able to convince the people at the top to pay me the money, even though it is rightfully mine.  I just wish they wouldn’t hide behind the “We have no money” line.  I would bet that 2-3 new players get brought in in August with all the money ESK doesn’t have.

I’ve ranted enough.  There’s not much to report from the last two days of training other than the fact that we have about 13 healthy bodies at the moment.  Should make for an interesting trip to Lulea this weekend – the only game we have to fly to.
In case you were feeling kind of down for any reason, I leave you with delightful photobomb: