Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Matchday 7-9: So many games

It’s been quite a long time since I posted here, and boy has a lot happened.  Now if you’ve been wondering why I’ve written so little this month there is a simple answer: life just hasn’t been that interesting.  We’ve had games twice a week for the last month and we’re continuing on the same pattern.  That pretty much means that I have no life.  I can’t go out to bars or even the beach because I have to constantly recover from the previous game and prepare for the next one.  I could write about what’s been going on in the games, but honestly I think people have their own opinions and don’t much care about how I feel.  Besides, when you’re in the game it’s a bit difficult to be objective about the performance.  I’ve talked a lot about our games in my recent posts and will do some more again today, but in the future I’ll go away from that.  Anyway that’s the recap as to why I’ve been away.  I’ll try and post more frequently in the future!
Sonera Stadium


I think the last time I posted was after our loss to KuPS a few weeks back.  Since then we’ve played a Finnish Cup game against JJK (loss), away to Inter (draw), away to HJK (win) and away to MYPA (loss).  Now I know people are most interested in hearing about the HJK game, so I’ll spend the most time on that, but first I’ll go over the other three games briefly.  I’ll be mostly referring to my individual performances because it’s my blog and I feel like talking about myself.


The Finnish Cup quarterfinal against JJK was an absolute disaster.  I thought that we were totally dominated for most of the game and my performance was the worst of the season thus far.  I can’t explain why, but I just couldn’t get a foothold in the game at all.  My passes weren’t crisp, I gave a lot of balls away and generally just didn’t help VPS to win in any way.  I worked reasonably hard and had a handful of good moments, but that’s not good enough in a cup match with everything on the line.


Later that week we traveled to Turku to play Inter.  In contrast to JJK, I thought this was my best performance of the season.  Not to toot my own horn (which means I’m going to toot my own horn), but I felt like I was the most dynamic player on the field.  I say dynamic and not best player because even on my best day I’m never the most skillful player on the game.  My influence comes from being active and dangerous, which I was against Inter.  If you watch the highlight video you will see that 4-5 straight clips are my contributions.  In other words, for about a 30 minute span in the second half I did everything exciting.  It didn’t lead to anything so that’s a concern, but I was quite pleased with that game.


The biggest game so far in our season though was clearly our win in Helsinki against HJK.  They are the perennial power in the league and have an outstanding home record, even though they lost their previous home match to TPS.  We came in as big underdogs, but I wasn’t sure why.  We clearly have a good team capable of winning any game in this league and we have the league’s best backline and goalkeeper.  Add Anthony in with that group and I think our defensive-thinking players stack up with any group in the league.  When you have that sort of defense you are capable of having great success no matter what league you play in.  We started the game poorly though, and after nine minutes we were losing 1-0.  Things only got worse from there and we were lucky to get through the first 25 minutes without giving up more goals.  From about 30 minutes on though, the game was very competitive.  We made a few half chances for ourselves in the last ten minutes of the half and went into halftime with a bit of confidence despite being down a goal.

Jyrki before the HJK game.

The second half was much better for us, with our ball possession getting better and the game being played more and more in HJK’s defensive half.  I was told at halftime that I’d be coming on early in the second half for Tomi Ameobi and I was to play as the striker.  I thought that this was a great idea since HJK had substituted one of their stoppers and put in a guy who looked like he was 45-years-old.  There was no chance in hell that guy could do anything to stop me running for breakaway after breakaway.  However, Tomi’s play at the end of the first half and first few minutes of the second half earned himself more time and I came on instead for Jesper as the left winger.  The move turned out to be correct, as while we were changing the sub card Tomi scored the equalizing goal.  I like to think that, much like Lionel Messi, the mere suggestion of my substitution motivated the team to play better, but I don’t think I can take any credit for the first goal.  It was a good move to get the ball wide and crossed in, and then good composure by Tomi to settle himself and hit a good shot.  We were lucky to get a deflection for the goal, but who’s to say that Tomi’s initial shot wouldn’t have gone in anyway?


After our equalizer I was really proud of how we played.  Instead of going into a shell and just hoping to get a draw, we played even more aggressively and put pressure on the HJK players.  Ironically, the same external pressure that I complained about in my last post came on the HJK players in that game.  The crowd, instead of spurring their players on, starting to boo and hiss at them anytime something went wrong.  You could just look at some of the players and know that they were more worried about making a mistake than actually making a big play.  We VPS players on the other hand fed off that energy and forced HJK into mistake after mistake.  Finally, in a play that really sums up how good our team can possibly be, we scored a goal.  The play started with me, Antti and Anthony on the left side of the pitch.  HJK had the ball and was trying to go down their right side.  Antti stepped up to pressure the ball and I did the hard running to cover him in case he didn’t get the ball.  Then Anthony ran over and made a great tackle to win the ball and start us going up field.  Antti picked up the ball and ran 60 yards with it, drawing three HJK defenders.  Instead of working together and doing a bit extra work, all three of the HJK guys just kind of jogged alongside Antti assuming that one of their teammates would make a play.  Instead, Antii found a gap and slipped the ball to Jarno, who unselfishly played the ball over to Sebastian (who had sprinted 70 yards to get there, by the way) and “Seba-star” scored his first goal of the season.  It was a great counterattacking move that was worthy of winning a game like that.  When the final whistle came, I learned that this was VPS’s first victory away to HJK in 51 years.  I was surprised by that, but then again Sonera Stadium is not an easy place to win games.
Going for a run the day after HJK.


Heading to MYPA.

Three days later, we played MYPA and got killed 3-0.  There’s a lot of things you can say about that game, but I’ll only mention a couple.  First, MYPA is a really good team, much better than I thought they were.  They were fresh after a 9 day break between matches and we were playing our 4th game in like 11 days or something.  Second, I think that the HJK win meant so much to some of the players and staff that we could never get ourselves mentally ready for the challenge that MYPA posed just a few days later.  While beating HJK wasn’t a big deal to me (I’ve played them twice now without losing), it was a very big deal to a lot of guys in this club.  It was the kind of win that you need to have a week to refocus, but we only had three days.  Hence we didn’t even start playing against MYPA until the second half.  By then, it was 2-0 and there wasn’t much that we could do.

The brofriends on the bus.  There were plenty of open seats but they sat together.

Tomorrow we play our hated rivals Jaro.  I don’t really have any ill will toward them, but if VPS hates them then I guess I gotta hate them, at least tomorrow.  I’ll be interested to see how physical or nasty this game gets.  Maybe a physical game will suit me since I seem to be the dirtiest player in the league at the moment.  I get called for two or three fouls every single game despite not playing any differently than I did when I was in America.  I think I was called for maybe 10 fouls in the entire three years I played in the US.  Meanwhile apparently nothing that happens to me is a foul anymore.  Against MYPA I got crushed three times and only once was anything called.  One of the three times I got elbowed in the eye and the foul was called on me.  Maybe tomorrow’s game will be one of the few that my normal playing style isn’t considered rough.  I hope so.


The meme and GIF:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My First Goal

Well it’s been over a year but it finally happened: I scored an official goal!

that's about right.

Well, that's a little passive-aggressive.
Now to be fair to myself, I spent the entirety of my first year in Europe playing games where my team was being dominated for large stretches.  I also didn’t feature as a striker at all last year, so there probably wasn’t an expectation that I’d score a ton of goals.  Still, to go over a year without scoring is really bad for an attacking player, and I don’t intend to wait another year to get the next one (or two).


Adding even more satisfaction to my goal was that it turned out to be the game winner in a 1-0 triumph over JJK.  The game wasn’t very good for us, but we held strong at the back and snuck a goal.  I could even have had one or two more had the ball bounced my way.  Maybe it was best I didn’t score again, as my celebration has been taking a pounding among my friends and family!  But if they think for one second that I’m not going back to it when I score again they are sadly mistaken.


Our most recent game was against KuPS.  We lost, 2-1 and played poorly throughout the match.  There’s not really much to say about the game as it was so poor, but I do have some general talking points that aren’t necessarily specific only to the KuPS game, but to all difficult games.  First, I heard all week leading up to the KuPS game about how proud everyone in Vaasa was of our team and how we’d have such great support at the game.  It was true that we got a good attendance, but the mood of the fans struck me as a bit odd.  From the first bad touch of the game there were moans and groans.  Anytime something didn’t work out perfectly, there were people calling to the field.  Not that there was much to cheer, we did play poorly, but fans are there to cheer their team.  We probably deserved to be booed at the final whistle (we weren’t), but for a team that hadn’t lost on the year we had a surprisingly short leash with some fans.  It felt almost as if the crowd expected things to go wrong. 


I don’t think that fans of teams realize the effect they have on players, especially their own players.  When I’m away, people are supposed to criticize my every mistake (and I make enough to become fan favorites at some opposition clubs J).  But it’s true that the only place harder to play than in front of a hostile away crowd is a hostile home crowd.  Our crowd is far from hostile obviously, but the anxiety was plain to see and I’m not sure why.  We are a good team and we will win a lot of games this year.  We are at the business end of the table.  But that doesn’t mean that we won’t have bad days.  We had great support throughout from GH98 supporters group at least.  “The Geezers” are pretty incredible despite their relatively small numbers.  I’ll take the 50 guys and gals from our Geezers over 500 of the fair weather fans other clubs seem to have.  The Geezers even traveled to Jyvaskala (I can’t be bothered to find the proper spelling) to cheer us on last week.  That’s commitment.  I wouldn’t go to that town of my own free will for any reason.


A second point that stood out from the game was how inexperienced we are in coming from behind.  Now, this is a good problem to have because it means we are normally winning, but I think it’s something we’ll be working on more once we have time to actually train and not just prepare and recover from games.  When I came on around 60 minutes, I was put as the right winger.  But after a few minutes I was switched to striker and I don’t think I touched the ball again.  Normally when we attack we are trying to break down anywhere from 6-8 players.  But against KuPS we were trying to get past all 10 + the goalkeeper and we just didn’t have any ideas.  We have the players to break down any team; between the starting attacking players and the guys who have played those spots off the bench we have every attribute you’d want to score goals: speed, strength, size, technique, accuracy, cleverness, etc.  We’re also getting an understanding with each other that will pay dividends as the season rolls along.  We may not be the greatest at breaking down 10 guys, but hey, even Barcelona struggle to break down numbers sometimes.  If we keep getting leads on teams we won’t have to worry about playing against 10 defenders anyway.


The third and final thought I’ll mention has to do with this game in particular.  For the first time all season, we played on a pitch that was watered before kickoff and at halftime.  While this is normally a good thing, I think it kind of made things more difficult for us.  We’ve been training for three weeks on a bumpy grass pitch not dissimilar from the match pitch at the moment.  As a result, we’ve gotten accustomed to playing on that kind of surface.  With the field watered and a lot of the grass on the pitch still not deeply rooted, the field played very quickly and the ball skipped as if we were playing on turf.  Ironically, KuPS play every game (and presumably train) on turf and had no problem with the surface.  It was almost as if we sabotaged ourselves by making the field as nice as possible.  This won’t be a problem going forward though, because the stadium and the training ground are both getting to be really good.


Our next game is tomorrow in Turku.  I’m not sure how things will go, but to be honest I’ve seen a bit of Inter Turku and I’m not overly impressed.  They have some really good individuals, but so does just about every team in the league.  It’s never easy to go on the road and get a win, but we’ve already gone to Turku and won so why not do it again?  Plus I owe Inter a bit of revenge for beating me at Haka last year with a last second goal.  My season this year is sort of a mini Haka revenge tour, and Inter is the next target on my list!

The meme:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Bromance and Matchday 4

There is a budding bromance happening in my apartment, and I’m not involved.


seems appropriate for my complaining.
As you may know, I share an apartment with Anthony Dafaa.  We get along well and have similar personalities.  We also both are willing to cook and clean so our place stays clean at all times and there’s no problems.  Our only real difference is our taste in music: He loves reggae; I absolutely hate reggae.  Well that’s no problem, right?  Surely he’s not playing reggae music as loud as his computer speakers can blast it 24 hours a day, right? Wrong.  I often have to ask Anthony to turn his music down, kind of like if I was his grandpa and babysitting.  To his credit, he always does or puts in headphones.  Ironically the headphones are worse, because then I can’t hear the professionally produced song, but instead can only hear Anthony singing!  Needless to say, even though we get along great, the bromance isn’t between me and Anthony.  Enter Tomi Ameobi.


Tomi just so happens to live very close to our apartment.  In fact, we can see his place from our living room window.  When he first got here, he didn’t have an internet connection at his place so he was kind of forced to hang out at our place in order to have internet access.  It actually was good for us because we all got to know each other better.  We all get along great so it’s nice when he comes by.  My relationship with each of them though is nothing compared to their relationship with one another.   In like three weeks these guys have become bff’s.  At the heart of their friendship is the fact that Anthony is the biggest jokester ever and Tomi loves to laugh more than anyone you’ve ever met.  I sit in my room watching movies while these guys talk and laugh hysterically for hours at a time.  Sometimes I pop out and have a laugh with them as well, but I’m certainly not in the inner circle of this man-love.  I mention the bromance not because it’s terribly interesting in my life, but more because I know that the fans love Anthony and Tomi so I think you guys would be interested in knowing that those guys are best friends.


I’ve been away for awhile, so I missed a few things.  The most interesting of which was May Day, a holiday that I don’t quite understand.  If I’m being honest, I missed most of the festivities on May 1 because I was a part of some of the festivities on April 30, if you know what I mean.  If you don’t, I mean that I drank a lot of beer on April 30 and slept until about 2pm on May Day.  To be fair to me, I did a hard workout at the gym on April 30 and May 2 so my one night out didn’t affect my performance in training or the match.  I don’t really have much to say about May Day.  I walked around the entire city which was kind of nice, but really it just seemed like a normal day aside from the packed city center.  The real action from May 1 came once I got back home, to see that my apartment had been infested (carefully chosen word, lol) by a bunch of my teammates.  Tomi had brought over his Playstation 3 and he, Bamo Alfat, Karsten Smith and Anthony were having an impromptu Fifa 2013 competition/tournament.  I am perhaps the only soccer player in the world who doesn’t care for Fifa, so I didn’t play, but I did spend about an hour watching these guys do battle and getting increasingly frustrated.  Just as those old at-home laser tag kits ruined many a child friendships, Fifa temporarily ruins friendships of pro athletes in their 20s (except Bamo, who won’t turn 20 until like 2015).  At any given moment of time, the two people last to play the game weren’t on speaking terms.  It was hilarious to me as an outside observer.


I’m kind of burying the lead here, but a few days ago we played out Round 4 league match against RoPS.  More than your average game, there were many ups and downs both for the team and for myself.  First the team got off to a bad start almost immediately with Henri going down with an injury in the first five minutes.  He tried to shake off the injury, but in reality he only served to end his shutout streak because a few minutes later a RoPS player hit an amazing goal from almost 30 yards.  It was to Henri’s left, so he couldn’t go for it, but to be honest even if he hadn’t have been hurt it would have been useless to try and save that shot.  It would have taken two goalies to keep it out.  Another down note for the team came later, when Tomi aggravated his ankle and was forced to come off.  Fortunately, he was able to get on the end of a…let’s call it a “cross” from Toni Bjork (It was clearly a terrible shot haha).  After 27 minutes he was the second player to have to be substituted.  From there though we played great and were able to fight back and win 3-1, despite me having a goal wrongly(wrongfully?) disallowed for offside and a missed penalty kick.  The team showed a lot of heart and proved yet again that we will be a force in this league.  We may not necessarily be the best team in the league, but I don’t think too many people are looking forward to VPS on their schedule.


As for me, the game also had highs and lows.  I started out with the bold and brave move to sit on the front row of the bench.  Usually this row is reserved for the staff, but I got my seat early and held strong through some confused looks from doctors and coaches.  In many ways I’m like the Rosa Parks of the VPS bench.  Don’t call me a hero, I’m just trying to pave the way for the people who come after me J. (note: You can call me a hero if you want.)  I started the game on the bench which no player likes to do, but I ended up coming on much sooner than anyone planned.  I scored a goal which got called back for offside, even though the video shows that I timed my run perfectly to Sebastian’s shot that deflected into my path.  I also drew a penalty kick through sheer hustle going after a ball that most players on the pitch assumed was gonna land out of bounds.  I’m fair with myself though and I realize that there were plenty of bad things about my game as well.  I didn’t provide enough movement for the team when I first came on or at the very end when I was a bit tired.  I also had some touches that would be more at home at the donkey World Cup than in a professional soccer game for humans.  I also should have done more to pressure RoPS’ center backs, as they were essentially just defender versions of me: strong, fast but with the occasional (and predictable) poor touch/pass.  If I would have worked harder on defense I’m sure I could have caused them more problems.  That said, I think those defenders are happy to know that they won’t be seeing me for another couple of months.
my goal: STOLEN!


Lastly, I’ve got mention again that my work in the gym is paying off.  I’ve never really been a huge gym person, but since I’ve been in Vaasa I go all the time.  I haven’t taken more than 3-4 days off since I arrived and it’s really helping my game.  When I first came on last game I created a chance out of nothing just because I was stronger than my opponent.  Someone (Jyki I think) played a long pass into the box.  I went up with the center back, and even though he won the header, I put enough force into the challenge that the ball fell to me.  I should have chipped the goalie, but instead I went for power and didn’t hit it right.  Later when I drew the penalty I used my increased strength to get the ball off the center back on the line and then fight him off.  He was forced to make a terrible slide tackle because he simply couldn’t body me off the ball.  Without weight training I’m sure he would have pushed me off the ball either on the sideline or somewhere outside of the box.  It would have still been a foul, but not a penalty which is obviously a significantly higher chance to score.  Those are just two examples of ways my strength training has created chances that I otherwise would not have.  Even though they didn’t lead to any goals last game doesn’t mean that I won’t get some going forward.  Anyway, I don’t have a bike yet so my plea for a ride to the gym still stands.  Feel free to honk your horn and offer to drive me.  I’ll be the only guy in the history of Vaasa walking around with dreads and a backpack J