Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fixture Congestion

I said I’d get back around to talking about fixture congestion in Finland, and now seems as good a time as any since my computer won’t let me add any pictures to make my other posts more interesting.  All text Tuesday!

I am really confused about the hierarchy of Veikkausliiga who has decided to put this schedule together.  Everything about Finland flies directly in the face of a 33 game season, and I’m going to painstakingly go over a few of them:

#1 The weather in this country means that the season can’t possibly start any earlier than it does.  We also can’t go much further past the end of October and ensure playable weather.  I saw a story over the winter that this would be the longest Veikkausliiga season in terms of days from start to finish.  Still, we have six games from May 6-26?  We have potentially eight games in July?  From playing SJK near the last day of March, we at VPS were looking at the possibility of playing 33 league games + up to 4 cup games + at least 2 UEFA games.  That’s 40 games between the League Cup final and season finale.  In reality, it’s 37 (plus 2 for each round we advance in Europe) for us in a 7-month span.  37 in 7  months doesn’t sound unreasonable, but that doesn’t tell the whole story because Finland inexplicably takes international breaks despite being a summer league and having only a handful of full internationals in the league.  Add in holidays and we have a week off to start May, a week off to start June, A week off in September and a week off in October.  Yup, a full month of week-long breaks in a 7 month season.  That means that our 37 games are effectively played in six months, a rate of 6 per month.  Six games per month is roughly the rate that Chelsea plays, but they have a squad of 25 + capable youth players, which brings me to my next point.

#2 The nature of the finances of every club in Finland means that squad sizes are small.  I would guess that no team other than HJK will use more than 20 players this season.  VPS only has 20 players anyway I think.  With that understanding, why are we playing a 33 game season?  Why are we forcing clubs with limited budgets to trot out the same 11 guys 6-7 times a month until they inevitably get injured?  Why are teams playing three games in eight days, almost guaranteeing that the last one will be an awful game?  None of it makes any sense.  The best argument I can think of is that a 33 game season means 16 or 17 home games and more revenue.  Fair enough, but how much revenue is lost by playing a game on a Monday or Tuesday rather than a Saturday or Sunday?  We have 17 home games, but 8 of them are not on a Saturdays or Sundays (though 2 more are on Fridays).  In the solution I will pose later, we would have weekend matches in the league almost exclusively.

#3 The League Cup makes absolutely no sense.  We play all the teams around us twice and then play them three more times in the season.  By October we will have played SJK six times in eight months.  That’s not beneficial for anyone.  The League Cup also is a tournament that demands that it be taken seriously, while providing no incentive to do well.  We got a bye into the last 16 of the Finnish Cup by making the Legue Cup final, but we played three extra games in the League Cup to play two less in the Finnish Cup.  Not to mention that the League Cup forced us to travel to Mariehamn and play an outdoor match in 0 degree weather.  Even worse, the League Cup hinders teams’ ability to look at test players in a competitive environment.  Sure you can have a few each game, but the schedule is often so full that there’s no chance to look at five or six test players in their own non-competitive environment.  

In addition to all the previous problems, which amount to more personal preference than actual provable hindrance, is the discouraging of trying new things.  Preseason is a time for a coach to implement a plan for the season.  It is also a time to try new things to see if they work.  The League Cup commitment means that from the beginning of February until the season opener there is no chance to experiment without A) risking a loss in a tournament that has psychological meaning if nothing else or B) showing your hand to another team that you will compete with in the season.  I think this has prevented teams in this league from adjusting or evolving their tactics over the years.

The last thing about the League Cup that I’ll complain about is that it prevents teams from going away for preseason training camp.  I know that some teams still do it, but that is dependent upon them losing in the League Cup.  For VPS this year there wasn’t a single 10 days period after Feb. 1 for the team to go away on a preseason training camp.  I know a training camp abroad is not necessary for success, but of all the places in the world that you’d want to fly away from in a preseason, Finland in February has to be near the top of the list.

So I’ve talked enough about the problems, time for my solution.  It’s not novel, just a common sense approach.  Add two teams to Veikkausliiga (Welcome back JJK and Haka!) and play a simple round robin schedule of 26 games.  For the non-math majors out there, that means that a weekend-only schedule would span six months.  Throw in the same month worth of international breaks that currently exist and you have exactly the same 7 month season length that we have now.  It’s honestly that simple.  If I was in control, the top two teams from Division 1 this year would be promoted to Veikkausliiga, and the bottom team in Veikkausliiga would play a relegation playoff with the 3rd place finisher in Division 1.  Now we have 14 teams.  I’d also eliminate the League Cup entirely because it’s dumb.

Why this would work:

Teams would have more time to train and produce the best possible product on the field. Presumably, that is the goal of Veikkausliiga, since it surely isn’t earning money.  If that were the goal, then we’d never play on a Monday under any circumstance (the obvious exception being if the league had a lucrative television contract that demanded a certain amount of nights a week having games, ie. Sweden and Denmark).  I don’t know how our game is going to go against Honka on Monday, but I can guarantee that it will be a game between two tired teams.  In general that leads to worse games than those between well rested sides.

A schedule like this would also make it easier for teams to compete with relatively small squad sizes.  When I say compete, I don’t necessarily mean that teams with small squads will do better.  Instead I mean that those teams will be able to give a better effort in every game, rather than playing games in which half the team is tired before the opening kickoff.  This is better for competition throughout the league, as well as for moral of the players and fans.  To use the Honka game next Monday as an example again, I’m sure that each team will be using 7 or more players that played 90 minutes the Friday before.  There’s no chance that those players will be 100% fresh for the game, meaning that they are more likely to play less than their best soccer.  A 26 game schedule would not mean that no teams would ever play on less than a week’s rest, but it would eliminate stretches of six games in less than three weeks like VPS is going through now.

The elimination of the League Cup is so self-explanatory that I won’t even go into it further.  If a preseason league-wide tournament was a good idea, Finland wouldn’t be the only country that does it.  End of story.  Even money-crazed England doesn’t force such a ridiculous burden on its clubs.

I’m done ranting.  Hopefully my ideas strike a chord with the people reading this.  I realize that it would mean 3-4 less home games, but if you have a job you probably have missed a few weekday games anyway.  The league should at least force Veikkausliiga onto TV here.  Even if it means showing the games for free (or even paying for airtime, as MLS did in its infancy), a tv slot would at least justify all these weekday games and theoretically should drive up interest in the league and its teams.  Something should be done though.  Anything would be better than the schedule we have now.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Not Good

It’s been a shitty few weeks.

Our injury problems keep getting worse, with Lasse and Henkka added to the infirmary.  We also only got one point from the first 3 of our six games this month.  The fixture congestion is hurting us more than any other team, but more on that another day.  And now my computer is causing me problems which is why this post wasn't up days ago. That means no pictures until I can figure these problems out [edit: pictures up]. The only silver lining is that we probably only have to get through the rest of May with the small squad that’s remaining.  After that we should hopefully be significantly more healthy.

I’ve had a weird month, with bright spots but also some terrible low points.  I played a really bad game against HJK, then a good game against Jaro, and followed that up with another really bad game against KuPS, though I salvaged that by scoring at the end.  My inconsistency these past few games bothers me more than any fan might be bothered by my bad games.  It’s frustrating because I was going well in the preseason and the first few Veikkausliiga games, but in the MYPA game last month I hurt my hamstring and since then I’ve really struggled to find my form again.  If we had the squad for it, I probably would not have played these last few games.  My leg feels better now, but I’m still not close to 100% healthy.  I wish my body would have allowed me to show better in my starting role so far this season.

I kind of glossed over the fact, but I scored my first goal of the season in the last game!
I’m aware that I’m not everyone’s favorite player on the VPS roster, but I hope people at least respect what I bring to the team.  The KuPS game was probably more representative of what I am for VPS than any other.  I played the entire 90 minutes on an injured hamstring, one that if I injured it worse could doom my career since I rely on my speed and a torn hamstring could take that away.  I played 75 of those 90 minutes in a position that is not my preferred spot because the team needed me to.  I had a horror show in that position and made mistake after mistake, but I like to think that I never stopped working for the team.  And then in the end I scored a sloppy goal after missing a handful of chances earlier.  For those hoping for me to go away, it's not gonna happen anytime soon after the last result!

The fact that I got the 3 “Lions” medal after the game almost made me laugh, since I was as aware as anyone that my game as a whole was awful.  I guess a goal cures everything.  Being a striker has it’s perks!

Off the field, I’ve been enjoying myself this month.  Vaasa went from spring to summer then back to winter since I last posted, but now we’re having spring again.  I’ve stuck to my pledge to get out of the house more, mostly because I no longer have a roommate and just get so bored at home.  It’s done wonders for my morale, especially when the team is having a rough moment in the season like we are now.  I remember around this time last year we had a game in Helsinki against HJK.  The night before the game we went down to some small town hotel outside of Helsinki and I decided to take a walk.  During that walk in the woods I sat down (in the rain, no less) and almost broke down crying thinking of how much I wasn’t enjoying myself.  The sheer length of the season that still remained weighed down my spirit.  I sat there for like an hour listening to music and just feeling sad, like some emo teenager.  I’m happy to say now that I’m in a totally different mindset.  I just realized a few days ago that I’m 25% through my contract and I don’t miss America at all at the moment.
I’ve also been immortalized in lego form thanks to VPS’ fans!  I know I said not everyone rates me, but I definitely think I am well-liked as a personality.  I also think the novelty of my hair had a big part to play in my selection to be re-created as a LegoMan.  I actually bought three of them: One for me, one for Celia and one for my niece.  I’ll eventually give the one I’m keeping at my house to my mom or dad if they want it for their desk.  I’ve got to thank everyone who voted for me.  You guys (or let’s be honest, with a face like this it was probably the gals :) ) are awesome!

The meme:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

May Day

It’s May!

For most of Earth, that means colorful trees and flowers and sun and great weather.  In Vaasa it only means sun.  It is freaking freezing in this city and according to my phone weather app it’s only gonna stay cold!

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, and last I posted we were in the midst of an injury crisis.  I obviously can’t talk about our injury situation currently as we don’t want to give anything away ahead of the HJK match.  It’s evolving everyday anyway, so even if I wanted to give an update it probably would be wrong.  I actually got injured myself against MYPA and had to come off.  Luckily for me (and for the team) we had a full ten days between MYPA and our upcoming game against HJK.  So now I’m ready to go, as I always am.  Fun fact for all of you: In official matches, I have the longest current streak of games played for VPS.  Assuming I play against HJK, it will be the 43rd consecutive game that I’ve appeared in for the club.  That streak goes all the way back to my debut against IFK Vaasa 14 months ago.  If you don’t like watching me play, well then tough titties because I’m always fit! (Famous last words…)

We had a free weekend and I took that opportunity to do absolutely nothing.  I’ve made a decision to leave the house on every off day, so I did that, but mostly I just sat at home and watched Netflix and played Playstation.  I’ve been playing a lot of Battlefield 4 online recently, and somehow I continue to be terrible at it.  For those who don’t know, Battlefield is a series of war video games and they have teams online.  I play and just get killed repeatedly.  In my last round I played, and this is 100% honestly true, I got killed 4 times in 10 minutes by a player whose username included “Samantha1999”, suggesting that I’m worse at Battlefield 4 than a high school girl.  If you’re worse than a high school girl at anything, then it’s a surefire sign that maybe you should be doing something else with your time.

The past week of training was pretty good, though it was a bit surreal since so many guys are in various stages of recovery from injury.  We’ve had our fair share of injuries, but it’s evened out by the fact that HJK had to play the Finnish Cup midweek, so they’re be a bit stretched as well.  I don’t have much to say about the game really; we know how good HJK can be, but the group we’ve got have played HJK well for a few years now.  We don’t have a fear of HJK that I think hinders a few teams that play them.  It should be a good one!

A bouncyhouse!  Half of my childhood was spent in those things.
I went to the center of May 1 to enjoy the city.  I think that May 1 is Finland’s Independence Day, though I don’t know who they got independence from.  I assume Sweden or Russia.  Anyway, I made a point of actually going to the center for the festivities this year since last year I got super drunk the night before and didn’t leave my house until 5pm.  It was a good time in the center; I’ve never seen so many people in one place in Vaasa.  I wish the center was like that more often.  It would be fun just to go down and hangout.  One of the great things about the biggest cities in Europe is that they have big markets or squares that dependably host a ton of activities.  For a foreigner like me, having a place like that would be great.  Anytime I got bored I would just head to the square.  That makes such a difference.

The games come thick and fast now so I’ll try to post a bit more often than I have been.  Life in general seems to pick up when we’re playing more games so that should lead to more to talk about.  Come support us against HJK!

The meme, for the brainiacs out there: