Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Structural Integrity

Laurie Bell, a captain on the 2014 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website.

Today is his third entry of the year as he chronicles the adventures of the team during his senior campaign.

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Inconsistent, haphazard and intermittently impressive: adjectives as applicable to my blogging as they have been to our performances this season.

But after eight games without victory, we finally put together a showing befitting the talent we believe lies in our squad on Saturday. We played excellently and won 2-0. Upon the final whistle, a collective sigh of relief resounded round the stadium, and Panther players, coaches, parents and dogs released long-banished post-game smiles. Lo and behold, with the result, goal, and a new MacBook Air, my creative blogging juices flow once more.

Petter netted the opener with a fine first half header from a cross by converted full back Horvat. In a mixed season defensively, Aaron’s consistency in the new position – after playing his whole career as a forward – has been commendable. Luke Goodnetter’s long ball assisted our second and match-securing goal.

Keeping things clean at the other end, Liam Anderson and our back line nullified the opposition attack, giving us a complete team performance. The superstitious stopper claimed his good luck charm was a bacon, onion and barbeque pizza he treated himself to on Friday night – not a pre-match ritual the rest of us will be joining you in, mate!

Results or not, our team morale has been remarkably high all year. I think it’s because we understand that we’ve rarely been outclassed. Scorelines don’t lie, and conceding goals without scoring is recipe for unsatisfactory soccer. But losses have often been by margins as narrow as a Norwegian’s calves – just check out Magnus Flaatedal’s lower leg muscles to see what I mean.

And so we have kept a buoyant locker room, which has been heartening to be involved in. There have been times of testy tempers, but that is part of sport. A group of twenty-five testosterone-filled footballers will inevitably boil over on occasion, even when the going is good. But our togetherness has stayed intact, and will have to remain that way as we approach the season’s climax.

We have five games left. That’s frightening. With victories from those matches, we can extend that number to include post-season games, which puts this senior a little more at ease. Knowing my college years are almost over adds extra importance to each date on our schedule. The leaves have almost all fallen on the ground.

If it felt like Saturday’s first conference win lay the foundations for the rest of our year, then we’ll have to construct the floors, ceilings and roof pretty quickly. But ours is a group with structural integrity. And I’m betting, with everybody working to the same tune, we can still build something special.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Meaty Milwaukee Match-Up

Laurie Bell, a captain on the 2014 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website.

Today is his second entry of the year as he chronicles the adventures of the team during his senior campaign.

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Demolishing a plate of baked beans on toast on my final Milwaukee Cup morning, I was struck by the bloglessness of recent Panther weeks. So here’s an update and look-ahead, as our season approaches its third-way stage.

Six games in, we have three wins and three losses. While the wins were convincing, inconsistency is not acceptable. We are a young and renovated team, but familiarity is coming and the talent is there. Our beefed up non-conference schedule this year has featured three top-25 ranked teams already, providing high-level opposition to measure ourselves against. We faced two this weekend on our trip to Washington D.C., without recording a result.

At least we saw the White House.

An easy analysis goes that we have fallen short against strong opponents. It’s true that we didn’t play many of the likes of Oregon State, George Mason or American during our blistering start to last season. But playing in and watching back our recent games, it’s clear that we have not been outclassed. We haven’t struggled to compete, and for long periods we dominated.

However, we learned that such teams are less forgiving. Typically, our mistakes have been punished with goals, and we haven’t been ruthless enough in attack. We must now inject ourselves with the lethal streak that pumped through our opponents.

So we’re 3 and 3, with the meat of the season still to come and a filet mignon of a fixture tonight.

Form goes out the window in a derby match. It’s a common sporting cliché that is fortunately rooted in absolute truth. And tonight we will be running on passion, heart and, personally, beans on toast at Valley Fields against rivals Marquette. When kick off rolls around at 7 p.m. we will be ready.

The Milwaukee Cup turns 41 this evening and after giving the trophy some fresh birthday air on the sidelines, we plan to return it, polished and rejuvenated, back to Coach Kelderman’s office shelf, where it has glittered for the past year.

In my time at UWM, I’ve won the cup twice, and heartbreakingly had it snatched away in the final second the last time we played at Marquette. Those of us involved that night still feel we owe our opponents one, and finishing my career with three servings of bragging rights would sit well.

This is a rivalry game unlike any I have ever been a part of, and it’s a special date on the College Soccer calendar. When I’m no longer a Panther in participation but only in spirit, I’ll miss these fixtures enormously. Which makes tonight especially poignant, and by the sounds of it the atmosphere will be incredible.

The Milwaukee Soccer Development Group, a band of the sport’s enthusiasts pushing for a professional team in town, have organized a Milwaukee Cup March. They challenge local fans to show support for soccer by meeting before the game at the Twisted Fisherman and marching together to Valley Fields. For more information go to: http://www.milsoccerdg.org/events.html. See you there, fellas! So with cups on the line both this evening and next Tuesday against NIU, followed by the beginning of Horizon League play, our early season appetizers are finished. The entrée is being prepared: It’s steak, and it will be served tonight.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gameday Trims

Laurie Bell, a captain on the 2014 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his first entry of the year as he chronicles the adventures of the team during his senior campaign.

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Along with free meals, pre-match jitters and the ants in my kitchen, Bell’s Blog is back!

Today we kick off our season - it’s about bloody time. After enduring an endless offseason and trying to care about two exhibition matches, the real thing is here.

We start with a home opener against DePaul. Last year we had a juicy Milwaukee Cup fixture first up, which had us hopping around in anticipation like Dustin Ashley after a Red Bull. Preparations have been more measured this time around, but apprehension creeps in nonetheless as the curtain raises on a fall we have high hopes for - especially when, like me, it’s your final one! There’s a lot of new faces, but there was in 2013 too, and remember how that turned out?

Since we arrived back from our various summer bases, the house I share with Dustin and Zach Stevenson has been a hotbed for Norwegians and haircuts. Peter Ingebrigtsen and Magnus Flaatedal, our new Scandinavians, literally lay in scorching slumber in our non-air conditioned living room before moving into the dorms. And the rest of the team have paid visits in search of new hair styles.

It has become apparent that the younger you are, the edgier you are, with our blonde freshman Reid Stevenson and Nick Moon receiving the most radical cuts. Admittedly, Nick took a bit of persuading to rock the curly mullet that will be flying down the wing this evening. In contrast, former player, Grad Assistant, future accountant and all-round quite old student Aaron Cranfill came in for a business-like short back and sides.

Dustin called in Agustin Rey to deliver his gameday trim, and at almost two o’clock in the afternoon, it seems Sean Taylor won’t be getting his. One notable absentee from the chair in front of our bathroom mirror is senior captain Richard Johnson. After years of dodgy free haircuts, he has decided to start stumping up $50 at a downtown salon because, in his words, “I have a funny shaped head.” We won’t argue Dick.

I look forward to updating Bell’s Blog weekly throughout the fall. But for now, I have a prematch meal at a local Italian place to attend. Woo-hoo!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

’Twas A Season to Be Jolly

Laurie Bell, a junior on the 2013 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his 13th, and final, entry of the year.

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By now, our lockers have been tidied, our boots are gathering dust, and our preparations are for Christmas festivities, not upcoming games. The season is over. And what a season it was.

It’s always strange when the frantic events of the soccer calendar’s culmination suddenly cease. The constant matches, trainings and traveling simply stop. All that is left to do is reflect. In previous years, reflection has brought upon a certain bitterness and regret. Not this year.

Sure, we thought we deserved more from our final game, outshooting and outplaying our opponents in a 1-0 defeat. But there is no shame in losing to a talented Madison side in the NCAA tournament. We had made it to the big dance, and boogied til our feet hurt. We signed off 2013 with swagger – a year that will go down as a famous one in Milwaukee soccer history.

Making the national tournament was one of several goals that we successfully met this fall. It came as a consequence of the biggest: winning the Horizon League Championship.

The weekend we won was filled with as much drama and controversy as our great sport can muster. Thanks to tornados and disqualifications, delays and relocations, we were forced to play the semi-final and final on consecutive days. We handled every challenge like champions, and after a couple of 2-0 wins that’s exactly what we were. On the Sunday evening, we were crowned, in front of few fans and zero functioning cameras. What we had was each other, the team and staff who had operated together so fluently all fall. Each other, and a big old trophy. The gale force Chicago winds carried our glory chants away into the night air. “Campeones, Campeones, Olé, Olé, Olé”

Our other achievements, both collectively and individually were plentiful.

Playing attractive soccer virtually all fall, we finished with a 15-3-2 record, the most victories in a season for the program for a decade.

Four players earned all-tournament honors - MVP and two-time goalscorer Andrew Stone, Luke Goodnetter, Aaron Cranfill and myself.

These came on top of the four recipients of all-conference honors.

Freshmen Liam Anderson and Junior Juarez, as well as Rami Younes enjoyed outstanding beginnings to life in Milwaukee. Bright futures lie ahead for Beau Laufer and Kostas Kotselas too.

Declan Rodriguez, selfless and underappreciated all year, was fantastic throughout the campaign.

Robbie Boyd leaves after lifting the Horizon League trophy. His captaincy responsibilities are passed over to Luke Goodnetter and Richard Johnson, who I look forward to raising more silverware with in the future.

The competition for the number one goalkeeper position will heat up in 2014. Liam shall be pushed by Agustin Rey, John Stahr and freshly eligible, Ryan Onwukwe.

Next year, Kyle Neumann, Aaron Horvat, and Patrick Ruhland can build on their contributions so far at UWM. Zach Stevenson and Dustin Ashley will come back from redshirt seasons to improve us, too. Likewise the strong class of incoming guys will help fill the void left by the seniors.

We all wish one of those seniors, Andrew Stone, the very best of luck in his pursuit of a post-college soccer career. Hopefully he extends the program’s braggability into the New Year.

His fellow departing defenders, Cranfill and Austin Toth, walk through the exit door alongside dedicated four year servants Boyd, James Ashcroft, Luke Davey, Riley Weiner, and Kevin Ferron. The group can all graduate as champions, crying champagne tears.

I’ve won a few honors myself this year. Followers of Milwaukee soccer must be sick of hearing about me. In truth, though I am very proud of the accolades that have come my way, I’m sick of seeing my picture too. But every team member has the award I coveted most. The one that sits in pride of place on my dresser, like I’m sure it does in all our respective bedrooms. On the prestigious glass plaque are three words that cheer me up each morning when I awaken to a day without soccer. It reads: Horizon League Champion.

That’s us. Merry Christmas!

Over and out.

LB

Friday, November 15, 2013

Everything on the Line

Laurie Bell, a junior on the 2013 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his 12th entry of the year.

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It’s post-season. A time when every game is your biggest of the season, and any game could be your last. When your next blog may be a season-reflector or a look ahead to a new opponent. We kick off tonight in the Horizon League semi-final against a tough Oakland side who finished just one place behind us in conference. The prize for the winner: a place in Sunday’s final against UIC.

So, we are in Chicago, stationed in our hotel rooms, each player preparing themselves for tonight in their unique way. We have just returned from our habitual pre-game walk. On today’s wander, we lapped a Super-Target megastore beside the hotel. The journey took us behind a loading dock that smelled worse than Ryan Onwukwe’s dreadlocks after a month without being washed. Perhaps it was some kind of preparatory strategy. If we can make it through that, we’re ready for anything.

A week ago, we recorded our biggest victory of the season, a 5-0 thrashing of Cleveland State. Our defense was huge in ensuring the clean sheet, and five different players notched goals. Ashy, Goodnetter, and myself added to our season tallies, and two freshmen scored their first goals for Milwaukee. Beau finished nicely to wrap up the scoring, after Kostas Kotselas earned an overdue first goal in the final game of a regular season that he deserved more from. Rami Younes starred with two assists and an impressive performance on his return from injury. It was a great way for the seniors to bow out of Engelmann action, and a fantastic set up for this weekend’s tournament. It has given us confidence that we will carry into tonight.

Earlier this week, the Horizon League awards came out. Andrew Stone and I were awarded First Team All-Horizon League honors, and Luke Goodnetter and Robbie Boyd were named on the second team. I must thank my team for helping me earn the Horizon League Player of the Year Award, too. Our whole squad felt rightly aggrieved, after our remarkable season, that we didn’t get more recognition in these polls. But, while they are good achievements, this isn’t why any of us play the game. If our priorities were the pursuit of individual trophies, we would have taken up tennis or golf.

But we are all footballers, soccer players. We participate in the greatest team sport in the world for a reason. To play in a team. To win, draw and, sometimes, even lose together. To work collectively with 25 other guys towards the same goal. The goal this weekend: to win a Horizon League Championship in Chicago. It is what we have worked towards all season, and it starts tonight against Oakland. We can’t wait.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Engelmann Eight

Laurie Bell, a junior on the 2013 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his 11th entry of the year.

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Tonight we can secure the number two spot in the Horizon League and a place in the conference tournament semi-final. We can take our win tally to an impressive 13. It’s a big game and a big opportunity. It is also a chance to recognize the eight seniors who will be enjoying possibly their last-ever game at Engelmann Stadium.

Whether they have been here four years, two years or even six months, each player has contributed significantly to the program and will be missed next season.

Robbie Boyd, my fellow captain, has led us for the past two years. He has given us pace and quality down the righthand side and will be a tough act to follow for future wingers. It was at Robbie’s house that I spent my first week in Milwaukee. So, I thank him for helping me settle in, and also for all the penalties that he’s won!

Riley Weiner has battled through injury throughout his college career, but has still managed to contribute in every one of his seasons. Like a few of the other seniors, he’ll still be around UWM next year as he works towards his Masters. Hopefully, that’ll mean more days for us out on his boat.

Andrew Stone has only has one playing season for us, but he has made a significant impact. His defensive quality and athleticism have given us real strength at the back this year, and his size 12's will be big shoes to fill. We wish him luck with his future ambitions in the game.

James Ashcroft is the only senior not from the state. Although, the first day I met him I couldn’t detect a hint of his British accent and mistook him for a Wisconsinite. A former captain, he has shown leadership, quality and versatility in his years as a Panther, and the locker room will feel very different without his presence when he’s gone. Something tells me the wannabe-American won’t be too far away though.

I’m not sure what Kevin Ferron’s plans are after college, but I have a feeling he’ll do well for himself. On the field and off it, he has a knack of getting what he wants. He also has the coolest mode of transportation on the team. It won’t feel right when we leave practice next year without him zooming away on his retro moped.

Aaron Cranfill, like Stone, had to sit a year before playing his only season for us. But, as our record shows, it’s a season worth waiting for. Fortunately, his goofiness will still grace our locker room next year as he begins his role as graduate assistant. We just can’t shake this guy.

Austin Toth had to play for UWM. He has told me the story a couple of times how his parents met each other on Engelmann Field. His dad was a soccer player and his mother a dancer. She has now made her own mark on the program by baking delicious desserts all fall! A.To is embracing his short time here since arriving over summer after four years at DePaul. His unwavering smile even remains as I regularly beat him at ping-pong.

Luke Davey is a Panther. He always has been and always will be. He knew from an early age he was going to play here, and I believe his plan is to spend his old age watching more Milwaukeeans grace the Engelmann turf. I will miss my locker buddy and we all will miss our devoted teammate.

So, tonight we shall pay tribute to the Engelmann Eight. And before we deal with losing so many big characters and quality players next year, and before they tackle intimidating post-college lives, we will collectively try to help them sign off their careers with silverware and success.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Spooky Soccer

Laurie Bell, a junior on the 2013 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his 10th entry of the year.

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On Halloween-eve we took on Northern Illinois in the battle for the LeWang trophy. True to occasion, the setting was more fitting for a scary movie than a soccer game. The rain lashed down in a near-deserted stadium and just the odd spectator in dark, hooded clothing dotted the touchline. The game was ugly and not particularly eventful. The longer it remained scoreless the more the suspense built. Then, in the 74th minute, we carved open the NIU defense like a pumpkin.

Patrick Ruhland carried the ball down the right wing, ghosting past defenders and crossed to Kostas. He battled with their defender and set the ball invitingly to my right foot. I wielded my axe and the ball went spinning away like a decapitated head in a low budget horror film, landing in the back of the ghoul. I mean goal. Our opponents gave us some late frights, but our defense was monstrous, ensuring that none of our missed chances from set pieces came back to haunt us. We shook hands and hurried onto the bus before any bad befell us. The team and trophy arrived home safely.

Our next and last regular season match is on Saturday against Cleveland State, meaning a ten day space between games. This is both unusual and welcome. Our hectic schedule often only gives us two or three days rest for niggling injuries, which are common at this time of year, to be healed quickly or bandaged heavily.

Fortunately though, our squad is deep this year and anyone who comes off the bench, not only covers well but adds something to the team. This enables our coaches to rotate and rest players without harming our quality on the field. Recently, Beau Laufer, Kotselas, Riley Weiner and Patrick Ruhland have been particularly impressive when they have featured. Kyle Neumann, who has started the last two games, has held his own in midfield, contributing to a couple of wins.

The uninterrupted practice time is also providing opportunity for us to train hard. We are working tactically, technically and physically in preparation for the Cleveland State game and then the postseason competitions, which will define our fall. If we are victorious on Saturday, we will end the regular season with 13 wins. Regardless of what happens after that, we will have had a remarkable season. But we want it to be a truly memorable one for UWM men’s soccer. We have our sights set on the NCAA tournament, which would be a special experience for the players, coaches and the program.

We certainly believe in ourselves, and our record and performances this year give reason for others to do so too. But we are taking it one game at a time. We ask everybody to support us Saturday on Engelmann, and wish us luck on our travels beyond.

Happy belated Halloween!