Sunday, November 15, 2009

All Things Must Pass

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, blogged all season long on the UWM website. Today is his 14th and final blog entry for the year.


A bleak and overcast sky greeted our arrival in Valparaiso, a foreboding omen for the upcoming contest. We stayed Monday night and awoke early for the noon kickoff. Following breakfast and our pregame discussion, we piled into the bus and solemnly rode the few miles to the field. Valparaiso recently moved their soccer pitch to their football stadium, exchanging grass for all too familiar turf, similar to what we were used to at Bradley Tech. The stadium sits in the middle of campus, nestled into a hillside, and the stands, made out of concrete, suggest a nearby Orwellian authority watching over the scenes below.

Despite a strong push at kickoff we gave up an unfortunate goal about ten minutes in when a botched clearance was converted by a Valparaiso player at the top of the box. This galvanized us for the rest of the first half and we maintained an impenetrable defensive front, not allowing a single shot after the goal. We achieved some great scoring chances, yet the pattern of poor finishing continued and we ended the half 1-0 down.

The second half would prove to be one of the most ill-fated and incendiary periods of soccer I’ve been a part of. We gave up a penalty kick in the first 10 minutes and despite (John) Shakon’s initial block of the spot kick, the attacker finished his own rebound and we were down 2-0 before we even had a chance to develop some coherent movement. A few minutes later passions and aggression boiled over and a scuffle ensued at the edge of our box, resulting in a red card for each team. The game certainly opened up for the rest of the half. With both teams playing down a man open space and quick transitions characterized much of the remaining play. We pushed hard to try and gain a foothold on the scoreboard, however, the back of the net remained an elusive figment of fantasy in our last match of the season. Our bolstered attacking formation pushed more players into the final third, yet it also left us vulnerable to counter-attacks in the back. We ended up succumbing to two more goals in these circumstances, shamefully finishing the game four goals down. The only glimmer of hope in this mess of a second half remained Nkuti’s (Ndely) redirected header that sailed past the Valparaiso goalie and into the net. Mockingly, the referee halted my potential celebration (at this point I would’ve given anything for some semblance of positive action to revel in) by calling the play back for offside, consigning us to another goalless, unsatisfying defeat.

Following a shower and the traditional postgame meeting, we returned to the bus for our long ride home. Silence often reigns for much of these trips, particularly after losses. The noises of traffic and the passing outside world remain the only incursions into one’s music, homework, or mental meditation. More than often we travel home in darkness, so the ambience of outside light remains muted, almost surreal. Washed out glows of orange, flashing construction signs, the flickering of cars changing lanes and the omnipresent, stark glare of red brake lights hauntingly operate in a world that simultaneously feels so close, yet also far removed. The illuminated green highway signs offer the only representation of pastel shades in the enclosed, subdued hues of nightlife. Sporadic reds and blues of cop cars and ambulances splash light off of the various objects within the bus, penetrating the internal world of darkness, sleep and silent ruminations.

Strange reflections on this lonesome Tuesday night. Has it really been four years? X number of games, Y number of practices, Z number of hours on a bus. X times Y times Z equals the end product, the summary of my experience. I can’t comprehend the countless hours of my life, all irretrievable, that have been devoted to the pursuit of athletic glory. Was this some entrenched, selfish desire, an egotistical attempt at furthering one’s own interests above all else? Or was there some broader, more universal justification behind those lost hours? Perhaps I’m meaninglessly digressing, yet it seems both fitting and natural to revisit the last four years and attempt to place them in the proper perspective.

It’s interesting how youthful optimism, the conviction that anything is possible, slowly fades or matures with age. I can recall numerous points during high school where I felt completely convinced that I would inevitably pursue a professional career in soccer, no matter the circumstances. To admit defeat, to acknowledge that the dream might not happen never entered my mind, not until the maturity and reality of the real world sobered my unfettered optimism. This is of course, completely natural. In youth we often find ourselves invincible, and only through experience, trials, and antagonism do we come to the realization that there are distinct limits in this world, that progress is not infinite. The universe does not operate on a linear scale; it never has and never will. There’s no economic graph with a steadily rising profit arrow, no cure-all fountain of youth that magically grants immortality. Eventually we all come to terms with these things, but that confrontation often takes time and is neither pleasant nor avoidable.

In many ways, my generation is having difficulty grasping these conclusions and can you blame them? Our current society is apathetic towards politics, skeptical towards religion and indifferent to suffering, violence and injustice. Were we raised to question everything? If so, shouldn’t there be demonstrations in the streets, volatile activism and organization, campaigning and leafleting? We lack a cause to rally around, despite the multitude of problems, issues, and inequities worthy of struggle, publicity and aid.

In this is the monumental failure of our generation, a lack of resolve, an absence of a standard or rallying point. What is there to fight for we ask? Why should we care? If progress and optimism eventually run their course why should we be concerned with reality? Politically, we’re forced to make a decision between taking either the red or the blue pill, both of which carry the litany of negative side effects generally found on the back of any over-the-counter medication. It’s a lesser of two evils choice and if neither option in this realm of true or false represents your views, it’s no wonder disillusionment and alienation run rampant in young people.

Perhaps it’s overwork that undermines the hope of youth. From an early age we’re inundated with images, expectations and ideals. Imagination is stifled, fantasy is destroyed and discovery is rendered superfluous. Some school districts now have children watch a virtual tour of a museum or nature center on a large screen in the classroom rather than take them to the actual site, simply because it saves money. This is the beginning of the death rattle for childhood exploration and individualistic learning from the world around you. Experiencing something, the actual “doing,” is far more important than pedantic studying. We should all learn through action, rather than receive things second hand, whether it be religion, music, literature, politics, or otherwise. Thoreau found out that he could live comfortably on his own physical labor working six weeks per year. He stated, “I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.” The rest of his time could be spent experiencing his surroundings and thinking about that interaction. He was unchained from the pressures of industrial life, absconded from the hectic pace of modernity and I greatly admire him for that. Perhaps Voltaire has the greatest advice for finding contentment and happiness in this world: “We must all cultivate our garden.”

The familiar Milwaukee skyline greets us as we travel up from the south. The illuminated windows of the skyscrapers, in their formulaic rows, gives an impression of austere regularity, yet the shimmering reflections from the panes themselves constantly change as the bus nears and finally passes under, evoking a sense of wonder at man’s engineering and architectural feats. The lake’s cold, dark mass provides a fitting contrast to the glare of downtown, completing the image of Milwaukee I’ve come to expect at the end of numerous journeys elsewhere. After four years it almost feels like home.

I appreciate everyone that’s read and enjoyed my creative output over the last few months. I’d love to hear any comments, concerns, or other responses you may have. Just send me an email at Thanks for taking the time to experience the random outbursts, digressions and thoughts I’ve put in this blog. It’s been a pleasure.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Playoffs on the Horizon

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his 13th blog entry.


The external conditions for our final regular season game couldn’t have been more pristine. For several days leading up to the game, the weather had remained encouragingly warm and sunny, and Thursday night continued the unorthodox trend. A fairly large crowd gradually surrounded Engelmann Field, beckoned by the unexpected November mildness and the promise of an exciting in-state rivalry match. The wind proved itself complicit in maintaining a comfortable atmosphere, never rising above a slight, congenial breeze. By this time of year our field is generally pockmarked with deep ruts of exposed soil, like a vicious acne bout on some adolescent’s face. But this year the clumps of dead grass are mostly confined to the goalmouth, and as we took the field on Thursday night the towering lights above us properly completed my conception of a near perfect atmosphere.

The game held special significance for me, serving as the appropriate finale to my career on Engelmann Field. If the fates turned out hostile it would exist as my final collegiate match, so I approached the normal rigmarole of preparation with far more severity and appreciation, attempting to savor even the trivial aspects of our pre-match rituals. The announcement of our starting lineup triggered an interesting and contradictory collage of nostalgic memories and optimistic future endeavors, sentiments that continued to arise spontaneously throughout the course of the game.

I generally dwell on some soccer-related theme during the playing of the national anthem, yet this time I reveled in patriotic fervor, softly repeating each verse and relishing every historical connection, proving my college education’s useful capacity. I became transported to the American past: Gettysburg, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Selma, Haight-Ashbury. So many events, people, groups, identities, all claiming to represent America and its proper ideals. In the popular imagination every one of these historically pivotal events seems to exist in a bubble, a sanitized and untouchable safe haven, where the national anthem constantly plays, giving the scene a distinctly climatic and movie-like quality. Unfortunately, history rarely lives up to these idealistic depictions. But I allowed myself to endorse this unhistorical notion, albeit temporarily, since it’s far more entertaining and far more appropriate for the scene at hand. For that brief moment in time I became American History’s preeminent archetype: revolutionary, Minuteman, Union soldier, Doughboy, Marine, protestor, revivalist, Black Panther, activist, Olympian, citizen. Francis Scott Key’s 1814 poem, modeled off of a popular British drinking song, became my soundtrack.

Reality quickly returned with the short burst of a whistle and the game began. Madison had beaten us the last few times we played, both in the fall and spring, so we started the match with a determined resolve not to let it happen again. Both teams gained their fair share of chances in the first half, but neither side converted. We began the second half a little sluggish, but were able to avoid a goal during this period of temporary torpor, responding with several strong attacking surges as the half dragged into the closing minutes. Our defensive efforts finally proved insufficient as we helplessly allowed a Madison goal with a little over a minute left. The game ended with a 1-0 score line, another unlucky, yet certainly avoidable, defeat.

Luck would return to our team’s aid, however, on Saturday. Despite going down 1-0 in the first half, Butler rallied in the second to defeat Wright State and ensure us a place in the Horizon League playoffs. Our season continues with a match against Valparaiso on Tuesday, offering all the optimistic hopes and prospects of a championship run.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Autumnal Changes

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his 12th blog entry.


The wear and tear of this sport is really starting to get to me. As the season progresses those little nagging injuries that seem trivial at first begin to multiply. A few sore muscles on their own are generally easy to cope with, but when you combine this with a strained groin, perpetually re-opening scrapes from turf, and chronic tendonitis in one’s ankles it tends to conjure up various self-loathing, fatalistic conclusions about your body’s future well-being. This feeling consistently grows as the seasons accumulate, festering in the back of your mind as a constant reminder of time’s relentless toll on each of us. Now, towards the end of my fourth season, my body seems increasingly in turmoil, conflicted between maintaining the relentless, standardized form of self-destruction this sport requires and longing for a welcome, languorous respite.

The last four years have been a testament to what the body is capable of enduring. During the summer before my freshman year I underwent the first of three hernia surgeries, all resulting from strenuous athletic activity. Although these sort of procedures may seem odd in someone my age, they are fairly common among hockey, football, and soccer players. An ailment appropriately titled the “sports hernia” involves a gradual weakening of the various groin muscles, often caused by repetitive tears and strains and can lead to a more traditional hernia if not treated properly. The surgeon makes a small incision in the skin and reinforces the torn muscles with a supportive mesh to avoid further straining. Following the end of my junior season I again went under the knife for a second sports hernia surgery, this time on the other side of my body. I somehow developed an additional, more rare condition later in the off season called a Spigelian hernia, which is located under the oblique and lower abdominal muscles. My third procedure proved successful and I was able to rehabilitate almost fully for the start of my senior season.

Autumn continues to fade quickly into winter. The once colorful leaves now blanket portions of the sidewalk, offering a comfortable carpet for pedestrians to walk on, almost like a temporary yellow brick road. The air even smells colder, full of a dryness and expectant chill that foreshadows the coming snow and ice. Most of our team bundles up for practice now, bolstering the body’s warming mechanisms with hats, gloves and other thermal layers of insulation. We’ve yet to see a definitive snowfall, but I know Mother Nature will soon indulge those of us that long for a change of pace.

Our last conference game of the year brought us northward to face UW-Green Bay. The Friday game had to be postponed twenty-four hours due to poor field conditions, much to the chagrin of everyone’s trick-or-treating fancies. Despite the delay Green Bay’s field remained extremely soft and sodden, requiring metal studs to properly keep one’s footing. Appropriately, the style and overall feel of the game remained sloppy for its entirety. We aggressively fought hard at certain points to get some strong attacking chances, while also allowing our effort to lapse into a lackluster affair at times. A botched clearance led to a Green Bay goal in the first half and poor marking brought another in the second half. We ruefully ended the game 2-0 down and suffered another bus ride home in defeat. Our playoff hopes hinge on Wright State losing to Butler in their final game next Saturday, otherwise our last game of the year, and my last career outing, will be next Thursday at home against Madison.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Bitter Side of Fate

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his 11th blog entry.


I used to think music had hit its all-time low with the boy band manias and pop diva obsessions in the nineties, but current songs on popular radio suggest that the nadir of the music industry is still to come. The conglomeration of MTV, Clear Channel radio and the entertainment leviathan, Hollywood, continues to mass produce a sound that is gaudy, unoriginal and full of self-perpetuating stereotypes. The robotically manicured voices and rigid requirements for what constitutes a proper “image” eliminate any chance of these so-called artists actually creating something aesthetically or artistically pleasing. Sadly, they are doomed to be remembered as expendable commodities within an industry that cares more about commercial success and advertising than the pursuit of ingenuity and the progress of music as an art form.

Don’t misinterpret this as a hopeless relinquishing of modern music. Every age features dismal pop sellouts bloated with fluff, money and comprised values, as well as truly profound innovators committed to musical integrity and experimental exploration. Commercial success rarely reflects the overall worth of the music’s content, although there are certainly a number of successful artists that have achieved both financial gain and laudable artistic renderings. To find good music, in any era, you need to dig below the surface. It’s also always relevant to go to the source and uncover what a current artist listened to, reinterpreted and used for inspiration.

I don’t want to overemphasize the debt owed to the past when it comes to music for fear of appearing overly nostalgic. Every praiseworthy musician endeavors in some way to disconnect from the past and create an individual, original sound. Yet, some periods of music offer a Renaissance of sorts that bring generation after generation back to the genesis of that particular sound or attitude. Modern music, even the pop stench (yes, it crosses sensory boundaries), can be connected to these strands of innovation and revival. Black jazz from the turn of the twentieth century established improvisation and unique, individualistic phrasing. Delta Blues during the Depression era, with its percussiveness, call-and-response rhythms and penetrating pathos, set the stage for rock and roll. The mythological status of this generation of blues artists is embodied in the tale of Robert Johnson meeting the devil at a crossroads somewhere in the South and agreeing to sell his soul for unrivaled guitar skill. Listen to “Ramblin’ on My Mind” and it’s hard to argue with his allegedly hellish inspiration.

The 1960’s incorporated both of these eras, relying heavily on the blues, and spawned a movement unparalleled in human history. The palpable energy of activism and conflict were reflected in the music, from folk protest ballads to psychedelic acid rock, the theme of sex, drugs, rock and roll certainly characterized that epoch. Appropriately, good modern music draws heavily from this era and a revival in hippie apparel, albeit devoid of egalitarian values, continues to demonstrate our generation’s affinity with the ‘60s culture.

The bone I have to pick with modern pop music centers on the excess of the genre, elements that have emerged at almost all stages in the development of this phenomenon. You know something is skewed when the image is more important than the sound, especially if the topic is music. It appears that rap stars care more about their cars, money and women than originality in rhyming or staying creative in their adaptations of jazz and blues beats. Stars like Hannah Montana focus their energies on television ratings and commercial brand names, not what content is being inundated into impressionable young minds. “Emo” groups, given the title for their alleged obsession with emotionalism, clearly believe that dark clothing, unintelligible screams for lyrics and destructive, mosh-pit mentalities show everyone that their feelings (and therefore their music) are worthy of artistic admiration. If you need all these suggestive elements to convey your message, it’s obvious the music is severely lacking.

Our locker room tends to frequently feature the bass vibrations of sundry rap and hip hop songs, some of which are the worst representations of reality or musical talent and others that are incredibly ingenious and effective in their lyrical pursuits. I tend to freely and openly criticize those songs that really threaten my sense of decency or musical decorum, although at time it’s best just to laugh at the outrageous sets of words these artists string together. Although I portray myself as an ardent and implacable critic with unappeasable expectations and standards, I continue to find worthy music from almost all genres and the ever-increasing size of my musical library is testament to my openness in this endeavor.

Here I’ll retain my obligation of describing our team’s soccer-related events, although I warn you, it was not a very pleasant week for UWM. On Tuesday we traveled south to engage in a border battle with Northern Illinois University at DeKalb. The victor would win the spoils of the John LeWang Trophy, a prize that hasn’t been in our possession my entire tenure here. If I continue the battle analogy further it will unfortunately result in a summary of the game as a “total annihilation,” so I’ll dispense from that comparison to maintain some semblance of dignity for our team.

We started the game fairly well, stringing together a number of passes and attacking the NIU net with speed and audacity. After about the first twenty minutes we appeared to get frustrated and impatient and allowed ourselves to fall listlessly into laziness in the defensive third. We gave up two goals to poor defensive marking on corners and free kicks, leaving us 2-0 down at halftime. Despite the excitement and resolve apparent as we entered the second half, we quickly dug ourselves deeper into an ever-expanding hole when NIU was given a penalty kick within the first two minutes of the whistle, making the score 3-0. We seemed to indifferently confront the next forty-five minutes, watching despairingly as the hole we occupied expanded into a subterranean chasm of five goals against. Thankfully, (Peter) Sanger netted an excellently placed free kick to give us a very small bit of encouragement, and the game ended 5-1. Unsurprisingly, the bus ride home was void of anything resembling a cheerful disposition.

We worked hard in the practices following our dismal effort at NIU, resolving to make up that loss with a strong showing against Valparaiso on Saturday. The weather proved unexpectedly mild and at game time a beautiful autumn night awaited the pending action of an exciting conference match. The first half saw both sides trading several penetrating attacks, although we maintained more possession than our opposition. Neither side could capitalize on their chances and at halftime we entered the locker room tied 0-0. We started the second half better than almost any I’ve experienced this year, achieving numerous chances on the opposing net, while maintaining a tight defensive structure that impeded all early Valparaiso attacks. The Valpo goalie truly outdid himself in stopping several point-blank blasts from our forwards and midfielders. Despite the overwhelming number of strong attacking opportunities, we were unable to finish. A fateful bit of misfortune in our box resulted in an own goal and the game ended in a 1-0 loss. It was a bitter end to a fairly depressing week. However, there’s no time to dwell on this recent string of losses. We travel north to Green Bay on Friday for our final conference game, giving this match incomparable gravity for the emerging playoff picture.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Stressful Times Call for Stressful Measures

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his 10th blog entry.


We’re about halfway through the semester and the tell-tale signs of overwork, stress and fatigue are becoming increasingly apparent. It’s at this stage that everyone generally realizes how much work needs to be completed in the next eight to nine weeks when classes end. In my case, it’s grasping the daunting task of researching and writing three major history papers, one of which needs to be at least twenty-five pages. In addition to the increasing demands of the academic realm I work three jobs on campus, spend two to three hours a day at practice and still manage to roughly throw together a few random comments, ideas, and observations for this blog.

Don’t ask me how it all gets done. My drug of choice, coffee, offers a valuable hand in completing this veritable fury of tasks. It’s a testament to the volume I consume when I no longer shake after drinking a pot of French Roast in the morning. I can’t imagine this lifestyle is very healthy, so I’m looking forward to the day I won’t need such a caffeine boost just to operate normally. However, that day increasingly looks far out of sight. The nine to five workforce looms ever closer on my horizon, gnashing its teeth in preparation for yet another victim. But let’s face it, that’s the trajectory for most of us and griping about it won’t change anything.

Not that I’m opposed to working hard or being successful in the economic world that confronts us, although the magnitude and gravity of this system certainly humbles even my self-assured, hubristic ego. Factors like increasing conglomeration, intensified job competition and exported businesses and industries abroad continue to rattle my sense of hope and optimism for the future, and all of these fears inauspiciously loom larger as I (and everyone around me for that matter) get closer to plunging directly into a system with such stark inadequacies. I apologize for appearing so pessimistic. This is not the time or the place to elaborate upon all the grossly pressing economic problems manifesting themselves in our country, let alone those facing the world at large. Yet, it helps to discuss these things. Simply by engendering debate, regardless of whether it’s politically or economically palatable with your views, aids everyone’s understanding of particular issues, and maybe that, more than anything, can help place my general outlook in a far more optimistic light.

Perhaps I haven’t articulated myself well enough, but I’ve wasted enough time on such mundane and trivial subjects, so it’s back to the workings of our team. Our four game unbeaten streak continues to keep morale high, despite the depressing effects of overcast skies and cold rain. Many of our recent practices have focused on attacking patterns, which involve long sessions of hammering home positional particulars and individual expectations in building the attack. Although at times these drills tend to become a bit formulaic and uncreative, they succeed in establishing a rigid framework for our offensive mindset.

Our only game of the week involved a short trip south to downtown Chicago. University of Illinois at Chicago’s field is situated right below the monolithic, black Sears Tower (recently renamed the Willis Tower). It provides a fitting backdrop for a soccer match, making the game feel more emphatic and exciting. Their pitch is short, fast-running grass and is excellently maintained, even for our game’s position towards the end of the season. UIC generally has a rowdy, slightly obnoxious crowd yelling every number of obscenities behind the opposing team’s goal and our game on Saturday was no exception. I’ll neglect to repeat most of the insulting swill pelted at (John) Shakon from behind his net.

The last few years saw UIC ascend to one of the top teams in both the Horizon League and the country, with the Flames reaching the NCAA Tournament for the last three seasons. They tend to recruit a fair amount of foreign players and are generally a very strong possession team. Although this year’s squad definitely lacks some of the brilliance of previous seasons, they kept possession for long periods and were moderately successful at penetrating our final third. Defensively, we played very well and limited the number of strong opportunities UIC had directly on goal. Although we gave up a large amount of corner kicks and set pieces, almost every chance was easily turned away from our net.

On the offensive side of things we developed some exciting patterns that led to great attempts on goal. Two such chances in the second half came close to giving us the lead. (Matthew) Bewley fired a close range blast after getting free from UIC’s defensive backline, but it was parried away by their goalie. The UIC keeper came up big a few minutes later when a low, driven cross was sent into the box. A UIC defender tried to clear the ball, only to redirect it towards his own goal. We agonizingly watched as the goalie made an excellent, last-minute reaction to touch the ball over the net and keep the score level. In the closing seconds of regular time a UIC corner kick finally succeeded, putting the home team up 1-0 with twenty-nine seconds remaining. We couldn’t capitalize in those last moments and found ourselves suffering a bitter, one-goal loss. We had played fairly well, but in conference games scoring becomes rare, emphatic and absolutely cutthroat. The result leaves us at 2-2-2 in the Horizon League with two games remaining. Strong results in those matches can give us home field advantage for the first round of the conference tournament, something that has eluded our team for the last two seasons.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

We Heat Up as the Weather Cools Down

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his ninth blog entry.


This week has been windier than almost any I can recollect. I’m talking about some serious gales, not the usual wimpy 20 miles-per-hour headwinds. Serious gusts whip up loose debris and fallen leaves, never in one consistent effort, but instead in vast desultory efforts of momentous natural power. As I biked back to my house one night I was nearly committed airborne by the whirling twisters emerging around me. I started humming the Wicked Witch of the West’s song in mock tribute to the Wizard of Oz, hoping to avoid a falling house and a descending pack of flying monkeys. I could almost hear the wind whisper, “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too.” Needless to say, I made it home without any red slippers.

Saturday marked my 22nd year on earth and I feel it’s appropriate to share a few trivial insights. Ironically, Brett Favre turned 40 on the same day. Looking back, that makes him 18 the day I gasped my first breath. I wonder how he celebrated becoming an adult the very day I emerged into this chaotic universe. Some superficial research brings up an interesting story. Favre gained the starting position at Southern Mississippi in mid-September of 1987, as a 17-year-old freshman. He had assumed he’d be redshirting and the night before the game got excessively drunk. Despite vomiting as he ran out onto the field Favre led his team to a come-from-behind victory over Tulane, securing his position. A few weeks later on October 10th, his 18th birthday and my beginning, Favre lost handily to number four Florida State. All this information was taken out of an article by Gary D’Amato called “Life of the Party,” and can be accessed on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website.

It was an exciting day for sports, back in 1987, as the Minnesota Twins played their third game in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers. They lost the game on the 10th, but won the rest of their games to advance and eventually win the World Series. I’m told that my father and other family members occasionally peeked out of the delivery room to check the score, something my mother would hold against them for years to come.

Saturday also featured our only game of the week with us hosting the Loyola Ramblers at home. The temperature had been dropping consistently throughout the week and at game time the thermometer hovered around a cool forty degrees. Most of our players sported long sleeve under armor shirts and gloves to combat the cold. As a native Minnesotan from Duluth, a port on Lake Superior several hours south of Thunder Bay, Canada, I’ve been unusually trained in cold weather tactics, so the conditions on Saturday seemed subjectively frivolous. The only real concern around this time of year, when the air turns cool and dry, is the impact it has on one’s breathing. Extensive exposure to the late fall and early winter air, especially for the first time during that particular season, brings chest aches and rattling, painful coughs. This generally goes away after training a few times in these conditions and the gradual drop of temperature during the week succeeded in tempering most of these traditional weather-induced ailments.

We started the game with intensity and excitement, gaining a couple of very strong chances in the first ten to fifteen minutes. We were rewarded for our hard work around the twenty-minute mark when (Andrew) Wiedebach slipped a shot by the Loyola goalie to put us up 1-0. We maintained good pressure for most of the half, excluding the last ten minutes, where we allowed a Loyola free kick to be re-directed into our goal, leveling the game at 1-1.

At half time I noticed that my knees had stiffened far more drastically than normal. Rejecting the urge to blame this on my recently achieved milestone in age, I concluded that the cold weather had in fact made its mark on my body. In such temperatures it is imperative to bundle up whenever one is idle and then properly warm-up the body again before resuming athletic activity. Appropriately, I indulged in these practices before the start of the second half and felt confident my body would hold up for another forty-five minutes.

We resurged at the onset of the second half, pushing hard to gain the go-ahead goal that had been equalized in the first. The situation arose in a little over five minutes into the half as (Cody) Banks flicked a header into the net to put us in the driver’s seat once again. Despite several harrowing moments in our defensive third we kept the lead and achieved our second straight conference victory. We aptly celebrated with the traditional team anthems in the showers. A full entourage of family members greeted me after the game and helped me finish off an excellent birthday with a succulent dinner of filet mignon at the Mason Street Grill.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Overtime Antics

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his eighth blog entry.


We experienced another downpour at practice on Thursday night. A veritable gale accompanied the constant onslaught of heavy rain particles, succeeding in keeping visibility to a minimum. Under these conditions it only takes a short training session to turn the grass on Engelmann into a sloppy, pockmarked battlefield, reminiscent of the fields in the movie Braveheart. I could easily make some broad comparison between athletic competition and warfare, but I think such an association is specious at best.

I acknowledge that sport certainly requires a great degree of discipline and rigor. At times I feel more like a repressed private at boot camp than a sovereign, freethinking individual. Yet soccer, more than most other sports, necessitates creativity, autonomy, and mutability. The game only stops for a limited number of situations, making most strict, drawing-board plays of X’s and O’s impossible to implement. Outside of set pieces like corners and free kicks, the coach has a fairly restricted role in explicitly “calling” for a particular play, since the focal point of action, namely where the ball moves, is almost entirely transitory. Good players must inherently understand this mobility of the game and be able to adequately think, react and respond to unique and changing situations, without the help of timeouts and the complimentary coaching specifics of other sports.

Soccer is not a game of numbers. It is not a game of statistics. This probably demonstrates, at least in part, why the U.S. has taken so long to warm up to the game. The sport lacks baseball’s litany of pitching and batting stats and differs greatly from basketball’s obsession with fouls and triple-digit scores. One number is often enough to capture the essence of a game, and this realm of subtlety, clearly foreign to many Americans, has only recently gained a small foothold on the other four major sports in the country.

Promisingly, this year ESPN has picked up games from arguably the top two leagues in the world, the English Premier League and the Spanish top division, La Liga, making first-class soccer far more accessible to American audiences. In past years ESPN has broadcast Champions League, World Cup qualifying and U.S. National Team games, but the arrival of consistent weekend broadcasts of these prestigious leagues promises to provide an even more comprehensive picture of Europe’s dominance on the worldwide club level. Most of our players acknowledge the continued development of the American counterpart, Major League Soccer, yet we pay far more attention to the European leagues, simply because the quality and excitement is unparalleled.

As our season progresses I may make incidental references to European games, both to illustrate our team’s enthusiasm for high level soccer and to chauvinistically promote my squad, Arsenal. Don’t expect an unbiased discussion when the Gunners are involved. Despite some significant injuries and two dropped decisions against the top teams, Arsenal remains on the upper end of the Premier League table and has maintained their style of exciting attacking soccer and beautifully scripted possession.

The autumn air was cold as we warmed up for our first home feature of the weekend on Friday night. Following our routine set of drills we headed into the locker room to change into our jerseys and run through any final idiosyncratic preparations. As I ran back onto the field when my name was announced for the starting lineup I felt the cold sweat under my jersey evaporate from being exposed to the chilled night. This temporary shiver was quickly replaced by the warmth and satisfaction of kinetic activity as we started the first half. Our opponents, Cleveland State, traditionally occupied the lower dregs of the Horizon League almost every season. However, in the past two years they’ve drastically improved their program and are now considered one of the better squads of the conference. With a team of thirteen seniors they certainly played with a high level of experience and consistency for the entire game.

The pivotal moment of the game came a short time after the twenty-minute mark when (Zach) Funk got free on a breakaway and was taken down deliberately by the Cleveland State keeper. The goalie was rightfully shown red and Cleveland played down a man the rest of the game. Unfortunately, their newly substituted back-up keeper saved the penalty kick and regrettably set a precedent for the rest of the match. We created an absolute flurry of attacking chances while staying very strong on the defensive end, yet none of our efforts led to a goal. (Cody) Banks hit the post with a wonderfully placed header in the first part of overtime for arguably our best chance on goal. In the closing seconds of the second overtime period Cleveland’s goalie came off his line and swatted a ball out that bounced directly towards my feet. I attempted to chip the overstretched keeper and his backpedaling defenders only to watch my shot bounce off the crossbar, denying our last hope for a final go-ahead goal. Despite having an extra player for the majority of the game we were unable to capitalize on our advantage and settled for the 0-0 tie. It was an improvement from many of our past games, even though we certainly should have emerged with a victory.

The second fixture of the weekend featured Detroit Mercy and felt oddly similar to the Cleveland State game. Although we didn’t harbor a man advantage it felt like we exhibited the higher level of stability and possession that comes with playing 11 on 10. Detroit lacked the organization of Cleveland State and their backline was fairly slow and unpredictable. We gained numerous chances from playing balls to the corners and through progressions up the sidelines that led to crosses. Unluckily, we found ourselves tied 0-0 at the end of regulation, prompting our third straight overtime battle. Only minutes into the first overtime period however, our luck changed. (Matthew) Bewley struck a shot off of a cleared corner kick that wove through the scrum of players in the six-yard box and bounced directly off the post onto the happy and willing foot of Ross Van Osdol. He didn’t miss from that range. We enthusiastically tackled the goal scorer in celebration of our sudden death victory. Perhaps our luck, if such an elusive and arbitrary entity can be blamed for misfortunes, is finally changing.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Into the Heartland...

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his seventh blog entry.


I notice myself constantly commenting on the weather and nearby surroundings, no matter what time of day it is or where I’m located. I tend to include some of these discussions in my blog, simply because I feel they are relatively important talking points when trying to describe our team’s activity. I wonder if I’m merely articulating an inherent aspect of human nature, an evolutionary impulse to absorb and respond to one’s immediate environment. On the other hand, I’m also responsible for narrating our team’s movements and general outlook, and descriptions like these are necessary for creating the proper setting.

Take for example a recent practice that was conducted in a complete downpour. The field was saturated, and with field turf this often results in standing water on the pitch, about an inch of it in our case. Every step was greeted with an oozing gush of water, both out of the inside of one’s cleats and from the ground itself. Sliding for a loose ball resulted in an uncomfortable flood of liquid up one’s shorts, reaching the only places that had formerly kept dry from the torrential onslaught. While our basic reasoning for being out in such weather was to practice, I found myself dwelling on the altered, irregular surroundings. These moments of seemingly sudden enlightenment or creative conceptualization don’t happen on a regular basis. They arise only through scenes of abnormality, and the weather tends to succeed in offering the most significant examples of such variation and tumult. So you’ll have to forgive me if I seem to have a superfluous preoccupation with the weather. It’s not because I’m overly intrigued by cloud patterns or temperature variants. I’m simply depicting what’s pertinent.

The drive to Indianapolis was fairly mundane, with Chicago’s skyline offering the only slight bit of scenic attraction on the five-hour route south. Mile after mile we passed old, forlorn industrial yards, endless corn fields, and intermittently placed freeway “villages,” full of all the fine amenities a 300 pound trucker could desire. I imagine before the highway system was put in place these sort of drives were far more charming and entertaining. But we’ve sacrificed picturesque views for efficiency and speed, a trend that pertains to numerous other facets of modern life.

Butler is situated in a very arboreal part of Indianapolis; lush, deciduous green encroaches on the nearby campus buildings and roads, making you feel like you’re in a dense, rural forest rather than a budding metropolis. The sense of being on the fringe of the wilderness and in an old frontier community is reinforced by the neighborhood next to the campus. Antebellum manors with bleached white Roman columns adorning their facades border enormous French-style estates, complete with built-in turrets and lavish fountains. Hedges trimmed to perfection reach high enough to keep unwanted pedestrians from peeping into the grounds, while simultaneously allowing people in passing vehicles to admire the pretentious opulence. It feels like an old colonial village, accessible only by horse and covered wagon, and these houses represent the land, wealth, and privilege of the aristocracy. I half-expected to see women in homespun bonnets and whalebone corsets, laughing with each other as they drink earl grey tea and read Emile BrontÎ.

The trend of overcast clouds and rain didn’t fail to change as we began our game Friday night in the Butler Bowl. This stadium is built into a slight depression in the middle of the campus, bordered by student housing on one side and the renowned Hinkle Fieldhouse, featured in the movie “Hoosiers,” on the other. In the first few minutes it appeared we would face an uphill battle as one of the Butler players was taken down in the box and awarded a penalty kick. But John Shakon, in a trend that would define him for the entire game, stepped up and made a huge save, deflecting the spot kick over the bar for a corner. We battled hard the rest of the first half, getting a few strong chances on goal without seriously challenging the opposing keeper. With about thirty seconds left in the half we were caught on a breakaway on the left side and the Butler forward slotted the ball into the right corner for the game’s only goal.

The second half saw a renewed push from both teams and Shakon truly showed his stellar abilities, coming up big with numerous acrobatic saves. Shots from close quarters, set pieces, crosses and blasts from outside of the box were all turned away from our goal due to Shakon’s brilliance. We fought hard for our few chances on goal, but were unable to finish, and the game ended in an unsatisfying 1-0 loss.

Unsatisfying ended up being the word of the day, as our post game meal featured the chemically altered, MSG saturated swill of McDonalds. No virulent strain of criticism is comprehensive or accurate enough to brand food of this quality. A double cheeseburger value meal, including fries and a drink, is now being advertised at $2.99, the recession special so it seems. I can’t imagine the quality of a product that is offered at this price, since undoubtedly it must cost around twenty-five or thirty cents to produce. My gourmet chicken BLT sandwich, one of the company’s scaled-up feature meals, had a large, conspicuous piece of clear, rubbery fat across the middle of the breast, giving me the added pleasure of chewing it multiple times before allowing the condensed, slippery morsel to slide down my gagging throat.

We awoke the next morning to find out about a third of our team was sick, either with a stomach virus or some other flu or throat issue. I fought back the urge to blame it on McDonalds, reminding myself that these symptoms have been circulating both the school and our team. I’m certainly not one to buy into the current hysteria on swine flu, but it seems like we may have an endemic within our squad.

We drove through downtown Indianapolis on our way to Dayton and I was pleasantly surprised by the aesthetics of the area. Several large parks run through the business district and provide a welcomed relief from the steel and glass of the numerous financial skyscrapers. Several large monuments, most of them war memorials, offer beautiful sculptures of stone and iron, depicting soldiers comforting children and the personified female figure of “justice,” brandishing the symbolic scales, sword, and blindfold. We passed an enormous obelisk, fittingly marking the center of the downtown area and merged onto the freeway just below the Colts stadium to head eastward.

I succumbed to the trend of an upset stomach Saturday night, spending much of the late evening huddled over a toilet watching each distinct course from our earlier dinner resurface in a far more liquid form. The next morning I felt drained, emptied of nutrients and extremely fatigued. I ate some yogurt and fruit for breakfast, allowing the light meal to settle my stomach enough to play by early afternoon.

Wright State’s field was in exceedingly poor shape due to steady rainfall the previous week. The six-yard boxes and corners of the field resembled well-trodden cart paths from the olden days with large swaths of loose grass poking up from the muddy soil. The sloppy conditions carried over to the style of play on the rest of the field and we found ourselves down 2-0 at the end of the first half. We rallied during the second half and converted two well built-up plays to even the scoreboard and push the game into overtime. Goal line heroics towards the end of the second half salvaged the chance at an overtime victory as several of our players threw themselves into a scrum in the six-yard box to stop a Wright State go-ahead goal inches from the line. Overtime proved fairly uneventful and we ended the game in a 2-2 tie, giving us a much needed point in the conference standings. I spent most of the ride home doing homework and attempting to sleep, hoping to avoid another flu-related “outburst.”

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cloudy With a Chance of Defeat

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his sixth blog entry.


It’s hard to concentrate on anything noteworthy when the September weather continues to outlive all previous expectations. I suppose Nature feels that she owes us some extra weeks of summer, since June and July were so notoriously cool this year. It’s doubtful the temperature will remain this mild until the end of the month, but we can certainly hope for the best. Here’s my prediction. Just to retain the reputation of erratic unpredictability the weather will stay sunny, calm, and relatively warm for another week or so, and then suddenly, without the typical warning colors of red, yellow, and orange appearing in the foliage, we’ll wake up to two feet of snow.

We opened our home season with a very strong opponent, nationally ranked University of California-Santa Barbara. UCSB has consistently been ranked in the top ten this season and a good result against them would be a major breakthrough for our squad. Their team possessed players with excellent ball control, and they were collectively able to move the ball forward very quickly. Although Santa Barbara controlled a larger portion of the possession, we were able to achieve several very good chances in the first half. Defensively we maintained a very tight and disciplined structure, forcing many of their attacking plays wide. Indeed, the two goals Santa Barbara ended up scoring came off of extremely well-placed shots, and there was very little our backline or goalie John Shakon could do to prevent the 2-0 final score. There certainly was room for improvement, however it is obvious we’ve come a long way in our defensive confidence, and when our top defenders play well it is very difficult for the opposing team to penetrate and score.

Our biggest attacking problem, as expected, is simply putting the ball in the back of the net. Our forwards and midfielders continue to work hard and generate opportunities, yet we lack the finishing acumen in our opponents’ final third. Tactically, I believe we have improved from the beginning of the season, although our ability to attack efficiently is marred with inconsistency. We continue to have one strong half of attacking play in our games, but in college soccer, especially at the NCAA Division I level, this is not enough to attain a positive final result.

The second game of the weekend drew Oakland University and there were high expectations that we would be able to get a much-needed victory. This optimism was reflected in the ideal weather conditions, 75 degrees and brilliantly sunny; I practically felt like I needed to lather up with sunscreen. Inauspiciously however, as we were changing into our uniforms and preparing ourselves mentally for the match, clouds slowly blew in off the lake and the temperature began dropping. By kickoff our surroundings had ominously transformed and the overcast sky boded ill for the upcoming contest.

From the starting whistle our play seemed languid and predictable. Our team appeared lethargic and unenthusiastic, almost as if the weather itself had drained our hopeful morale. Collectively, our output lacked the necessary effort and we struggled to connect passes from one third of the field to another. At halftime we found ourselves down 2-0 to a team that truthfully hadn’t earned either goal. Oakland’s personnel had very little to offer individually, outside one strong forward up top, and as a whole their squad seemed equally despondent and tired. They must have been surprisingly elated to find themselves up at the half.

We responded well in the opening salvoes of the second half, scoring one goal in the first few minutes to put the tally at 2-1. Palpably the mood had changed from kickoff and at times it seemed like our optimism had returned. Appropriately, we buried an equalizer with about ten minutes to go and it appeared as though the momentum was inexorably behind our squad. However, this sentiment was short-lived as we despairingly allowed Oakland to gain the go ahead goal approximately one minute after the equalizer. We pushed hard in the final ten minutes for a third goal, but were unable to capitalize on our few chances. Another one goal deficit and our sixth loss of the year, certainly not a result to be proud of.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The West is the Best

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his fifth blog entry.


California has always held a very significant, even mythical attraction for me. Indeed, our country’s history is steeped in this utopian longing for the West, hopelessly enamored with the prospect of infinite expansion. Early settlers were pulled by gold rushes, cheap land and frontier mentalities of limitless freedom. In most cases this optimism was quickly replaced with hardship, disillusion and pessimism.

In many ways the draw of California remains the same in today’s age. Numerous attractive enough young people migrate west to the Hollywood slaughterhouse, searching for similar rewards of fame, glory, and wealth. And, similarly, they meet reality’s unfortunate and brutal fate. But a small number of these dreamers succeed, and it's that hope for victory, what Hunter S. Thompson termed “humping the American dream,” that keeps these unknown faces streaming westward.

We arrived in LAX late Wednesday evening and went straight to the hotel for a much-needed night’s sleep. After breakfast the next morning we drove to Cal State Northridge, about 20 minutes away, for a light practice and a chance to check out their stadium. The temperature hovered around 100 degrees, but completely lacked any humidity. Normally my body sweats profusely, even in mildly warm conditions. However, the dryness of the San Fernando Valley, coupled with the triple digit temperatures, seemed to instantly transform any nascent sweat particles directly into secluded water vapor. The overwhelming sense of perpetually dry cottonmouth was reinforced by the low, arid mountains surrounding the valley, enclosing the region with stark and barren outcroppings of brittle, dying trees and isolated cacti.

Our game the next day harbored very similar weather conditions, although they were slightly tempered by the introduction of a calm breeze. Cal State Fullerton fulfilled the traditional West Coast style of flashy, attacking movement and strong individual skill on the ball. They proved dangerous in the attacking third for most of the game and only through some heroics from our goalie and backline did we avoid a more unequal outcome. This is not to say that we were outmatched, in fact, very much the opposite. We were able to put some strong attacking patterns together and had several very good opportunities, especially in the second half. Cody Banks completed the proper conclusion of an intricately built-up series of plays in the first half to give us our only goal, however this was not enough. Fullerton scored a goal in each half, with their second coming from a blistering shot outside the eighteen. Although the heat and fatigue was certainly a factor for us, we maintained strong attacking schematics, simply lacking the final finish to provide us with a better result.

I spent much of the evening after our first game with my relatives in Santa Monica, enjoying some of the most pristine surroundings California has to offer. It’s interesting how so many streets in the area are given the title boulevard instead of road or avenue. This suggests a much more scenic and sweeping route, reinforcing the nature of Californian relaxation and style. These communities, nestled into the canyons and lush jungle-like undergrowth along the Pacific coastline, pervade individuality and esoteric exclusiveness. Many of the smaller dwellings, built directly into the hillside, offer a flurry of artistic shapes, colors and designs and demonstrate the originality of the region’s architecture. One moment you’re transported back to the bohemian bungalows of the 1960’s and another you’re cruising along a row of ornate, gated mansions surely owned by some Hollywood celebrity.

We had a very light session in a park next to our hotel on Saturday, enjoying a slight drop in temperature from the previous day. Later in the afternoon we spent about an hour experiencing Venice Beach, although unfortunately the sun stayed hidden behind an overcast sky. Little boutique shops and eclectic food stands characterize this well-known tourist hub. It’s full of diverse characters: old hobos sporting military surplus gear and carrying dirty sleeping bags, long-haired surfers still wet from the tide speaking in the typical West coast vernacular of “gnarly” and “bro,” bikini-clad teens wearing sunglasses five times the size of their eyes and strutting around like modern day Aphrodites. I can almost see Jim Morrison meandering along the beach, deep in some psychedelic stupor, dreaming up the next bit of poetry he and the Doors would turn into penetrating, ethereal vibrations.

The climax of the excursion brought us to the Home Depot Center where we watched the Los Angeles Galaxy host FC Dallas in what proved to be one of the most exciting games of soccer I’ve witnessed. We had excellent seats, about three rows up near one of the corners to watch Tony Sanneh, one of our most distinguished alumni who ended up seeing the field for the Galaxy in the second half. Along with the rest of the stadium we marveled at Major League Soccer’s proverbial golden child, David Beckham, as he swung in several corners with his typical bending brilliance. Unfortunately, this was not nearly enough for the Galaxy. In what must have been one of the highest scoring games in MLS history, Dallas emerged on top of a colossal 6-3 result. We exited the stadium still reveling in the atmosphere of such an unspeakable and exciting spectacle.

Our game the next day would prove disappointing to anyone expecting similar antics as the night previous, although it’s hard to imagine any match that would rival the nine goal exhibit we had experienced. Cal State Northridge had visited our tournament last year and been handed a tough 1-0 loss, and expectedly, they came out looking to avenge their past misfortunes. However, we struck first when (Eric) Frazier crossed in an early free kick that found Ross Van Osdol’s head, giving us a one goal advantage in the second minute of play. Despite several other strong chances throughout the game we were unable to capitalize on any other opportunities. In the second half Northridge took advantage of a questionable penalty kick to put in the equalizer and achieved the go-ahead goal shortly after to make it 2-1 against us. Missed scoring prospects and unfortunate breaks in the defensive third cost us yet another one goal defeat.

We toured a bit of Hollywood’s walk of fame on our way to the airport after the game, observing the multitude of characters attempting to mimic celebrity stars in order to make a buck or two. A bunch of the guys took some great pictures with a Jimi Hendrix look-a-like as he strummed out “All Along the Watchtower” for our enjoyment. The tasteless and gaudy souvenir shops quickly lost their novelty and we headed to the airport after only about an hour or two in the area. Our trip home involved a slight detour to Atlanta, where we spent a few hours sleeping or aimlessly frittering around, before arriving back in Milwaukee around ten thirty Monday morning; quite a trek without a concrete result from either game. Nevertheless, our play has consistently improved over the course of the last few games and we can look forward to the upcoming Panther Invitational, hoping for a more cohesive performance and a much deserved second win.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to the Classroom

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his fourth blog entry.


Our campus is showing the unmistakable signs of the first week of classes. Freshmen in their multi-colored striped polo shirts or lurid jean mini-skirts strut around the quad reveling in their newly realized freedom. The air is palpably full of surging hormones. Remnants of high school adolescence still brand these creatures sophomoric teens, easily recognizable by their fits of giggles and overcompensating outbursts of insecure masculinity. It’s the fragile male ego in its natural habitat. I guess insecurity should be expected, given the self-perpetuating identity crisis imposed on eighteen-year-olds by cultural stagnation, tawdry MTV notions of “cool,” and the whole other host of manipulative images shoved down our throats by the technological monsters at large. Take one look at a college campus and you’ll see these agents at work, keeping the brand name products popular and the easily disposable goods streaming in off the boat from China.

I am, of course, a profound hypocrite. Our team is sponsored by Puma. You don’t see me selflessly renouncing these free possessions or replacing my Hanes, Dr. Martens, and Billabong merchandise with homespun, environmentally friendly hemp alternatives. Instead, I’ll gripe and moan about the increased imposing of commercialist culture on all aspects of life, while I secretly suck down a latte from Starbucks and bathe myself in 50 Cent’s new cologne.

In all seriousness, I abhor using brand names and products as ways of defining oneself or showing one’s true character. But I’ve found it’s difficult, especially as a collegiate athlete, to make some sort of bold, courageous stand against status symbols and American materialism. It’s simply a conflict of interest, one in which free cleats and ostentatious new clothing win out over my compromised values. Fortunately, the NCAA has strict rules on what types of logos and advertising can be used on collegiate uniforms, so our jerseys merely have little Puma emblems on their seams or sides. We’re not the walking billboards seen in many professional games.

Our first regular season game featured our crosstown rivals, Marquette, and was full of all the bravado and excitement of a typical rivalry game. Each year, regardless of whether the game is played at home or away, a sizeable crowd turns out to witness who gains the bragging rights for the city of Milwaukee. The fixture is highly anticipated on both sides and its position as the season opener this year created an even more energized atmosphere.

Marquette’s stadium complex, Valley Fields, is located directly south of their campus, inopportunely squeezed between the Potawatomi Bingo Casino and the dirty Menomenee River. Additionally, it’s bordered by numerous industrial buildings, warehouses, and rundown railroad tracks. An ever-present stench of damp, fermenting grain greets the nostrils when you arrive here, although after about half an hour you get accustomed to this smell of burnt Malt-O-Meal. I silently relish the placement of this acclaimed, private school’s sports complex, reminding myself of the clean, odor-free air we breathe in around our publicly funded field.

As usual, the game turned within a few minutes of the opening whistle. One of the Marquette center backs dived late into a tackle on (Peter) Sanger, sparking outrage from our bench, and was rightfully booked. Our players responded with equally vigorous challenges, yet most of them remained fairly clean.

At halftime the game was still scoreless. The play remained aggressive for most of the second half, with both teams visibly starting to tire towards the last 15 to 20 minutes. With about five minutes remaining we got caught out of position with many of our players pushing forward into the attack. As Marquette quickly transitioned into the counter-attack we gave up a foul just outside of the eighteen in order to stymie any further progress into our box. We watched helplessly as the Marquette player rifled a well-placed free kick into the upper left corner. The last five minutes saw us franticly push forward, but to no avail. The game ended in a 1-0 loss.
We played Western Illinois in the first game of Madison’s weekend tournament and the game turned out to be a hard-fought, scrappy contest. We opened the scoring early when Sanger took a beautiful free kick with his left foot that hit the post and was redirected into the net by Rosey (Greg Rosenthal), putting us up 1-0. The score didn’t change for the rest of the game, although both sides ended up having a fair amount of good chances. I feel bad for any neutral spectator watching this match, because it turned out to be one of the ugliest college games I’ve been a part of. There was limited, inconsistent possession and a lot of defensive errors from both teams. But we maintained enough defensive resilience to keep the shutout, aided greatly by the acrobatics of our backline and particularly goalie John Shakon.

The second match of the weekend proved to be far more exciting and attractive to watch. Our opponents, Virginia Tech, moved the ball well and were dangerous in the final third. Some defensive mishaps, coupled with Virginia Tech’s strong offensive play, cost us two goals, one early on in the first half, and another later in the second. We were much more effective with our possession and attacking chances than in the Western Illinois game, and after a number of strong opportunities throughout the game we were finally rewarded with a goal by Robert Refai in the final two minutes. Our overall play was much improved from the previous game, despite giving up two goals. As we left Madison’s stadium morale remained fairly high, and it was obvious everyone looked forward to the upcoming trip to California.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Final Preparations

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his third blog entry.


It’s weeks like these that make me feel twice my age. I’ll walk up a flight of stairs and it sounds like someone jumping on those sheets of soft, plastic packaging used to protect valuables. Each ascending stair is greeted by a pronounced snap or crack. Normally, this noise is oddly satisfying, especially when you’re the one lightly popping the little bubbles on the sheets. But when your bones begin making these sounds it serves as a fitting and accurate testament to the heightened activity they’ve recently been put through.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not complaining. I’ve been through this feeling of temporary, accelerated aging before ... many times in fact. However, every preseason it seems to get more distinct and inauspiciously more permanent. The wear and tear is in many ways unavoidable, since we rapidly need to prepare our bodies for the fast approaching regular season. Over the years I’ve utilized several effective techniques to slow this inexorable aging process. Hydration remains one of the seminal practices to avoid exhaustion, overheating, and cumulative fatigue. Eating a well-balanced diet, high in protein, fiber, and fruits and vegetables also greatly aids the body in recovery and reconstruction. (Wow, this sounds like some mandatory dietary explanation on those cereal commercials.) Ice baths, with their initial pangs of stabbing chills leading to that blissful numbness bordering on slight warmth, suggestive of the early stages of hypothermia, comprehensively invigorate the lower limbs. Individual ice bags also often soothe acutely sore areas of the body and I’ve seen some players, Nkuti (Ndely) in particular, with a veritable multitude of plastic bags strapped onto various injuries.

This year’s training schedule differs from most other years in that we have our second sessions very late at night. We eat as a group around five and then rest a few hours before reporting to training at eight or eight-thirty. While this allows us to avoid the heat and humidity, it does make for some fairly late nights. It’s the price we need to pay in order to train on turf, so few players are complaining. These practices tend to create an atmosphere of heightened urgency and emphasis. Playing under lights, with the darkness thick and enclosing, establishes a far more radiant and almost claustrophobic arena. The sounds of practice become sharp, more emphatic, and surreal. Once you get over the initial tiredness of practicing at this hour, your body responds with a growing sense of purpose, a realization somewhere along the lines of, “Well, what the hell, I’m out here anyway so why not make this good?”

Our second exhibition was played at home and featured a number of similarities with the first game. Our opponent, Wisconsin-Whitewater, is a Division III program, but one that is consistently competitive at both the regional and national level. We started out the first half with some good movement and passing, yet we allowed ourselves to stoop into Whitewater’s slower speed of play and nervous, erratic possession. Despite having far more dangerous chances, we found ourselves down 1-0 at half. The second half saw revitalized movement and an increased sense of urgency, resulting in two unanswered goals within a period of 38 seconds. (Eric) Frazier converted a penalty kick and (Zach) Funk blasted another goal past the Whitewater goalie to give us a 2-1 lead. The score stood the rest of the half, giving us another slim and well-deserved victory.

Later in the week we played our final exhibition against a very strong alumni team. This game is always a good test, since our program has seen a multitude of players ascend to the professional levels all across the country and globe. We showed signs of improvement in terms of defensive shape and transition. However, a few mistakes in our defensive third hurt us in the long run. The alumni team, with their greater collective experience, adeptly moved the ball with speed and consistency. A penalty kick against us in the first half, coupled with two unanswered goals in the second, left us 3-0 down before Abe Gibbons put us on the scoreboard. The game ended in a 3-1 loss, yet we made important improvements in organization and transitioning, both on offense and defense.

We always have an annual barbeque at Doc Middleton’s house during preseason and this year’s meal was another delightful (and tasty) experience. Doc and his family graciously invite thirty starving, worn-out individuals into their house and provide us with an amazing spread of burgers, brats, salad, and deserts. It’s a refreshing relief from our regular, rather mundane diet and helps nourish our depleted, calorie-craving bodies.

Unsurprisingly, our last preseason practice began under discouraging weather conditions. We ran from our locker room north about a mile to Shorewood through a steadily increasing drizzle. The night air was cool and dense, and the wind picked up as we reached the white glow of the stadium lights. It looked and felt as if it might snow. The rain was coming down in slow, compact clouds of condensed moisture, almost like a visible and perpetually forming dew. We were already soaked from the run, but seeing the rain illuminated under the glaring lights made the wetness that much more tangible.

Despite the slick field conditions and drenched clothing plastered against our chilled frames, the practice was a success. Once you accept the feeling of total and unavoidable saturation as your body’s normal state, it isn’t difficult to focus on defensive transitions or switching the point of attack. In fact, you begin to relish the turbulent elements around you, almost wishing for some new form of chaotic interference from the heavens, like some twisted taunt to the Almighty.

We played a possession game for our warm-up and than progressed directly into 11 versus 11, starting out with smaller dimensions and steadily increasing the size up to a full field scrimmage. The slippery surface caused numerous passes to skid out of bounds and succeeded in upending several players making moves too aggressive for such conditions. The level of play may not have been pretty, but it certainly was honest and dynamic. Exhausted, sodden, and humbled by nature’s capabilities, we retired to the showers, happy to be sheltered and finished with another preseason.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Exhibitions, Excursions and Excitement

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his second blog entry.


This year’s preseason exhibition games started even earlier than usual with two matches slotted in the first week. After only two initial days of practice we commenced with our Black and Gold inter-squad scrimmage. This game is always a competitive contest as players battle it out for upcoming starting spots. The match mimics most of the structure and hype of a regular season game, offering a preview of this year’s squad in a spirited and aggressive environment.

Our practices leading up to the Black and Gold match focused on individual defending and defensive structure. We progressed from small-sided games to more expansive drills on defensive organization, eventually advancing to full 11 versus 11. Our fitness sessions earlier in August seem to have paid off and, although it will certainly take longer to regain match level stamina, on the whole the team appears fit and ready for real opposition.

In previous years we’ve been forced to practice down on the lakefront, a pitch that’s renowned for unevenness and ankle-breaking potential, despite the excellent view of Lake Michigan. Instead, we’ve relocated to the nearby artificial turfs of Shorewood High School and Bradley Tech, replacing the dreadful grass surface of the lakefront with smooth, fast-running synthetic fields. Although sliding and falling on turf tends to perniciously affect one’s skin, the positive results of having a consistent and even surface underfoot are more than worth the perpetual scrape on one’s vulnerable “cheeks”.

The first half of the Black and Gold game saw both squads maintain a fairly disciplined defensive structure, while simultaneously trying to probe the opposition for potential weak links in backline organization. The Gold team struck first when Evan (Bartzis) intercepted an errant pass out of the back and neatly slotted the ball into the left corner. By the end of the first half it was obvious our match fitness wasn’t quite up to par. Weariness and disorganization led to sloppy shape, but neither side was able to capitalize further.

Fans that stuck around for the full 90 minutes were rewarded with a flurry of goals towards the end of the game. The score remained 1-0 far into the second half before Evan netted his second off a well-placed cross from Pedro (Mejia). Shortly after, Ross (Van Osdol) struck a shot right outside the eighteen which took a menacing deflection off a Black player and sailed into the net, putting the Gold team three goals up. In the last minute of play the Black team gained some level of consolation as (Eric) Frazier was taken down in the box and converted the penalty kick, stealing the shutout from the Gold team with about 15 seconds left on the clock. Overall, the effort and excitement on both sides was promising, and positive aspects, offensively and defensively, can be taken from our outing under the lights.

After a light session the following morning we departed for southern Illinois. We watched footage of the Black and Gold game on the six-hour bus ride, reaching Edwardsville in the early evening. Our session planned for that night at the game field was canceled due to electrical difficulties, so we enjoyed an unexpected chance to relax.

The next day’s build-up to game time exemplified our customary rituals leading up to kick-off. Following an early morning breakfast we tour the field, than return to the hotel to sleep, eat our pregame meal and indulge in any other individual idiosyncrasies. Personally, I enjoy clearing my head by reading a good book or listening to music, usually something introspective like Bob Dylan or The Arcade Fire. Appropriately, as game time nears my music selection changes. Something a little more upbeat gets me ready for the field, more along the lines of The Doors, Metallica or The Who.

SIU Edwardsville only became Division I in the last two years, but their quality of play certainly proves they’re worthy of the highest collegiate level. They are a strong possession team, capable of keeping the ball for long periods of time in their defensive third. However, they struggle going forward and many times their fixation with possession becomes detrimental. They spent much of the first half knocking the ball around with short, quick passes, yet failed to penetrate more than a few times. Unfortunately, one such attempt succeeded and we found ourselves down 1-0 at halftime.

In the second half we reestablished our defensive tenacity and organization, denying SIUE from hitting even one shot on goal. Offensively, we were able to capitalize on a veritable flurry of opportunities. (Andrew) Wiedebach hit the equalizer in emphatic fashion with a diving header, audaciously throwing himself into the scrum of defenders and flying cleats at the top of the six. A few cuts under the eye were well worth the effort. The goal seemed to galvanize us further and we dominated play for the rest of the game. Shortly after the first goal, Evan connected with a beautiful cross from Aaron Gibbons that put us up 2-1. We missed a few late chances that could have given us a more resounding victory, but the result was well earned.

We emerged from the postgame showers to an ominous looking sky. Clouds coalesced into ever-larger masses, contrasting sharply with the light gray backdrop of the oncoming night. The stadium lights, now highlighting emptiness and silence, still gleamed bright on the field; the previous activity that shook this small, illuminated rectangle in the expansive ocean of darkness surrounding it had abated. The faint outlines of nearby fields enclosed the stadium and the distant downtown of St. Louis shone with the hazy ambience of smog and electricity.

I wonder how many places around the country I’ve stood outside an idling coach bus, with its warning lights flashing as we load up our gear, and reflected on the game that’s just completed. I always call my parents and my girlfriend, letting them know how the game went and how I played. Usually, there are a dozen or so other players, all dressed in our matching traveling garb, doing exactly the same thing. From a rural grass field surrounded by standing corn or picked soybeans to a decrepit parking lot in some downtown metropolis, it’s always the same. The scene would seem strange and surreal if I hadn’t become accustomed to it over the past three years. Individuals, clad in all black, their hands stuck to their ears drowning out the background noise and sheltering the garbled phone call of some far-away voice, each stamping out a five by five circle of grass or gravel or pavement. It looks like some strange cultish ritual, a choreographed dance to appease the gods. Random gesticulations and erratic rises in volume or tone reinforce this picture, although I know we’re merely describing the past two hours with any remaining bit of energy. Eventually, each person ends their conversation and slowly trickles into the waiting bus to collapse on the multi-colored, musty seats.

The ride home after a victory is always more lively and enjoyable. Sometimes we sing chauvinistic school anthems or watch some sophomoric, lighthearted comedy, reveling in the simplistic, slapstick humor that allows us to simply lie back and tacitly absorb. It’s difficult to get comfortable on these seats, especially with multiple areas of your body begging for a soft, forgiving place to rest. I crumple up my UWM sweatshirt to serve as a pillow and hope the overwhelming desire to sleep can overcome the persistent aching in my limbs. My ipod serves as both nightlight and bedtime story, and I’m able to gradually drift off into the arms of mindless sleep…

“I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail,
Poisoned in the bushes and blown out on the trail,

Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn.

Come in, she said, I’ll give you, shelter from the storm.”
-Bob Dylan

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Welcoming the 2009 season...

Nicholas Gerard-Larson, a senior on the 2009 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his first blog entry.


It’s August and the fun is all over. Languid days on the beach and late nights at outdoor music festivals are things of the past. It’s preseason, and our previous boredom and nonchalance has quickly been replaced.

While the rest of the nation argues over economic decisions, health care reform and Michael Jackson’s drug overdose, we turn our thinking to far more simplistic issues. Our immediate problems tend to be confined to completing six-mile runs without getting lost or fighting back the ever-increasing urge to vomit during a stair and hill workout. We’ve already been here for several weeks, sweating out the inactivity of the summer months and preparing for the approaching season.

Captains’ practice generally begins at the end of July and serves as a fitting precursor to the start of regular training with the coaches. While much of our workouts focus on regaining and boosting fitness, in particular stamina and speed, we also try to begin laying down the foundations of structure and team dynamics that accompany our training sessions throughout the season. Some of the players may grumble about long fitness days or early wake-ups, but few argue when we play a full game of 90 minutes, whether or not it’s at the crack of dawn.

No matter the fitness plan for the day, I usually keep a fairly sanguine outlook. I’m one of those undeniably strange characters that gets up at 6 a.m. to run 10 miles as the sun comes up. Or takes his dog for a three-hour bike ride in a nearby park during the middle of a tumultuous downpour. Exercise and strenuous activity keep me sane. I don’t know how else to explain it. There’s nothing more satisfying than pushing the body and mind to exhaustion and collapse. While this may seem unnatural, even deranged, I encourage those of you who don’t understand the inner exploration and extensive self-reflection of extended activity to give the experience a chance. Anyways, returning to Milwaukee at preseason time never really struck me as something to dread or worry about, but rather simply signaled the start of another season of effort and self-sacrifice.

August is also an excellent time for the incoming freshmen to start the process of college acculturation. This can be hostile and unforgiving at times, but arriving here a month early tends to properly prepare most of our rookies. Important tasks like laundry duty and equipment transportation greatly aid in building character. It is a necessary and unavoidable experience and all of us have gone through this period of adaptation and realignment.

The arrival of organized and disciplined practices with the coaches is widely greeted with both relief and trepidation. While strictly fitness sessions are now figments of the past and ball work occupies significant portions of each practice, even more of our lives fall under the cracking whip of Panther soccer. Sessions get longer, team meals and tactics meetings intrude on spare time and the body undergoes increasingly merciless beatings at the hands of one’s teammates.

But it’s all worth it when you step onto Engelmann Field, with the clean-cut grass glistening under newly-formed dew, under the lights, in front of several thousand fans, with a cool breeze blowing up off the lake, reminding you why you submit to the purgatory of preseason every year.