Friday, November 7, 2014

Seniors Not Ready to Say Goodbye

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 fourth entry of the year as he chronicles the adventures of the team during his senior campaign.


As well as being a critical match in our season, tonight’s game is significant for another, more sentimental reason too: it’s senior night. When this season’s done – which we all hope is for a while still – the program will say goodbye to four of its servants, including three captains and three of us who have been here for at least four years.

The team will move on without us, and we will move on without the team. But for a time in each of our young lives, UWM soccer has been central to our existence. So, here are the men not quite ready to say goodbye:

For his recent Halloween costume, Kyle Neumann taped this year’s squad picture on his shoulders. When I saw he was wearing the photograph of us posing on Engelmann Field in front of the scoreboard, I asked him what the outfit meant. He replied: “I’m putting the team on my back.”

That’s Kyle. His bizarre sense of humor has provided UWM players with consistent laughs for almost half a decade now, even if we don’t always know what we’re laughing at. And throughout his career here, he has repeatedly sacrificed himself for the team. Except for putting on the goalie gloves, the Appleton native has done it all. He’s played in every position on the field without ever letting us down.

Luke Goodnetter joined the program three years ago. He couldn’t play his first year due to transfer issues, and so the biggest impression he had that fall was on the hearts of some of the UWM women’s team. “Who’s the new guy who looks like Ben Affleck?” one of them asked me. At that point, I didn’t know much about him myself.

But as soon as he could step on the field, he made an impact. The Affleck lookalike improved us with his standout midfield play last fall, and has stepped in capably at center back this year as well. And no matter how good looking he is, Luke will best be remembered for THAT volley he scored at Valparaiso last year.

I don’t know how Richard Johnson ended up in Milwaukee, and I don’t know what he’ll do after he leaves, but in his four and a half year career here he has been one of the most solid characters I have played alongside. Plucked from a Yorkshire chicken factory he was working in (whatever that entails), Jonno was offered a scholarship to America and probably thought ‘why not?’

Since he’s been here, he has performed strongly and been a rock in the locker room too. He’s fearless, he lets nothing faze him, and I can never quite tell whether he’s enjoying himself or not. But I do know that the program will miss a guy like Jonno, and so will I.

And finally, myself. Four years ago I took a chance, stumbling across the pond and finding myself in Milwaukee playing college soccer – wherever and whatever they were. I came looking for football and adventure, knowing I could always go home if things didn’t work out. I found both, and lots, lots more.

That tonight is almost certainly my final game on Engelmann is surreal. I remember my first match well. On a beautiful summer day, we lost 4-1, but I scored an equalizing goal just after half time and ran into the arms of celebrating fans thinking, “This is going to be fun.”

It has been. And now we must all ensure that this season has some more fun left in it.

So I think I speak for all four of us when I say thank you – to every teammate, coach and parent that have made our experiences in Milwaukee unforgettable – but not goodbye.

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.


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.


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: 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.


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!