Davidson Men’s Soccer 2017-2018 Preview; (published elsewhere on Medium)

Preface: Since penning this article, the Wildcats have continued their unbeaten preseason into the regular season, now standing at perfect 3–0. Not so middling after all Clement, huh? While it remains to be seen if the ‘Cats can continue this form into conference play, they’ve certainly hit the ground running. With the likes of previously scoreless junior, Coleman Richards, suddenly scoring 2 in 2, it appears this team may be better than anyone could have previously anticipated.

 

Davidson men's soccer
The 2017–2018 Wildcats

 

Picked to finish 10th in the annual A-10 preseason poll, this season looks to be an improved yet middling one for the wily but somewhat un-extraordinary Wildcats. Returning 8 starters from a team that finished above only George Mason’s winless squad in conference, Davidson should improve upon their two win mark of last season.

While lacking a preseason all-conference selection, this veteran-laden roster should rely on its cohesiveness and experience as 16 of its 27 rostered players are upperclassmen. In lieu of a true superstar like graduated top scorer and all conference selection Maxi Pragnell, that experience will be key to the team’s chances of exceeding its predicted tenth place finish.

The strength of this year’s team, lies in the defense, with last year’s back line returning intact. No-nonsense Senior-captain Matt Reinikka will anchor this back four alongside fellow senior, Nathan Marder, upon his return from injury. It doesn’t get much more solid than reliable junior right fullback, Jordan Hill. Hill, who doubles as a center back, is much more of a traditional defender than a vertically marauding wing-back, whereas speedy senior co-captain Cort Coxhead provides a killer final ball from wide positions. Also watch out for dynamic sophomore fullback Malcolm Mccabe, a speedy and shrewd two-way player, who started thirteen games last year as a freshman. Given the team’s penchant for absorbing pressure and looking to counter, Coach Spear will be relying on his veteran back line to keep the opposition off the scoresheet and find the forwards in transition.

Moving forward, in the middle of the park, either senior anchor man Zach Marks or the fiery Seattle born answer to Lee Cattermole, A.K.A. sophomore John Dale, will bring some grit to the engine room alongside senior midfield maestro, Hunter Howard. Freshman Jamie Diluzio, the former #1 New York state recruit, looks likely to contribute immediately and perhaps potentially push Dale and Marks for a starting spot. Additionally, junior Matthew Gandier impressed in preseason but didn’t feature for one reason or another in the season opener.

Out wide, Peterson and Chau will provide the width, although the latter will likely find himself deputizing at right back more often than not when Hill is shifted to center back. Offensively, the team’s most obvious x factor comes in the form of sophomore focal point Jaylen Thompson. Thompson’s speed and dribbling prowess together make him a formidable wind player and a handful for the opposition. Those capabilities together with his continually improving hold up play make him my pick for an all conference selection come the end of the year.

In goal, the hole vacated by the graduated Andrew Kenneson looks to be filled by senior Sam Bissett, but with a freshman, sophomore, and junior on his tail and all having seen time in preseason, his job is far from locked up.

Finally, with the forward positions, just like in goal, the battle for Pragnell’s vacated lone striker role will likely go the way of Alexander the Great’s dying words: “To the Strongest”. Senior Danny Davis looks to be the favorite, but sophomore Charlie Caswell has played well in preseason and could very well be relied upon as the starting option. Likewise, freshman forwards Quinn Dudek and Hugh Chatham will hope to stake claims for game time in the role as well. Underneath the lone forward, the “shadow striker” role looks to belong to Morrissett, who looks to create chances for both Caswell and Davis as well as for himself.

Bottom line in two years time, this team should be a potent force with the likes of Thompson, Mccabe, Morrissett, and Diluzio as upperclassmen. If Coach Spear can effectively complement that core of players, then the 2019-2020 Wildcats will be competing for a league title. Until then, however, the Cats will have to battle for every inch in their battle to make waves in the competitive A-10.

If the Wildcats are looking for success both in and outside the classroom this season, then they’ll need to draw upon their philosophy notes and realize Aristotle’s notion that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. With three wins and a draw including preseason and a home opening victory, who knows? If the Cat’s blend of experience and underclass talent can continue then who knows, maybe these wildcats can take that elusive step forward and truly make excellence a habit.

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Supporters Not Customers

It’s over. It’s finally over.

As I sat in tears in an emptying stand in Lyon, I thought back on a journey. A journey which began in Andorra two years ago and called at Cardiff, Brussels, Haifa, Nicosia, Zenica, Bordeaux, Lens, Toulouse, Paris and Lille finally terminated in Lyon, end of the line, all change.

All change are the right words, because this campaign really has changed everything. It has changed Welsh football forever, from top to bottom. Once the laughing stock of world football, we have become one of the most respected international sides in Europe. For our players too, nothing will be the same after this. Hal Robson-Kanu, the man without a club after leaving Reading has scored what will be the goal of the tournament, barring something even more spectacular in the final. Chris Gunter has become a legend, his reliable play a big help for the…

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DID I NOT PREDICT IT LAST YEAR?!? Leicester’s Alarmingly Immediate yet Predictable Decline

On the final day of January, one fairly average premier league outfit beat a club devoid of quality or confidence, pushing those strugglers further towards relegation. What was so unusual about that game? Well of the two teams involved, the relegation threatened club weren’t the victors, traditional bubble team Burnley, but rather the reigning Premier League champions. Yes, the champions of England currently sit in 17th on 21 points after 25 games. Yes, this season Leicester tied the record set by 1962/63 Ipswich for the least points after winning the title, then proceeded to seize sole control of the unfortunate honor against Burnley. So as miraculous as their title was last year, their fall from grace has been almost as remarkable.

There are several things are at play here.

Firstly, their entire lineup got a year older. That’s no biggie for their 27 years olds, but for an ancient backline with an average age of 31 and a half, that’s a lifetime. Leicester were sorely needing at least another center back this summer and they failed to bring one in.

Already summer transfer Hernandez left the club for Malaga this past January. So with the addition of loan signing Molla Wague from Udinese cancelling out the departed Jeffrey Schlupp, Leicester have literally zero additional defenders from last season’s roster. In fact, considering that Ranieri has plugged Amartey into the midfield to try and compensate for the loss of Kante (We’ll get to him later) they’ve even lost depth in the position in direst need of reinforcement. Inconceivably bad business on behalf of the front office.

Next, last year Leicester played only 23 players total in the League and only 18 players played over 5 games in all competitions last season. That’s incredible. Leicester had the lowest rotation of any Premier League side, and of any Premier League Champion. It’s miraculous, they were remarkably fortunate with injuries and a lot of that comes from a lack of fixture congestion.

That fact was only possible though because they played only 43 competitive games, 2 of which came after they mathematically had won the league. The total of games is only 3 more than the absolute minimum they possibly could play. This year with qualification for the champions league, and further progress in the cups, already they’re guaranteed a total of 50 games.

 

leicester-porto
Leicester clearly did not have the squad depth to compete both in the Champions League and their domestic competitions.

 

Clearly with these additional games they needed far more depth, yet they only signed 6 players this past summer in addition to letting key player N’Golo Kante leave. The departure of Kante was a tremendous blow, in fact he was perhaps Leicester’s most important player last season, having led the league both in tackling and interceptions while picking up a mere three yellow cards.

kante-season-stats

That accomplishment is an astonishing feat in and of itself, disregarding his offensive contributions and solid 82% pass completion rate. With Kante, Leicester were able to revive the previously fossilized 4-4-2 formation because he could do the work of two men in center midfield. So since his departure, Leicester haven’t been able to reliably field the formation and not be overwhelmed in the middle of the park. In that sense, Kante’s departure represents the quintessential example of “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

Nevertheless, there was little the club could have done to dissuade his departure. Leicester actually did a fairly competent job of retaining their best players in Vardy, Mahrez, and Drinkwater. However, they couldn’t convince the diminutive Frenchman to stay; his release clause was triggered by Antonio Conte’s Chelsea and the Frenchman made what initially appeared to be a backwards step. Of course, now Chelsea sit 8 points clear of the chasing pack and Leicester a mere point from the relegation zone… so much for a backwards step.

In addition to letting Kante walk, they also sold many of the players they had sent on loan last year. So while some will say they spent big money (100 mil dollars), it doesn’t matter because they sold enough players that their net spend was merely of 15 million pounds.

REMEMBER THIS TEAM WON THE TITLE AND RECEIVED 51 MILLION POUNDS MORE THAN THE PREVIOUS YEAR SOLELY FROM COMPETITION BONUSES. For a team that needed two full elevens to compete in the league, cups, and europe such a net spend is absolutely nothing. Even stereotypically stingy second place Arsenal spent a net of 100 million euros. EVEN LOWLY BURNLEY NET OUTSPENT THEM BY OVER DOUBLE DIGIT MILLIONS!

Leicester needed 11-13 players, particularly if they weren’t gonna keep the players returning from loan. Instead this summer, they brought in six players and only 2 this January, with three heading out the exit door, two of them permanently. Their decline is no mystery; anyone who really contemplated their situation knew this would happen. Look at Newcastle’s fall from 5th to 16th as a result Europa League qualification a few years back. Without added squad depth, this happens.

Eleven players departed this summer! Once again, how many did Leicester sign to replace them? Six! YES THEY NEEDED MORE DEPTH AND INSTEAD ENDED UP WITH LESS THAN LAST SEASON! Only 9 of those 11 were first team players and many of that number had been on loan last season, but the fact remains; Leicester did not nearly sign enough players.

I wrote on my blog last May that they needed to sign a full 11, even before Kante left. With the departure of Kante they might as well have needed to sign 3 extra players to replace him. The inability of Leicester’s transfer staff to recognize the dire necessity of signing new players is dumbfounding. THIS TEAM USED THE FEWEST NUMBER OF PLAYERS IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE LAST YEAR! THAT SAME TEAM HAD TO PLAY SIX MORE GAMES AT LEAST THIS SEASON! THIS DOESN’T ADD UP! It doesn’t take a genius to see where this all went wrong. It’s easy to not rotate players when you play far fewer games. Leicester could very well end up playing more than double digit more games than they did last season. They were never prepared to do so.

Jon Rudkin and the rest of his staff have done an appalling job preparing the club for this season. Any self-respecting football manager aficionado could have done better. Perhaps their most notable departure this past summer was Steve Walsh. If they maintain their current momentum next year Leicester may well again be crowned champions, but this time of the Championship.

Chapecoense, Munich, and Manchester United

On Wednesday a horrible tragedy befell the footballing world, when nearly all of Brazilian club Chapecoense’s first team perished in a plane crash. The small club, who were promoted in 2014 to the Brazilian first division for the first time, were traveling for the Copa Sudamerica finals. Suddenly, shockingly, and so tragically, the “Brazilian Leicester’s season transformed from a dreamlike run to a nightmare.

Another club once suffered a similar fate on their run towards a European final. That club was Manchester United. That Manchester United Team led by Matt Busby was exceptionally talented and determined to win a European trophy. Real madrid patriarch, Santiago Bernabeu, who was at the time a friend of Busby’s and admirer of his ambition and had tried to recruit him to Real Madrid, came to the aid of Manchester United after the Munich Air disaster.

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The Manchester United team pictured before their last game against Red Star Belgrade.

Real Madrid held fundraisers, played friendlies to raise money, and even offered to loan the great DiStefano (his move was blocked by the fa but Real Madrid were willing to part with a star player for an entire season). Real Madrid’s kindness even paved the way for Manchester United to beat them on the path to a European Cup several years later. Bernabeu and Real Madrid accepted it as graciously as possible. Manchester United benefited tremendously from this benevolence and it allowed the club to continue on, avoid relegation, and eventually reach the same heights the club had before the crash.

Now in the aftermath of the wreckage, Manchester United should embrace the very same ethos that Real Madrid had previously to sustain them after Munich. The Brazilian Club needs their help; they need the help of the world. While well-wishing tweets on Twitter certainly don’t hurt, they also don’t particularly help. Worldwide clubs have to do more to support Chapecoense.

Manchester United are now the world’s richest club, and so there is almost a quasi necessity that they help. Having undergone a similar situation in their own history, Manchester United should do the very things Real Madrid did to support them. They should raise and donate money furthermore, considering their squad depth and wealth of playing talent, they should be willing to loan players. United even have a promising Brazilian themselves: Andres Pereira. He could certainly use the could use some competitive first team minutes. No one is mandating that they loan Pogba. But considering the low number of minutes Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and even Wayne Rooney have played this year, they could even provide one of those players. At the very least, Man United ought to loan someone like Andres Pereira or another high-level youth player. Chapecoense lost their entire first team, so for next year, if they want to be competitive, they need to replace the quality players that helped then reach a continental final.

Other Brazilian clubs have already offered to loan them high-quality players at no cost. Manchester United have benefited previously from the generous support of a club that had no mandate help them. Such charity is the true spirit of football and having benefited so greatly from that support themselves, it is almost an obligation that Manchester United help Chapecoense get back on track.  Even a fundraising friendly would significantly help them in their road to recovery. Ronaldinho is reportedly going to play to suit up to assist the club, but in order to stay competitive in a quite competitive Brazilian Serie A, some support in the form of personnel from Manchester United would certainly be a great help.

Manchester United, survived in part because of Real Madrid’s assistance in their time of need now the time has come for them to step up and do the same.

Revisiting the Promotion / Relegation ‘Hamilton Plan’ for Washington

A brilliant blueprint for how American Soccer can be expanded, in every state, to encompass numerous levels and hundreds of thousands of more players. Such a merit-based system ensures that the best rises to the top and our nation’s overall quality continue to improve.

goalWA.net - Soccer news, photos, videos, links

Editor’s Preface: Over three years ago Timothy Hamilton shared not only  a dream but a plan for adult men’s soccer in the state of Washington. As Hamilton was using his graphic talents in helping to launch the Evergreen Premier League (he designed the EPLWA logo) his mind was on what dreams may come.

eplwa-600-cropThree years later the Evergreen Premier League remains officially unconnected to any other state league. Wenatchee FC recently folded and a search is underway for a club to get the league back to 8. Meanwhile there were discussions about creating an “EPLWA 2” sort of league beneath the EPLWA that would have allowed statewide play for growing clubs to WSASA Logoprepare for higher play and travel. At some point such a league might have been under consideration as a partner for the EPLWA in promotion and relegation. The EPLWA AGM in Yakima on November 4 revealed that…

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