(All photos courtesy of My-Sugar-Na's camera, although I took them.)
With a Go raibh maith agaibh to the Wave organization, especially VP of Communications Matt Schroeder, I was granted almost unlimited access of the US Cellular Arena for Wednesday morning's game against the Philadelphia KiXX. I arrived an hour before the scheduled 10:35 AM kickoff...
The concourse was eerily silent, as the workers set up the conession stands and the merchandise area.
And the arena bowl, though empty, looked resplendant with the vibrant blues and reds of the seating area and the green field broken up with the contrasting aises, signage and field lines. How can you see that photo, and NOT be a fan of indoor soccer?
At this point, Schroeder took me to the restricted area where the locker rooms and other non-publics were. I was struck with how small the locker room was... not much bigger than our family room. It was quite warm in the locker room, and upon my inquire to trainer Larry Sayles, he assured me that it was not kept warm to help the players get loose... and then he followed with something about the heat that's not in the water in the showers.
On one wall of the locker room was a whiteboard, and the coaching staff had nine bullet points. Most of them, surprisingly, were about defensive strategies or which KiXX players in which the Wave was to pay special attention. You know, it was kind of funny... although I dressed appropriately, nobody seemed to be to concerned that a total stranger with a camera was in an otherwise empty locker room. In the picture on the right, I had asked Sayles to smile, and Hewerton - possibly feeling left out - followed suit.
As I was about to head out, Guliano Oliviero and Art Kramer came in and politely posed for a shot. Little did I know, but Kramer would seem to follow me around all day... maybe Schroeder or Sayles tipped him off that the big guy in the blue button-down needed a chaperone.
All the players were heading out to the field for the on-field warmups, so I slowly made my way around the Arena innerds. Along the way, I found out what happens to the basketball hoops when UWM isn't playing.
When I got to the Wave bench and stepped out onto the field, the first of the crowd had started arriving. The Wave plays a few "School Day" exhibition games on weekday afternoons, and today was originally scheduled to be an exhibition. But when a game in Philadelphia was postponed by a February snowstorm, the Wave stepped in and bought the game. This was the second regular season "School Day" game in Wave history, the first in about 15 years (in the first one, the start time was 1:00 PM, and most of the school kids left before the fourth quarter started. I would not be exaggerating if I said the end of that game was played in front of 100 people).
Sometimes, a great photo is completey on accident...
I had been snapping away at the all sorts of stuff, experimenting with angles, trying to get some action shots (but not used to the delay in my wife's camera) etc. I didn't like how the pictures were turning out with the flash so I turned it off. In this photo, I was just trying to get Coach Keith Tozer on the side, with the KiXX warming up in the distance. The delay (and not changing the shutter speed) worked to my advantage, as suddenly the Wave players appeared and golly, don't they look really fast?!?!
(Side note; please stand by for a few paragraphs of indoor soccer geek talk.) While I was standing near Tozer, I was able to ask a couple of questions As one of about 36 true indoor soccer fans left in the country, I asked him which - from a strictly coaching and team management sense - he preferred, the current 20 game season, or the traditional 40-or-so game season. I had assumed he was going to prefer the longer season, but he told me he had no real answer. He did say that with the shorter schedule, every game counted more significantly than in the past, but he said that with the single table (as opposed to mutliple divisions or conferences) it adds to the criticality of each game. When the old NPSL had an American and National conference, his main focus was his divisional games.
I also extended my credit for how this season played out, and I mentioned that the Wave had back-to-back losses in one weekend to Rockford and the Wave didn't appear to have much firepower even before 2009 XSL Rookie of the Year Marco Terminesi was lost for the season. Tozer reminded me that eight players (including Joe Hammes, Marcelo Fontana, Troy Dusosky and Hewerton) all missed extended time, and that he really never had his entire team together. He said he is really proud of how his guys adjusted and found a way to win, despite not knowing which 16 guys would suit up on any one day.
I thanked him for his time, and made my way over to the KiXX side of the field and spoke to KiXX head coach and former Wave player Don D'Ambra.
Not being an interviewer, I didn't want to waste his time, so I simply asked if the KiXX was staying in town until this Saturday's game or if they are flying back, and he indicated that they will be in Milwaukee through the game and will then fly to Baltimore for their game on Sunday.
By this time, the field was clearing and everyone was getting ready for the upcoming game.
The interns were making sure the seems of the turf were bubble-free - which I am told isn't as simple as it looks - and were making other last-second preps (note that the intern looks a lot like (Sponsor's Name Here)'s Official Son, Mitten). On the right, Tom Wynn and Kramer were doing the pregame intros for their internet broadcast. I was starting to enjoy this interaction with players, staff, coaches, etc., so I began thinking about from where I was going to watch the game.
I headed back to the tunnel, where the Wave were in their home whites (which, up close, are quite nicely styled. But from the stands look like t-shirts and shorts from the rack at Sears) getting some last minute advice from Tozer and doing some last stretches prior to being introduced.
Note the first Alex Megson sighting (right picture, right side). Megson is the son of original MISL (there have been three versions of the MISL, you know) Tacoma Stars player Neil Megson. But to be fair, he isn't the only son of a former original-MISLer... Travis Mackenzie's father, Dave, played in the MISL with the Pittsburgh Spirit and (bonus internet search fact) played and coached for the AISA Fort Wayne Flames (the league in which the Wave was a part of in the 1980s).
Although indoor soccer purists don't like it (and, well, you can count me as one of them, too) one of the stars of an MISL gameday is the PA guy. In the "Make the Best of it" department, we are lucky enough to have Van "The Man" McNeil from WMYX (above dressed in, well, not red or blue). The cool part is, when I told him that I prefer to call him "Dammit Man" McNeil, he was OK with that. He actually chuckled.
And you know what raised my "Like Van McNeil-O-Meter" into the yellow? He actually has read my blog... to the point that he actually knew I wrote for WestAllisNOW.com before I ever mentioned it. (Side note; it is almost as cool as when West Allis Mayor Dan Devine - from a car in a snowstorm in the 2007 Christmas Parade - pointed to me and said that he likes my stuff.)
I had indicated to Schroeder that I might want to spend some time watching McNeil at work, and neither one had a problem with it, so right before kickoff, I got in the PA booth (between the penalty boxes).
(Side note; Back to more geeky talk) As for the game itself, it started quite slowly for the Wave. They did not dress five starters (Oliviero, Ryan Mack, Fontana, Kyt Selaidopolous and Nick Vorberg). The game was scoreless late into the first quarter when the KiXX scored five points in a 20-second span, first a goal by former-Waver Semir Mesanovic, then a three-point goal from another former-Waver, Joe Di Buono. By halftime, the Philly lead had grown to 8-2, and I kinda felt like an Indianapolis Colts fan (since the Wave has the regular season title locked up, they - like the Colts - rested starters and played like it.) Ah, but Senor Tozer, full of adjustments he is. Shortly after halftime, the Wave had scored two goals and the score was 8-6. And here is when the game turned.
Midway through the third period, KiXX player Ryan Heins fouled a Wave player, and as soon as the ref blew the whistle, he kicked the ball away and was given a five minute penalty for Unsportsmanlike Conduct. When Heins got to the penalty box, he spent much of that time griping to nobody in particular that the refs were costing them the game. About three minutes later, the KiXX's Mesanovic also got a five minute Dissent penalty, and the two of them commiserated about their view of the poor officiatiing.
Me? I dunno. Besides the fact that I am not a player, nor a USSF Certified referee, I was behind two refs in one penalty box, the PA guy, the scoreboard operator, another ref-type-person in the other penalty box and a camera man. I didn't see much of the game at all, much less be able to distinguish good calls from bad. But not too long after Heins left the box, KiXX player Jeremy Ortiz got a two minute penalty, and Ortiz took up the discussion with Mesanovic where Heins left off. That conversation didn't last long, however, as the Wave scored on the ensuing power play and Mesanovic was left in the box by himself.
But from the moment when Heins sat in the penalty box and started complaining (with the KiXX still winning) I got the distinct feeling that if all KiXX players felt like Messers. Heins, Mesanovic and Ortiz, then the game was already lost. These guys were resigned to losing that game, and in turn, also losing their faint glimmer of playoff hope.
Contrast that, though, to KiXX superstar (and possible MISL MVP) Adauto Neto. Neto was penalized in the fourth quarter for his fourth foul in the half, and the entire time walking to the penalty box and while he served his penalty, he didn't say a word. Neto didn't think the game was over. He waited out his time, then went back to work on the field.
And with that - my days of living like a fly being over - I walked out onto State St. at about 1:00 PM. That gorgeous sun and a 60 degree St. Patrick's Day hit me like a fly swatter. Well, at least I have these pictures.
Now, how can I become a fly again and do this for a Brewers game...