Greetings from the lovely Indianapolis International Airport. Home to free wi-fi and, currently, a view of some really dreary weather. If I didn't know better, I'd think I were in London for the matches I'm about to write about. I have been coming here to Indianapolis for work for a day or two a week for the last 4 months or so. I usually wake up early in the morning on Monday to catch the first flight out and as a result am pretty spent by Monday night - my only real chance to check out the local area. I put in a day of work on Tuesday and then come back here to the airport Tuesday evening and am home by about 11 PM. As work travel goes, it isn't bad at all (short, direct flights and only one night a week in a hotel). The downside up until last night has been that I haven't had much chance to do anything.
This week for reasons I won't bore you with, the schedule changed and I found myself in Indy on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. As it turns out, a friend I know through work has a son who plays college soccer about an hour west of Indy at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Wednesday night, it worked out that I had a chance to see him play in person. The drive to Terre Haute was straight out of Hoosiers (an iconic sports movie about Basketball in Indiana for those not familiar with it). The only downside was that the weather got rainy and chilly as I drove and it was raining fairly hard by the time I arrived.
The match was about two or three minutes old as I walked up to the "stands" (one small bleacher). There were about 25 or 30 people - mostly college classmates and parents - huddled under umbrellas watching. The home team treated me to a nice, intelligent passing game that made me feel very good about the future of the American game. If this is what Division 3 college players are doing these days then it is easy to project what is likely going on at the higher levels of youth soccer.
The second thing that struck me was the show that my friend's son and product of the Dallas Texans club set-up Ben Green put on. He scored the opening goal about a minute after I arrived. He burst through center of midfield on the break away after coming infield from his left midfield spot and went in on the keeper one-on-one and beat him with a classy finish - shades of his favorite player, Arjen Robben. He even has even managed to capture some of Robben's unique mannerisms when running and dribbling. To top off the impersonation of his idol he got an assist on the second goal off of an in-swinging corner from the attacking right side. The forward who scored the emphatic header, Clint Vatterodt is listed at 6'8" and, despite what you might think of an American player with height, had a very nice overall game in addition to being excellent in the air. A little bit of Edin Dzeko in that one. The home team ended up winning 3-0 and those who braved the nasty weather were thrilled with the outcome if not their body temperature.
The final thing that struck me about my experience, and the reason I'm writing this on the blog rather than exclusively as an email to my friend whose son played so well is that it is experiences like this that remind my why I got excited about soccer in the first place. None of these kids are likely to make any substantial money from soccer. They are playing over and above their studies at a difficult engineering school. There were few obvious trappings of even local celebrity - I'm sure there is limited following for soccer even among their classmates. This is soccer in its purest form. The sort of thing that Hans van der Meer captured so nicely in his photo essay European Fields (Google it if you want to see some amazing photography of amateur soccer against some fantastic backgrounds across Europe). My friend was honestly surprised that I made the long drive given the weather and vague connection to his son.
When he texted me saying that, it got me thinking about why I did come when I still had a few hours of work left waiting for me at the hotel after midnight. What I arrived at was that as much as I love watching the Premier League, writing the blog, and everything else I get to do through the blog it all started with playing for fun with very few people watching and no real designs on anyone other than me and my teammates caring about the outcome. This was a rare chance to reconnect with that original feeling as others played, and played well for the same reason.
Now, back to the professionals and the week ahead in the Premier League and the impact of the schedule on your fantasy team:
The Home Teams - We strongly prefer our fantasy players to be playing at home here at Never Manage Alone and these are the home teams with the biggest advantage going into the weekend:
Manchester City vs. Wolves - I don't know if it matters much where they play after that whipping of United at Old Trafford but the fact that they're back at Eastlands and playing a Wolves team that have played about 20 minutes of good football over the last six weeks or so. Those 20 minutes rescued a point at home against mediocre competition but it won't be enough to made a dent against City who should dominate both ends. Verdict: Advantage City Attackers and Defenders.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Queens Park Rangers - I'm not going to let myself be fooled by Rangers' shocking victory over Chelsea last weekend. I'm putting that down to Chelsea imploding and not taking them seriously much more than I am to QPR figuring out how to be a decent team. Spurs should now be fully aware that they can't overlook the Loftus Road outfit and they should do the business comfortably. The Spurs defense makes me very nervous but I do like them to score at least 3 as we see QPR dragged back to earth. Verdict: Advantage Spurs Attack.
Swansea vs. Bolton - Could it be? Could there be a Swansea bandwagon building here at the blog? It would certainly be stronger if they hadn't let their 2-0 road advantage over Wolves slip away in the final minutes last weekend but I find myself believing in them far more than I do in Bolton on the road. I'm also going to keep banging on the Danny Graham drum until he starts to get more respect as a strong Premier League striker. Who'd have guessed? I doubt the Swans are going to have a crazy attacking outburst, they just don't have the personnel, but I can definitely see an efficient 2-0 result. Verdict: Advantage Swansea Defenders.
Norwich vs. Blackburn - Two newly promoted teams in a row? Surely I must be joking. Not so fast on the joking. Norwich have been every bit as good as Swansea and they seem to have an attack that isn't out of its depth in the Premier League. Blackburn will see this as a critical 6-pointer as well and push forward - could be a bit of an up-and-down match with the home team having more weapons to get the victory. Verdict: Advantage Norwich Attackers.
The Away Teams - There are generally one or two road match-ups that will insert itself among the strong home teams and demand that fantasy managers strongly consider the away team to have an advantage. This week there is just one:
Manchester United @ Everton - This is in no way a slight against Everton but I can't imagine United won't come out with a strong response to the @sswhipping they suffered at home. Hairdryers were probably the least of the United players worries. Everton has been scoring sneaky late goals this season and United are still vulnerable at the back but I'd bet on them to do some scoring, maybe even to the extent of 4-1. Verdict: Advantage United Attackers.
In case you're wondering, I'm pretty nervous about Chelsea vs. Arsenal (not sure what to expect from either team at this point) and WBA vs. Liverpool (Liverpool are struggling despite their talent).
I'll be back later with player picks - Happy Birthday to Nik and Congratulations to Jeremy on rocking your triathlon last weekend. Somehow I feel like I'm not holding up my end of the "announcements" section here.