Friday, April 24, 2009

Seattle Wolves – Seattle University (19-04-2009)

As only two of the four “professional” leagues in the US have started yet, and the distances between teams are phenomenal, it is not easy to find a game every weekend. Fortunately, the Seattle Wolves were playing a friendly against Seattle University in the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, a southern suburb of Seattle.

So, Sunday at 10.30 I headed off to my coffee shop for a big cup of black coffee to keep me awake on my 443 km drive up. Although I made good time, I still managed to arrive at the game late – as I made a short detour to the Red Mill Burgers in Seattle, which has phenomenal burgers and the best onion rings in the US. The Starfire Sports Complex is a multisports sports complex run by a non-profit organization. It took me some time to find the game I was looking for, as (1) there were various games on, (2) the number of supporters at the Wolves game was not much higher than at the other games; and (3) you didn’t need to pay to get in. They did, however, play at the pitch with the big stand.

There were roughly 80 spectators at the game, who seemed to be mostly friends of Wolves players or students at Seattle University. The atmosphere was summerly and not very different from when I used to play evening games with my friends in Belgium. Oddly enough, the Seattle Wolves are actually a “professional” team, as they joined the USL Premier Development League (PDL) this year, the unofficial Fourth Division of the USA. As I was told by one of the Wolves members, to become a member of the PDL you mainly need to apply and have a sizable amount of money (allegedly some $100.000, mostly for traveling expenses).

I arrived at the right pitch roughly 20 minutes late, and took a nice place in the sun, behind the benches of the Wolves. I was directly struck by the laid-back atmosphere around the pitch, where players were walking on and off, joking with each other and the players on the pitch. It was difficult to escape the exhibitionist substitute player, who was determined to show all 80 spectators his heavily tattooed body.

It is difficult to describe the level of play. At times, there was some nifty passing, particularly by some Wolves players. That said, the pace was slow, the spaces large, and the individual choices often poor. It reminded me of games of the first team of my amateur club back in the Netherlands, V.V.O. (from Velp), which played in one of the (four) amateur third divisions, roughly ranking as the fifteenth division nationally.

Overall the game was pleasant to watch, helped by the gorgeous weather, but lacked clear chances. In the 28th minute the Wolves were close, but the low shot went wide. Seattle University created no clear-cut chance, but did substitute lavishly – I later learned that they had already played another game in the morning. Somewhat surprisingly, the referee whistled for half time after only 40 minutes. Assuming it was 0-0, I soon found out that the Wolves had actually scored in the 18th minute, before I arrived, and that the real half time score was 1-0.

At half time both team just stayed around the pitch, another indicator of the amateuristic setting of the game (which also had its charm). I spent most of the second half behind the SU goal, enjoying conversations with a knowledgeable member of the Wolves and his friend. While chatting and enjoying the sun, I noticed some more nifty passing on the Wolves midfield, but also an even lower pace and even poorer tactical positioning. Most of the few attacks came from the hosts, but few were truly challenging.

Not totally surprising, Seattle University was able to equalize after ca. 60 minutes. Following a strong drive through the center, the midfielder shot low and hard in the corner. This woke up the Wolves, who started to push for the winner. Some five minutes later the Vinny Jones lookalike striker of the Wolves ‘controlled’ the ball with his face and coolly finished: 2-1. A couple minutes later the Wolves goalie pulled off an important safe, ensuring a final score of 2-1.

Although my companions seemed not to believe me, the game was worth the more than 10 hour drive that day (thank god I have a new car ;-). Admittedly, the fantastic weather helped too, but I also enjoyed the determination of the whole Seattle Wolves initiative and their grassroots approach. Although they are still far away from becoming a ‘real’ professional team, and will face stiff competition in the city from the Seattle Sounders, they do believe that the Northwest is a fertile breeding ground for high quality football in the US, and I tend to agree with them.

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