Saturday, August 30, 2014

Charlotte Eagles – Pittsburgh Riverhounds (29-08-2014)

Most lower leagues in the United States play only from June till mid-August. After that there is only the MLS, with just a few teams in this huge country, and the different leagues that try to be the official second division. The USL Pro is the recently renamed top division of the most established league. This not withstanding, the USL Pro is at best semi-pro and many team lack infrastructure and fans.

The Charlotte Eagles play their games at Dickson Field, which is the football stadium of Queens University of Charlotte. It is a beautiful small sports complex for a fairly small university. At the soccer pitch next to the football field are some (mostly Hispanic) youths playing.

I pay $10 for a nice ticket as I walk through the small building to the outside, where there are small bleachers on a hill, then some grass, and only then the pitch. There are some 3-400 people, mostly teens and kids with parents and some local college students. I think I was one of the few over 40 without kids there.

Most people sit on the small bleachers, but many have taken seats and blankets to sit on the lawn. At least 50 kids are just running around and play soccer or ask their parents when the game is over (even though the parents seem to be there for them).

The AstroTurf pitch is quite confusing, with both football and soccer lines, and in a very poor condition. It is not too warm for an August evening in the Southeast. Both teams have mostly non-white players, which are not the usual college kids of lower divisions. 

Still, the play is very mediocre and the pace is slow. There are few chances in the first minutes, as both teams play without much skill or urgency. Charlotte is the better team, but that changes around the 20th minute, when Pittsburgh gets better. 

In the 32th minute they have a free header after a corner, but it goes far wide. Ten minutes later they score a nice, but offside, goal. Half time score is 0-0 and that is a perfect reflection of the game so far.

The second half is much the same. Fortunately, it has cooled down a bot and oit is now a perfect summer evening, so I don’t mind the boring attempt at football at the pitch. Here is a summary of probably the most exciting ten minutes of the game. In the 60th minute Charlotte gets a free kick that goes nowhere. Six minutes later a scrimmage in the box almost leads to a Pittsburgh shot at goal. In the 68th minute Charlotte attack over left, pull the ball back to the penalty spot, but the player misses badly. A minute later a Pitt corner is headed on the crossbar.

In the 75th minute a Pittsburgh corner is unexpectedly headed in from within a large crowd of players: 0-1. This leads to Charlotte actually pressuring and going after a goal, but there is simply too little tactical and technical capability. Final score: 0-1.

To be honest, it is on nights like these that I see groundhopping primarily as collecting scalps, i.e. new stadiums, as the football part of it can be truly uninspiring – and definitely not worth a 6.5 hour drive back and forth. This USL Pro game looked even worse than some PDL game I have seen. 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

FC Carolina Discoveries - Gate City FC (12-07-2014)

At the lower end of the “professional” soccer leagues in the United States the season is very short. Moreover, games are spread over weird periods; for some teams three months, for other five weeks. This all makes it very hard to get to see a game, let alone a game in the Southeast, which is a barren wasteland in terms of decent soccer. This all notwithstanding, I did find a game only some 2 hours away, in Rock Hill, South Carolina! It was the last game of the regular season of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), South Region, South Atlantic Conference (which includes five teams from the two Carolinas).

Although we entered Rock Hill well before kick-off, at 19:00, we arrived a couple of minutes late to the game. The reason was that the game was moved from the usual ground at Manchester Meadows, a classic US soccer complex, to the (American) football stadium of District 3 High School, which actually has a much larger capacity. Not that this was really needed, as there are only some 150 people at the game, including some 25 away fans (which seemed to be almost all linked to the youth team that must have played earlier that day), which had made the ca. 120 miles (200 km) drive south from Greensboro, North Carolina.

We pay $6 each for a nice ticket and find a spot on the, mostly empty, large concrete stand – the smaller stand on the other side of the pitch is closed. The sun is still shining and it’s about 88F/31C with only a slight breeze.

The players look older than the players at the lowest level of the USL, which are mostly college players, who play in the Premier Development League (PDL) during the summer break. The game is played on AstroTurf with the football lines still on it – quite confusing for both the players and viewers.

Gate City FC (GCFC) gets a couple of half decent chances before the Carolina Discoveries goalie hits over the ball and gives the GCFC striker an easy finish in front of an open goal: 0-1. He doesn’t look or play like the real goalie, but rather like a regular player just filling in. In the next 5 minutes the visitors get two more good opportunities but finish weak.

In the 24th minute the home team gets a corner-kick, which is headed back and then headed at the crossbar. Six minutes later a GCFC player lobs the ball over the ‘goalie’ but hits the post –the ‘goalie’ reacts as if the ball is going to go far wide. In the 33th minute the hosts have their first good combination attack, but the GCFC goalie makes a save. Half time: a deserved 1-0 lead for the clearly better visitors.

Five minutes into the second half GCFC gets a penalty: the kick is weak, but the goalkeeper – a new one, who seems to be a real goalie – cannot stop it: 0-2. Three minutes later a terrible mix-up in the GCFC defense brings the hosts back into the game. The goalie kicks over the ball, which seems to be the story of the game, the ball rolls almost over the line, and a Discoveries player kicks it in: 1-2.

In the 64th minute the visitors’ striker is touched from behind in the penalty box, but the referee doesn't give whistle. In the direct counter-attack the home striker goes down at outside of box and does get a penalty kick: 2-2. Asian gambling syndicate anyone?  

This totally changes the game. In the 77th minute the Carolina Discoveries have the best combination attack of the game, but the shot hits the post. Two minutes later another complete screw up in the GCFC defense leaves the ball in front of a Discoveries player, who stands at 5 meters of the goal: 3-2. Four minutes later a badly defended ball is rebounded with a volley that goes over the terrible goalkeeper: 4-2. This is followed by virtually the only decent chance of the visitors, but the half-volley is saved by the (real) goalkeeper. In the 88th minute the game is finished with a Discoveries free-kick that leads to a free header: 5-2.

In the end we saw a crazy game in a very pleasant setting. The football wasn’t particularly good, and there weren’t too many people in the stands, but the weather was nice and the venue promising.