Week #2 - Road Trip to D-Town
Last week was the first weekend of the regular season as well as our first games away from home in 2004, so I thought I would let everyone in on a typical road trip for the Tulsa men's soccer team.
Last weekend, we opened the season with two games at the SMU Mi Cocina Classic in Dallas, Texas. After practice on Wednesday night those of us who were traveling found our bags and uniforms in our lockers. It must be noted that while everyone can suit up and be on the bench for home games, we cannot travel all members of the team for to contests. Traveling or not, every single guy in that locker room is part of this team and the team wouldn't be the same with just one of us be missing. We all went through preseason together and we continue push each other every day at practice. The guys that are hurt are still part of the family and help mold the program.
So it's never a big worry when you're packing for a soccer trip. Of course you want to make sure you have both uniforms and everything you will need for the games. Other than that, it's usually basketball shorts and T-shirts and something to wear to dinner at night. The item most often forgotten has to be shin guards. Most of the guys don't like wearing these anyway, so that makes forgetting them at home that much easier. Last year, Kyle Brown went well into the season using flattened out paper Gatorade cups before a referee caught him.
The bus trip down was pretty uneventful. They played last year's NCAA Tournament first round win over Oakland, and lots of us slept the rest of the way. When we got close to the hotel we hit some lovely Dallas rush-hour traffic. Being from the area, I was used to it and didn't think anything of it. Our team has a good number of players from the Dallas area and the last couple of years have provided some native Oklahomans some example of what traffic is all about. The guys from Oklahoma didn't like the traffic one bit and were very vocal about it. This brought comments from the Dallas boys about Oklahoma's endless charm. It made the time pass much faster and was a good way to end the ride.
Mi Cocina is a local restaurant that sponsors the SMU tournament. They treat all four teams to a very nice dinner that leaves everyone content. There was a nice selection of salad, shrimp, chicken, and pasta, along with pie and brownies for dessert. SMU's head coach got up and thanked the owner and then welcomed all the teams. Then came the night.
This isn't usually a big deal, but our team is different. When's we're on the road, nights at the hotel means one thing: Texas Hold'em. There is always a strong group of 4-6 players, but I think there have been times where it's been closer to 10 or 12. Don't be surprised if "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" is on our warm-up tape solely because it's the theme song to the 2004 World Series of Poker.
I was rooming with Erik Burkholder on this trip. The coaches often try to mix it up by putting older guys with the newcomers. That made me realize we only had two seniors on the trip. I think we had nearly a dozen new guys between freshman and transfers my first year, and now there are just two. Burk and I got along pretty well. Neither one of us are really loud, but once we got in the room it was pretty easy to open up. We had a good laugh at the Northwestern field goal kicker that went 1-6 to let TCU win in overtime.
We got to the field a little more than an hour before the game. It was the first game of the season so the scouting report was more generalizations on past Stanford teams. This was the third year in a row we had played Stanford. We beat them 3-1 at their place two years ago when they were ranked No. 1 in the nation, and then again last year 2-0 in our tournament.
This was a very different Stanford team. They played much more direct than we expected and didn't utilize their midfield as much as in previous years. They were also a more physical team rather than their typical finesse game. On a short, narrow field they played deep and stayed central to throttle most of our attacks. I think Ryan had two guys on him at all times with a third waiting close by in case he got the ball. We struggled to get the ball moving at times but still created some chances. Their goalkeeper made a couple of good saves and we weren't able to put any away. We gave up a couple of scary opportunities ourselves, but after regulation and two overtime periods neither team had capitalized and we were forced to settle for a 0-0 tie in our season opener. Obviously a tie is better than a loss, but you wouldn't know it from some of the reactions of our players. We're holding ourselves to a very high standard this year and expect to win.
It was nice to keep a shutout, especially for Domenic Cervi who did us the honors in net. In his first collegiate game he was very composed and saved us more than once.
SMU and Kentucky were playing in the night game, but the coaches stayed back to do the scouting while we were off to Campisi's. Not only did this include some great Italian food, but it also meant a trip to downtown Dallas. Matt Wiley made the call for our table to try some Bruschetta, and what can I say, but the man is clutch. It was very good along with the meal. On the way out the bus driver needed Cary Wicker to lead us out and back to our hotel.
Why must all downtowns, whether big or small, be confusing to navigate? One-way roads everywhere don't make it easier to get around. There are traffic lights on the side of the road rather than hanging over the middle of the street, which is also more difficult. Friday night consisted of more poker and college football, and some much needed sleep.
We all came back together for dinner and played some more poker afterward, and then watched some college football. Notre Dame was playing BYU in football. I've been a fan of Notre Dame football ever since the movie "Rudy" came out. They have a long line of tradition and they've always been pretty good. The last couple of years have been a different story and it's been a struggle to sit through a whole game. Saturday was no different.
The team came out pretty strong against Kentucky. We knew we couldn't let another team overpower us physically, and I believe Kentucky drew two quick yellow cards. We were expecting them to play very direct up to their tall front line. We tried to move the ball around to counter this, moving up and down the sides when possible. The team showed better ball control than on Friday and we had stretches where we really knocked it around and played our game.
Our solid work from our front two resulted in a first half goal by Todd Goddard. It was a good goal and a relief, but I think we became too relaxed. They always say a team is most vulnerable at the beginning of each half and after they've scored a goal. Kentucky came right back down on us and scored a goal three minutes later to put the pressure back on. We went in to halftime with the score tied 1-1.
With nearly half an hour left in the second half, one of their forwards ran into Dominic Cervi when he came out to get a ball. We're not sure what he hit him with, but Dom was spitting blood afterward. The referee issued the player a yellow card, his second of the game, which meant his ejection. Being a player down really hampered Kentucky with the style they like to play. For the next 15 minutes we controlled the pace and eventually scored another goal. We eased up and let them back in it for the last 10 minutes of the game. Obviously, we should have finished the game off strong and we nearly paid for it when they scored a goal that was called back for being offsides. With all the new personnel, the conditions, and the injuries, the tournament went pretty well. Brad Lowyns was able to step in for the injured Dom and we didn't miss a beat. Todd and Dom both made the all tournament team. To our surprise Stanford came back to beat SMU that night, 2-0. This gave us second place in the tournament and made our tie with the Cardinal look better to those keeping track around the nation. We stayed at relatively the same spot in all the polls and had Monday off from practice and school. We still have work to do, but the first weekend is in the books and we are undefeated.
Next week will be a real test with our second road trip. We play on back-to-back days, which I haven't done since I've been at TU. This will be a real test of conditioning and hopefully our play will continue to prove with each game. The season's started, no more tune-ups or excuses. It's time to play.