Today is the day. It’s been a long time coming; it’s been quite the long off-season. Longer for us than todays opponents unfortunately. However, today is the day when it gets real again.
Whilst I think we would all agree, Coopers and Louligans alike, that the Kings Cup is on hiatus for a year, that it only counts during a meaningful competitive game. It doesn’t detract from the fact that todays game at the University of Evansville is the first time this [pre]season where we each will face off against fellow USL opposition. The game today enables us both to see exactly where we are in relation to squad preparation for the upcoming campaign.
Obviously both clubs are approaching today from antipodean angles. We frankly have disappointed in seasons past, whereas to be fair to Louisville City they’ve been the standard bearer in winning consistently for the past 3 years. We’ve had to revamp our squad two years in succession whereas they’ve managed to keep a core of their teams whilst replacing those that have left with excellent like for like swaps. Will our newly assembled squad hit the ground running against the reigning champions? Or is there still work to do?
I asked Louisville fan and regular pot shot swiper at us, Taylor Sorrels, what he thinks going into todays game; “I have never really had much of a handle on how James O’Connor approaches preseason. Is it a continuation of his offseason fitness program? Is it to try new tactics or shapes? Is it to figure out how Player X fits in to a particular role? maybe it is all three.” Taylor goes on to disseminate the current squad; “Our roster hasn’t changed much since we raised the trophy back in November. We’ve lost five guys and picked up four: a 3rd keeper, a newly professional defender with a lot of upside, and a USL vet in Pat McMahon. I think the roster could use two or three more able bodies, but apparently the gaffer disagrees. So far, anyway. We’ll see.”
Like myself, Taylor looks across the league at the nearby arms race in Cincy, Indianapolis and Nashville and whilst I am glad we’re in the West, it is something Louisville have to go up against. “I do have confidence that we’ll be solid in the middle and have enough creativity to score goals. I’m a little unsure about the defense, but not uncomfortable [he wrote this before Shaun Francis was announced- Ed]. More than anything I’m ready for the season to get here so I can watch some live soccer with 9-10,000 of my closest friends. Vamos Morados.”
All across the Saint Louis metro area this morning, cars will be loaded up, coolers filled, GPS’s plugged in and a trailer will be towed eastbound on I-64. I don’t say this lightly, pre-season or not, that whenever we fans spend money on gas and tickets, spend time on the road and away from our families, we expect. We expect 100%. We expect the same commitment on the field as we’ll endeavor to give off it. This is, of course, how it should be, and I know having spoken to a few players and a coach this past week that they know today is the barometer. No disrespect to SIUE or FC Denver, but today is the day.
I think we as a group travel well. We’ve taken multiple bus trips where we’ve gone en masse to a game. It is very rare even to have an away game where there isn’t one lone fan representing us and the team at a match. That said, we’ve never gone to a game on the road with a bunch of fans present and walked out happy. Sad really, that after 3 years and trips to Oklahoma, SKC, Swope, Louisville and Cincinnati, that we’ve never left a stadium euphoric, scarfs in the air, singing and dancing, wearing our colors with pride as we drive out of town with three points in our back pockets. With our move back to the western conference again, road trips will be at a bit of a premium. There are less chances to all go and have ourselves a boozy away day with mates. This game, albeit in preseason, is one of the few.
Up front we’ve seen a lot in the warm up games thus far. Dikwa has shown himself to be a surprise, big and strong with youthful exuberance on his side. Volesky, Greig and Hertzog are all known quantities in this league. They all know where the back of the net is. That said, 4 into 2 doesn’t go up top. In the middle, Hilton, Martz, Fall, Dacres, Walls, Calistri have so far all played well, and with Kyle Culbertson blasting forwards on the left, they can all make a case to be in the starting midfield. Again however, 7 into 5 doesn’t go. This is the last chance for some of these guys to cement their spot on the team sheet next Friday in southern Texas.
Today matters. So let’s go do it.