At the end of my column last month I told you I hoped I’d be back with more things that I love than hate. Well that’s true, but the column is called “three things I love/three things I hate”. So that’s all you’re gonna get. The regular season is over, and for NSC the playoffs start Saturday. This edition will focus on our regular season as a whole, and not the month (or in one circumstance quarter) that just proceeded us. Let’s get after it.
THREE THINGS I LOVE
What is there not to love about this guy? You want goals? He’s got em. You want movement off the ball? He’s got it. You want a center forward who tracks back? He’s the guy. What’s that? You want a guy who knows exactly where the camera is after every goal? LOOK NO FURTHER. For me, you can’t quantify just exactly what this guy has meant for this team. Yes, posting twenty goals for the second season in a row on a team that was absolutely starved for goals last year was immense. But I think he’s done so much more than that.
The guy is all over the place. Constantly making runs into space, or tracking back to help win the ball. I don’t always think the best player on a team Is the hardest worker, but with Rios I do. Maybe my favorite thing about the guy is that at any given moment, he can just turn it on. Look at the finale against Atlanta. He comes in on maybe his worst run of form of the season, bags a brace for his 20th goal and now he’s right back on track. I’m glad that’s the guy we have leading the line, and I bet you are too.
I know, I know … we talk about him all the time. BUT CAN YOU BELIEVE IT HAS TAKEN ME THIS LONG TO WRITE ABOUT THIS GUY? Bolu has been the pods favorite player since preseason last year. We like his no nonsense approach. We like the performances he puts in game after game. We like the banger he scored against FCC. But what I LOVE about Bolu this year is how he’s just kept after it.
There have been several guys throughout the season who have clawed into the starting lineup that didn’t start there. Bolu is one of those guys. He saw both the team captain, and a player brought in via trade (who happened to be on an MLS contract) go down via injury, and he rose to the occasion. He and Lagrassa have formed a formidable partnership in midfield, and equally as important, he Ockford and Lasso have formed the team’s spine centrally. It’s that relationship that will be NSC’s anchor for these USL playoffs.
HOME PLAYOFF GAMES
I’m a red blooded American man. I don’t just like having playoffs, I LOVE IT. What do I like even more? Not having to drive to some garbage city to watch my team play. I like my seats, I like my bar and I like the crowd at First TN Park. While I’m on record talking about how much I like Nissan Stadium and can’t wait for all of our games to be there, First TN is home for now and it will do. This is the real deal, win or go home. The team has earned the right to play at home at least twice. Let’s make sure we do our part starting this Saturday against Charleston.
THREE THINGS I HATE
DROPPING STUPID POINTS (AGAIN)
When you finish one point out of first place, it’s easy to look back and say “oh man if only we’d won that game”. But this season a few results stick out more than others. Dropping points at home against a non-playoff team like Charlotte was not a good look. Dropping all six points against St Louis another non-playoff team was an even worse look. Now yes St Louis only finished one point out of 10th and was competitive for large swaths of the season. But without those six points against NSC, they’re sitting in 13th not even getting a sniff. Even three out of those six is the difference between home seed until the final, and having to travel. But the game everyone wants to look at is Pittsburgh away from way back in April. After leading 2-0 in the 87th minute NSC gives up not just one goal in the 88th, but an equalizer in added time to drop two massive points at what is traditionally one of the harder places to play in USL. That result to that opponent ensured that we have go there again, should both teams take care of business along the way. Now the flip side is that NSC has secured three separate results in added time in the closing stages of the season and without those points we don’t even finish 2nd. There is always two ways to look at an argument, and as bitter as those dropped points against Pitt may feel, maybe the fair thing happened after all.
PEOPLE WHO CHEER AGAINST THEIR TEAM
A few weeks ago we were watching Nashville take on Louisville City at First TN and I saw the strangest thing. Nashville had conceded an equalizer late, and the result seemed to be in doubt. This was a hard fought game against a quality opponent and for a moment things weren’t going our way. A person a few rows in front of us decided that this was unacceptable and started a one man “you suck Gary Smith” chant that lasted for a bit. It was broken up a few times by things like “do you even want to win the game” or “they don’t even care”. All of this was punctuated by what was arguably our goal of the season and Nashville getting all three points. Did this calm the person down? Give them new hope for the team? Not for a second. They didn’t celebrate at all. They sat down and stared at the ground while bedlam erupted around them. That’s when I went from thinking “this guy is actually pretty funny” to “this guy ACTUALLY wants the team to lose”. That, I can’t wrap my head around. I get being mad at a team, I get being mad at a coach, I even get very certain circumstances when you would boo a team (though this certainly wasn’t the moment). But when the team does well, you admit you over reacted and move on. This person would’ve rather seen “their team” lose to make sure they were right. That’s gonna be a no from me dog.
TIFO ARGUMENTS (AGAIN)
Well, it took a few months, but we’re back. The single most authentic culture on earth has shown it’s true colors yet again. The Football Pharisees have spoken out, and The Backline’s TIFO has been weighed and it has been found wanting. Now, I come here again just to say, I STILL really don’t get the point of it all. But what I do get, is that people take pride in it, it’s an established trend around the world, and that people are dumping time or money into producing them. So I back that 100%. Is it something I’d do? No. Is it something I’m glad other people do? Yes. But apparently that’s not the way everyone sees this. There are right ways and wrong ways to make a big piece of fabric with a design on it. These right and wrong ways apparently are tied at a very core level to the quality of a fan group, if the Pharisees are to be believed. As I tried to explain this argument to my wife who knows nothing about soccer, we settled on the idea that some people apparently view this as a giant arts and crafts competition for soccer fans. When you look at it that way, it makes both more and less sense at the same time.
What I really hate is bigger than people complaining about a TIFO that they never would’ve seen had they not chosen to seek it out only to complain. I hate the gate keeping culture that runs so deeply in the US soccer community. The idea that there is a right way, and a wrong way to do any of this. That anything more than showing up and wanting your team to win is necessary. And I think that’s part of what makes the backline great. It’s five groups of people, who maybe on paper don’t have a ton in common, coming together to back the team. It’s not a pissing match amongst people supporting the same team. It’s a group saying “you do you, but let’s get this win”. I don’t know a lot about soccer fandom, but I know I’d rather have a group of people doing that, than a bunch of fandom arbiters scoring internet points by complaining about someone else.
And that my friends brings us to a close. Our last USL regular season is done, and now we’re back in the big show. Whatever happens moving forward from Saturday, let’s make sure we enjoy it. But no matter how good the next month goes, I promise I’ll be back with three things I hate either way. Have a list of things you love or hate? Hit me on twitter @daveytshep. I probably won't respond.
This article is an opinion piece and expresses solely the views of the author, not necessarily the views of Speedway Soccer as a whole.