Monday, November 19, 2007

Mainland Maniacs 15-2-1 in SJSL in 2007

Ben and Alex Clark's Mainland United Maniacs under-10 boys soccer team finished this weekend as fall bracket champions with a record of 7 wins, 2 losses and 1 tie (37 goals scored, 17 conceded, +20 goal difference) in the South Jersey Soccer League's Tier 4 that also included teams from Deptford, Hamilton Township North, Moorestown, Cinnaminson and Westmont.
(For perspective's sake, the Maniacs' bracket included the teams ranked 19 through 24 of the total of 78 under-10 teams in the SJSL this fall. There were 13 brackets of 6 teams each, based on ranking, in the age group.)
That follows up a spring championship in the SJSL's Tier 3 that saw the Maniacs post a record of 8 wins, 0 losses and 0 ties (38 goals scored, 10 conceded, +28 goal difference).
So, in calendar year 2007, the Maniacs finished 18 games of SJSL play with a record of 15 wins, 2 losses and 1 tie (75 goals scored, 27 conceded, +48 goal difference) playing in the upper third -- rankings wise -- of a league that literally covers half the state, from Princeton all the way south to Cape May. That is truly something to be proud of, especially for a team from our neck of the woods competing against the 'open clubs' from suburban Philadelphia that have much larger catchment areas from which to draw players! We are essentially a three-town club.
The trio of head coach Tim Donnelly and assistant coaches Sam Nutile and Dave Holak (the three dads have a total of four sons on the team -- Adam Donnelly, Tyler and Nicky Nutile, and Trevor Holak) really have the team playing soccer that's pleasing to the eye. These lads move the ball around. They don't just 'hoof and hope' or have one or two players dribble through the other team. In the spring, 11 of the 14 players scored at least 1 goal and, and in the fall it was also 11 of 14 players scoring at least 1 goal each. That is balance, pure and simple. You can't argue with those numbers.
The Maniacs really cut teams apart with their ball movement. This past weekend, they had two road games. On Saturday, the Maniacs defeated Deptford 5-1 and on Sunday -- in brutally chilly rain and wind -- they defeated Moorestown 6-1. They were two stunning performances to end the season, especially considering how the cold weather has kicked in. As a fan of the 'Beautiful Game' and an admitted soccer aesthete, I must say I very much enjoy watching this team play the game. As many of you know, you can't often say that about a youth team.
The Maniacs also tested themselves against good competition by playing in 3 tournaments in 2007 -- the Vineland and Cohansey tournaments in the spring, and Mount Laurel in the fall. The Maniacs finished those competitions with a record of 1 win, 4 losses and 4 ties (24 goals scored, 30 conceded, -6 goal difference). The four losses were to two teams -- twice beaten by Cape Express Derailers and a Vineland team coached by former pro-player Glenn Carbonara. The Maniacs were right there in those matches, so signs are encouraging in tournament play.

Overall in 2007 -- in both league and tournaments -- the Maniacs' record was 16 wins, 6 losses and 5 ties (99 goals scored, 57 conceded, +42 goal difference). That is simply outstanding!!!!

Six of the boys also finished in third place in their bracket in Mainland's 3 v. 3 tournament this summer, a team that I coached. What's next? One weekend off then the 8-game indoor season begins at Gaetano's in Franklin Township, most likely followed by a second 8-game indoor session at Euro Sports Center in Egg Harbor City. And, finally ... when is the first spring practice ?!?!?!?!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hammers Plugging Along Nicely

We are 12 games into the Premier League season, and West Ham have 18 points and have conceded just 10 goals in league matches. For some perspective, after our heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Tottenham last season (earlier this calendar year), we had just 20 points from 29 matches. That precipitated the history-making run where we won 7 of 9 to finish with 41 points and stay up -- only just! No such battle against relegation looms this season, which is a credit to the managerial team of Alan Curbishley and Mervyn Day. The side has been decimated by injuries, yet there is a consistency of purpose that was not on display, for the most part, last campaign.
Two players are in the running for Hammer of the Year, so far, in my opinion. Goalkeeper Robert Green and striker Carlton Cole have been the rocks of the foundation on which our relative success has been built. How Green has not been called up for England beggars belief; his penalty save at Portsmouth summarizes the outstanding form he has shown this season. The imposing Cole may not be a great finisher, but he does the grunt work of a classic target man. His flick-ons, knockdowns and overall aerial prowess have been the often-unseen and underappreciated keys to many of our results so far. He has also overcome some early stick from the supporters, and has turned it around without any signs of petulance. Good on ya, mate!
Honorable mentions go to Matty Etherington and Matthew Upson, but it is Green and Cole carrying this team so far. We have a Carling Cup quarterfinal v. Everton at Upton Park to look forward to in December, and a key home match v. Tottenham in two weeks' time. Come on yewwwwwwwwwwww Irons !!!!!!!!!!!!!!