Stegman’s Old Boys fans were asking plenty of questions before the 2012 season. How would the new signings bed in? Would the Blues continue to drop points to inferior teams? Should the manager stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation he used late last season or switch to a 3-5-2 that would allow more men to push forward? And, most critically, how would the MASL compare to the MRSL?
All intriguing inquiries, and very different from the questions the same supporters were pondering in 2011.
While both seasons, 2011 and 2012, ended with some frustration because dropped points against inferior teams caused the Blues to miss the promotion cut, 2012 was still a barnstorming success. Few teams can make the jump to MASL and fight an injury crisis in such swaggering fashion.
And those Surly-sponsored shirts were the sartorial equivalent of a team full of Leo Messi’s.
In the end, nobody dreamed that Stegman’s would finish third and be in with a shout for promotion up to the penultimate game of the season. And fewer still saw them pushing FC Shango to the last minute of overtime in the Wilson Cup. It as a season of beating expectations, even for manager Jon “Bizz-iola” Bisswurm.
Chairman Dan Hoedeman was busy in the offseason, adding no fewer than seven players to the team.
“Every signing was fantastic” said Hoedeman “so I’m pretty much a shoo-in for a second straight Amateur Soccer Chairman of the Year Award.”
Nathan Toldt, signed after more than two years of pursuit, anchored the defense and was the clear Man of the Match against Bavarians in Milwaukee, one of the performances of the season for the Blues.David Maier was a headline acquisition from Gremio Philadelphia and the truly lethal Ohioan, though he struggled for fitness throughout the season, added attacking nous and verve to the Stegman’s side. He was ably assisted on the other wing by new signing Derek Thomas. With Mike Logan adding energy up top, this was very much a new-look side.
It looked as much in the pre-season SOB Cup tournament.
The opening loss to a Valencia side looking for revenge was unlucky, the goals conceded due to individual errors rather than a team failing, but the offense did lack familiarity and it showed in the inability to breach a ho-hum Valencia back line.
The offense began to sharpen in the next match with Stegman’s putting Kolour to the sword without ever having to get out of first gear. The side looked much more dangerous in the final third, with new boys Derek Thomas and Tommy McCarthy combining for a lovely goal. The final match, against league foes V-Hawks, continued the improvement. The Blues bossed possession and created two good chances that Pete Manning put away.
A solid pre-season outing, but not spectacular.
Spectacular would have to wait for the league opener.
“We weren’t really sure what to expect” said Blues manager Jon Bisswurm “our first match was away against a Hastings side that we knew was being revamped, and so it was a jump into the unknown. New league, new team, new field to play on. No baseline to use in setting up the FIFA Lab. So instead I just played with Schalke against Arsenal over and over and over in my unending attempt to prove to myself that Huntelaar is better than Van Persie.”
Hastings was simply blown away by a vibrant and cohesive Stegman’s attack.
Tommy McCarthy prowled this midfield like a slightly-less-crazed Roy Keane, Tyler Woodward and Dan Hoedeman were buccaneering up and down the line from fullback, David Maier was breaking ankles and Derek Thomas blowing past defenders in an all-action performance that made Hastings look like BEEF United.
Not that Hastings, who had a player start a fight in the Stegman’s bench area, did themselves a huge amount of favors.
If it were not for a sterling performance from their goalkeeper, looking like a cross between Lev Yashin and Jesus, the scoreline would have been even more lopsided than 6-1.“That game was a lot of fun” said Thomas afterward. Indeed.
Reality called the next game, with Stegman’s sluggish on an astroturf field. A draw was a fair outcome, but Burnsville Fire got a rub of the green and two games into the season it was again hard to see just how the Blues stacked up.
Instead of the loss getting the team down, it seemed to spur them on. Victories against Pellicano and Rampage came in consecutive matches, in both cases Stegman’s were head and shoulders above their opponent, and the run culminated with the 2-0 lead that the Blues had with an hour gone in their Wilson Cup match against FC Shango.
Aggressive, pacy, and insuperable, the Old Boys bossed the midfield and were good value for their lead. Even as the heat took its toll and Shango began to assert themselves, the Blues were smart defensively and dangerous on the counter-attack, only to be un-done by a shocking penalty decision, a fluky equalizer and a goal in the last minute of extra time after injuries had reduced the team to 10 men.
“We showed the level we were able to compete at” said Jake Keeler “though it also foreshadowed our injury crisis. Or was the proximate cause of the injury crisis. Maybe both. Hard to say exactly. I would probably need to consult a dictionary to be sure.”
The Blues were able to fight past a sluggish FC St Paul before the losses of Sean Webb, David Maier, Dan Hoedeman, Tommy McCarthy and Jon Bisswurm to long-term injuries and assorted knocks and niggles to other players made it a full-blown injury crisis.
Against a half-strength Stegman’s side, V-Hawks were able to steal a 4-3 win at McMurray and SPAM a 4-0 win at Louisiana Oaks.
“Not making excuses” said Bisswurm “but we did have an excuse.”
A big win away to Blaine FC when a loss would have taken Stegman’s out of the promotion picture served to get the season back on track, not least because of the devil-may-care attitude of striker Dan Hedstrom as he scored a delightful chip to seal the win seemed to rub off on the team.
“I don’t spend any time thinking about which team is better or worse” said Hedstrom “I know that we are better. So I just go out and play that way, from changing in front of the crowd to silly flicks and audacious shots. So call it arrogant, some call it Dutch-inspired, I just call it SOCCER! Waaaaaaa!”That inspired a 10-match unbeaten run in the league, with the Blues blowing out Scorpions on a Free Beer Movement Night that is unfortunately better remembered for George Hanscom’s leg break.
“The sound haunts my dreams” said Mike Logan.
Another big win against St Cloud, where the Old Boys were disappointing in the first half, but turned it on to steal a 5-3 win at The Woodshed.
“Sometimes things don’t make any sense” said Bisswurm “like an Argentinean who doesn’t foul, a Netherlander who can’t control the ball, an Italian with bad hair, or conceding three goals at home against St Cloud.”
The Blues were not to lose a league game through to the end of the season, a nine-game run that saw them brush aside Scorpions in the return, Rampage, Pellicano and Barons. Only four points were dropped in that nine-game span, and a 0-1 reverse against the Bavarian Club in Milwaukee, with an excellent performance that deserved a draw, the only loss for the club since the end of June. It was an excellent run of positive, attacking soccer.
The unbeaten run pushed the Blues into contention for promotion but the effort was thwarted, however, by dropping points against Coon Rapids Fire.
Like a new boss at the end of a level of Super Mario Bros, Stegman’s knew that Coon Rapids presented the major test for them on the road to promotion. Two wins, and they were up. A win and a draw and they set up a season finale against V-Hawks for the final spot.
Two draws, both 2-2 and both decided with only minutes remaining in the game, and third place was the most the Blues could hope for.
The first match, played at Maetzold, featured two flukey goals by the Fire.
“They are a good team, and used their pace out wide to put us under some pressure. That said, they could never replicate their goals in a thousand years with a thousand monkeys and one Tommy McCarthy and ended up very lucky” said Bisswurm.
Sean Webb saved the draw for the Blues, doing what he does and riffling in an unstoppable shot with only minutes remaining as the whole second half of pressure from Stegman’s showed.
The return leg, at the same cursed field that saw the Blues lose a 2-0 lead to Shango, was even more heartbreaking.
An in-control Old Boys took a deserved 1-0 lead into the half. They started brightly in the second half as well, and were up 2-0 with an hour gone.
A scrambled goal from Coon Rapids set up a nervy finale. First, it looked like Stegman’s would put it away when a looping pass from Webb was volleyed by Hoedeman only to rebound off the out-stretched foot of the opposition goalkeeper. Then the referees, so poor throughout that they make Mike Riley look like Solomon, awarded Coon Rapids a free kick for a tackle that was described by the referee as “fair because he won the ball but then the other player tripped over him on the follow-through.”Ponder that a moment.
The ensuing free kick, with almost the last kick of the game, was floated into the box. Just over the heads of both the attacking Fire players and the defending Blues, it dropped untouched and bounced into the corner of the net.
“This party really died” said Nick Sindt from his position in the stands.
It was a frustrating way to lose a shot at promotion, but supporters and players alike were united in a feeling of accomplishment in a successful first season.
“We found out the level, found out that we can play at it and will be back next year” said Travis Pennings, “with the usual cases of Surly and the traveling circus that is the SOBs.”