By Danny Contreras
Everyone has a second family. Whether it is the people you eat with at Memorial Hall or the people you party with at the club, your second family is almost as dear to you as your actual one. When I traveled to Rhode Island on Oct. 14 with the men’s soccer team, I realized how tight knit this group became in a space of two months and how much of a family these athletes had created.
The day started at 9:30 a.m. I made my way down from Carroll to Kaiser where Coach Shaun Green greeted me. We spoke for thirty minutes while he burned a movie for the team to watch on the way to Rhode Island, speaking about the tactics he devises before the matches. Green taught me how players should influence the game when they don’t have the ball, even putting some math into the tactics.
He joked with me about the teams we follow; how much of a waste Andy Carroll is at Liverpool, and how bad Arsenal performed in the beginning of the season.
At 10:00 a.m. we got on the bus and all of the players were formally introduced to me, as I shook each of their hands. We waited about fifteen minutes because goalkeeping coach Benjamin Wright ran late. As soon as he got there, Coach Green and Coach Wright teased him along with the players.
Soon after, Coach Green started the movie, which was about a fictional manager, Mike Bassett, who guides the English National Football Team to the World Cup semi-finals. The hilarious filmed calmed the airs, which reeked of tension as the game at Bryant would put the Blue Devils on through to the top of the league if they came out victorious.
While watching the movie, Mamoudou Dioubate, one of CCSU’s three captains, sat next to me with his laptop to review the video of the match against Robert Morris. Dioubate took mental notes of his performance and muttered to himself on how to improve on it.
Soon after, Thomas Obasi joined him to watch his performance. At that point, I couldn’t help but ask them what exactly they looked for in the videos. “I look for how fast, or slow I react. How my tackles are and how accurate my passing is,” answered M. Dioubate. “I look for my positioning. I’m always running all over the place so I need to know when the plays are being made,” said Obasi eagerly.
We made a stop at Uno Chicago Grill for some lunch prior to the game. We had three options for meals: pasta with chicken, salad with soup, or a salad with a wrap. For drinks we had two options: water, and water with ice. To my left and right sat M. Dioubate and Reece Wilson, and in front was Souleymane Sanogo, Steven Bailey and Alpha Dioubate.
At first, everyone sat in complete silence. I looked around nervously, a bit intimidated as the majority of them stood taller than me and I’m not used to being around tall people, but I managed to break the ice by asking them which team they followed.
The answers ranged in Premier League with Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal being the most common answers. M. Dioubate said he doesn’t follow his country’s international team because they don’t perform too well while Bailey said he should because that is his team.
“I follow Jamaica because they’re my country, and I have a lot of pride in it.” M. Dsaid he rather see good football than bad one, and laughed it off with Bailey. Our food arrived and M. Dioubate and I kept talking with Bailey and Souleymane.
We began joking around, Reece occasionally turning to me and M. Dioubate and telling him to shut up, and that he spoke too much, but everyone laughed it off and the atmosphere grew friendlier and friendlier.
We said our good-byes to Uno, and got on the bus for the quick ride to Bryant.
Once in the locker room, I sat on a couch and updated the Central Recorder Sports Twitter. I looked at Coach Green as he wrote the match’s tactics on the dry-erase board. Coach Wright and Coach Benjamin prepped the players as Bailey played his iPod from the speakers. They joked about how much nicer the Bryant University locker rooms looked from the CCSU ones. Five minutes before the game, Coach Green gave his prep talk.
“Listen up guys, I can’t remember the last time we had an opportunity to be up in first place in the league. Okay? Now I want you guys to be out there, I want to see the tenacity, the desire in every play, in every header, in every kick. You can’t imagine how it is in Manchester United, in their locker room, week in and week out, top of the league every week. They fight for top of the league every single time they step on the pitch. You want to taste what it’s like to be on the top, you got. But the hardest thing is not getting there it’s staying there.”
The team led Bryant at the halfway mark 2-0. “It’s not over yet, not by a longshot. We haven’t taken care of business yet,” said Coach Green as soon as they got back from the half. “You’ve gotta manage the game as professionals. Amateurs are amateurs because they take risks professionals don’t. I expect you Reece and Eddy to score goals. You know why? [Because I think you’re exceptional],” said Green as he got them worked up for the game. He rather have the team angry at him and prove him wrong than not perform at all.
“We will be number one in the league tonight. I want you to forget the first half, begin this half at 0-0. I want you to believe every team in dangerous. Believe Bryant is dangerous because they are, they can be dangerous. Believe they’re dangerous, however, with that said believe no other team is more dangerous than you. The scoreboard does not reflect the difference in quality between the teams. I want you to demoralize them.” He concluded before he passed the talk to Wright, who spoke about the individual efforts each member needs to put in.
The saddest moment in the game came when Anthony Occhialini’s shutout flew away as a missed out of bounds call on the end line by the linesmen allowed Bryant back into the game with CCSU now leading 3-1. James Perkins replaced Occhialini who came back to the bench at the verge of tears, his anger flowing through his face, annoyed at the fact his record would be taken away by a mistake. He spoke to the team, about how stupid the referee was and how badly he wanted to beat him up for his mistake, but he calmed down, and accepted the fact the referee isn’t perfect, and that’s what makes the game so interesting.
The game finished and CCSU defeated Bryant 4-2. We made our way to a Rhode Island family-owned pizzeria for dinner. The team sat in a row, and I sat with them. I spoke to them about my views on the game, how well defensively they performed and how the mistakes almost ruined a great game for them. I commended them for their game the week prior where they defeated St. Francis (PA) 2-0, but these guys are their own biggest critics.
They replied by saying they sucked at that game and that all their skills were off. I laughed it off, but I imagined the pressure they must feel. To perform at this level week in week out and how it takes a toll on them. My admiration grew, but they were humble about it. They took me in as part of the team, though I personally can’t play to save my life.
Yeah, I think I have a third family. Or close to that. After all, the welcoming I received from the team, the coaching staff, made me feel at home. The trip was fun and so was the match. But the best was “hanging” with the team and finding out what exactly it’s like not only on the field, but off as well.