Hello friends and welcome to another action-packed episode of The Valentin Chronicles. In today’s installment, you will laugh, you will gasp, you will cry, but you will leave genuinely entertained.
I would like to start off today by wishing each and every one you a merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, happy Kwanzaa, or a happy Ramadan – whichever suits you best.
Here at The Valentin Chronicles, I am not only in the entertainment business, but the education business concurrently. Saying that, today’s foreign greeting comes from the land of the rising sun. It’s my gleaming pleasure to say "konnichiwa" which means "hello" in Japanese, and welcome you today. I would like to thank my wonderful mom for the difficult spelling of konnichiwa (kon-e-chi-wa). I would also like to take this opportunity to thank her for being the best, most supportive, and most loving mother in the world.
Thanks for joining me again. Here goes:
What’s Going On Here?
I keep wondering when I am going to wake up. This whole new situation seems like some sort of weird dream where the underdog wins the big game like the Might Ducks against the Hawks. In my current dream the headline reads: Small-Town Boy Works Hard; Becomes Bigtime Journalist. I’m going back to sleep now so that I keep dreaming. Hopefully, my next dream’s headline will read: Valentin Signs 20.6 Million with Real Madrid; Wins Nobel Peace Prize. I’m still working on that one, but I can dream can’t I?
To help you make sense of that strange introduction, since I posted my last installment there has been a steady stream of fan mail going through ussoccer.com and right into my personal laptop in Bradenton. It has gotten to the point where I have a special email address to handle all of my fan e-mail business with ussoccer.com. I love it! It’s great to hear from all of you and hear what you have to say. I just can’t figure out why people would ever take the time to e-mail me.
I’m not good looking like Justin Timberlake, although I can sing just as well as he can. I’m not rich like Bill Gates and I can’t act or even be half as funny Jim Carey. All I do is write for fun and play soccer. That’s it. But I won’t complain about it.
Saying that, I would like to remind you that you can contact me (if you would like) at any time by emailing me email@example.com. Those emails go directly to me. I will do my absolute best to personally reply – I’ve been good in replies so far!
Friends, family, teammates and faithful readers of The Valentin Chronicles, please don’t worry. I promise that I will always be the same person. I promise not to get a big head from all of my new fan e-mail.
One of the best features of the US Soccer Residency Program is our series of our intra-squad games. With our group of 40, we split up into four different teams. Back in September, Danny Szetela, Freddy Adu, Mike Bradley and I were called into coach Ellinger’s office as captains. He slid a roster in front of us and briefed us on the situation. He explained that we would play four rounds of games (12 games) over the whole first semester, with a traditional 3 points for a win and 1 point for a tie format. Then coach Ellinger added a little detail and a ton of extra incentive for this newly formed league. The winning team would get to eat out at Hops Steakhouse (a really nice steakhouse), the second place team would get to go to the Bradenton Ale House (a casual Damon’s-like joint), the third place team would get Pizza Hut, and the bottom team would be getting a value meal at McDonald’s. At the end of the draft the teams were set:
Team Adu: Freddy Adu, Rigo Hidalgo, Quavas Kirk, Ofori Sarkodie, Richard Edgar, Dax McCarty, Jordan Graye, Jeremy Hall, Jeff Scannella, and Evan Newton.
Team Bradley: Mike Bradley, Blake Wagner, Cameron Jordan, Ryan Soroka, Taylor Waspi, Eric Lichaj, Nathan Sturgis, Marcus Rein, Estuardo Sanchez, and Adam Sloustcher.
Team Szetela: Danny Szetela, Christian Jimenez, Kyle Nakazawa, Steve Sandbo, Mark Wiltse, Jesse Henderson, Michael and Gabriel Farfan, Eric Avila, and Greg Folk.
Team Valentin: Julian Valentin, Tim Ward, Jonathan Villanueva, Michael DalPra, Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Jay Singh, Kenny Walker, Kevin Alston, Fernando Ayala, and Bryant Rueckner.
These intra-squad games are an excellent tool for both coach’s evaluations and player development. We would play once or twice a week and these games would often be the best games that we see, playing with and against great players. The food bonus just added an extra "bite" to the competition and there were countless heated arguments on and off the field.
Going into the final day of competition, Team Adu had clinched first place and dinner at Hops with a commanding roll through the competition. Team Szetela had already warned the McDonald’s drive-thru window that they would be ordering McFlurrys with their #3s, as they struggled through the tournament, picking up just over five points. The main event of the final day was when my team played Mike Bradley’s team in the second and third place game with the Bradenton Ale House at "steak". It was one for the ages.
Team Bradley went up 2-0 by half time with decent goals from Estuardo Sanchez and Blake Wagner. At the half, knowing that my team needed only a tie to take second place, I utilized my lineup, switching from my 4-4-1 to an attacking 3-4-2, pushing numbers forward. Minutes after my ingenious coaching adjustment, Jonathan Villanueva slid a goal into the side netting.
With barely any time left on the clock, Anthony Ampaipitakwong blasted a shot from about 18 yards out. It slowly rose like a thermometer and bent into the right upper-90 corner – a brilliant goal. The score was now 2-2. Then my team shifted again to a more defensive formation with a 4-1-3-1. With less than three minutes remaining, we were playing for the tie and a steak at the Bradenton Ale House.
Nearly eight minutes later disaster struck for my team on the last kick of the game. With a questionable amount of allotted stoppage time, Marcus Rein blindly cleared a ball from the back. With a higher power looking out for Team Bradley on that day, Rein’s ball landed perfectly on the shaved head of Estuardo Sanchez. Just seconds before coach Keith Fulk blew the whistle for full time (almost five minutes late it seemed), Sanchez’s flick-on header glided past an outstretched Bryant Rueckner and pulled off the game winner for Team Bradley.
A lucky win for the victorious Bradleys sent them to the Bradenton Ale House and my squad to Pizza Hut. If it was any conciliation, my team ended up getting pizza at Portafinno’s, a local Italian restaurant that is arguably better than the Bradenton Ale House. It was a great game but the sweet pizza quickly washed the bitter taste of defeat out of my mouth.
That’s It For Now
I would also like to extend a special Happy Holiday’s wish to you. Whether it is Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or Ramadan that you may celebrate during this season, I would like to wish you and yours the very best. Also have a safe and happy new years. Remember to keep reading ussoccer.com for my next article and any other great updates until then. Thanks again and I’ll see you next year!