Scratching the Pitch was invited by Dayton Dutch Lions FC head coach Patrick Bal to travel with the team to a PDL match against Derby City Rovers. What follows is a description of the match and a narrative that attempts to show what life is like on the road in the amateur soccer league.
1:30 PM – Players and staff depart from DOC Stadium in West Carrollton, OH on a bus adorned with the Dayton Dutch Lions FC crest.
The bus, which was equipped with comfortable seats and space similar to a coach flight, had just enough capacity for the players, staff, and media attache. It was also outfitted with an audio-video system that included a VCR and multiple screens throughout the vehicle. In truth, it was a higher quality conveyance than had been anticipated.
The team departed without fanfare, something the Oranje Legion must remedy next season.
1:40 PM – The bus driver makes a stop for fuel at a gas station a few miles down the road.
As it so happened, the fuel gauge on the bus was inoperable. The driver wanted to make sure that the tank held enough diesel to get to the game and back without getting stuck on the side of the road. It turned out that the tank was more full than expected, but no one complained about the unexpected stop so shortly after the trip had begun.
3:30 PM – The bus pulls into a rest area somewhere in KY, and there is just enough time to run to the bathroom and back.
Apart from the occasional observational comment, there was not much chatter during the ride from the Buckeye State through the Bluegrass. Most were content to enjoy one of the VHS tapes, Independence Day in this case, they had seen countless times throughout the season. Others were engaged with personal electronic devices and headphones.
4:30 PM – A Chipotle in a strip mall just south of Lexington is the location for the pregame meal.
One of the few perks of playing amateur soccer in the USL PDL is a pregame meal provided by the club. Nearly every one of the players selected on of Chipotle’s bowls with chicken and rice, a reasonably healthy and palatable choice before a match.
Thanks to a generous discount offered by Chipotle and a less than expected volume of fuel required for the trip, the team will be able to return to Dayton without exceeding a substantially meager travel budget.
If a player enjoys handling dirty laundry, all he has to do is return to the bus late after the meal. One of the benefits of a small support staff in PDL is the opportunity to teach lessons in this manner.
6:10 PM – The team arrives at its destination, Joe McDaniel Field on the campus of Centre College in Danville, KY.
The American football lines that crossed the pitch didn’t seem to be a concern. Eric Kissinger regaled with a tale of getting confused at a match in Canada when he crossed the 50-yard-line twice while running in the same direction.
6:35 PM – Dutch Lions are informed that the match will actually take place at the college’s field hockey and lacrosse field.
There were no restrooms at the field. Players, staff, referees, and soccer bloggers simply found the nearest location out of the fans’ lines of sight.
Warm-ups began with stretching and small-sided games and concluded with a finishing drill.
7:30 PM – The Star Spangled Banner is played and the match begins.
The Dutch Lions hoped to jump out to a lead early in the match, which was reflected in their direct style of play. The midfield and backline sent several balls into the channels. Tayron Leandro and Michael Frasca could not quite catch up to several of those balls, many of which rolled over the end line or were gathered by the Derby City goalkeeper.
Dayton’s two most promising moments of the first half came when Lorenzo Rodriguez was able to work the ball down the left side of the field and send crosses into the box, but neither of the passes connected with a Dutch Lions teammate.
The Rovers kept the Dutch Lions defense off balance for stretches of the first half with counterattacks and overlapping runs from outside backs. Several shots were saved by Stefan Cleveland, deflected en route to the goal, or simply missed the target.
Just as onlookers in the stands began to voice concerns about Derby City’s inability to finish, the Rovers’ persistence paid dividends. In the 44th minute Cleveland stretched out to make a diving save, but the rebound sat up nicely for Derby City’s Ace Gonya. Gonya emphatically drove the ball into the open net from a couple of yards away.
A different Dayton squad emerged from the halftime break. The visitors started to dominate possession and work the ball into dangerous spots with connecting passes. The Derby City back line did well to close down space when the Dutch Lions advanced to within striking distance.
The Dutch Lions finally found the equalizer at the 80’ mark. Second-half substitute, Buba Fadika, collected the ball and pushed down the right wing. Fadika was able to get off a well-placed cross while under pressure from a Rovers defender. Nick Dowdell had been making a run to the far post. Dowdell leapt and executed a textbook header down and into the net.
Maybe Dayton relaxed after leveling the score, or perhaps they put every last ounce of energy into doing so. Either way, it only took two minutes for Derby City to regain the lead. A corner kick found its way to an unmarked Drake Christiansen on the opposite side of the box. Christiansen had time to settle the ball and set up his shot, which he buried.
Although there was time to salvage a point, the Dutch Lions would present no further danger to Derby City. Christiansen’s goal had taken the wind out of the sails, and the toll of playing three matches in five days had claimed Dayton’s legs.
9:27 PM – The match ends with the Dutch Lions falling 2-1 to the Derby City Rovers.
Neither team had a chance to make the playoffs when the match began, but both put everything they had into the contest. The exhaustion was apparent when the final whistle blew.
Handshakes were exchanged and light stretching was performed before riding the bus back to the locker room adjacent to Joe McDaniel Field.
Once back in the locker room, players quickly showered and received ice and treatment from the athletic trainers. In between, they gobbled pizza provided by the host team.
Little talk about the match was exchanged apart from a few comments from Coach Bal as players exited the locker room.
10:05 PM – Everyone boards the bus for the journey back home.
The ride home was filled with as much silence as the drive to the match. Another VHS cassette, Rounders, was popped into the player. Headphones returned to ears. Sleep came to those who could find it.
1:25 AM – The Dutch Lions return to DOC Stadium and disembark from the bus for the last time this trip.
Twelve hours later, the 350-mile round trip concluded just as it had begun, in a pouring rain in the parking lot outside of a multi-purpose high school stadium. With no fans, friends, or family waiting to greet them upon their return, the Dutch Lions players received final instructions from Coach Bal and made their way to their cars.
The Dutch Lions will have to repeat this process one more time before the season ends. The final match is on the road against the MIchigan Bucks on Saturday.
There are no paychecks in PDL and scarcely more than nothing in terms of fame and glory. What there is, though, is a chance to compete and improve at a beloved game. There is an opportunity to live out a passion. That is why these players play, and that is why where soccer players go, Scratching the Pitch will follow.