Today's playoff preview had planned on being a light-hearted romp through the parts of the MISL that the Wave had run over in its trek to the regular season championship and home field advantage through the playoffs. There was even going to be the new (Sponsor's Name Here)'s Official unofficial awards.
Unfortunately, it looks like the absolute worst time for the wheels to come off, and instead of light-hearted romp, we've got to examine what the hell just happened.
In a seven-day period ending on Sunday, March 2nd, the Wave played three home games (inexplicably 30% of the entire home schedule). Going into those three games with a dominant 15-2 record, the Wave...
- Lost to the Missouri Comets 15-9
- Beat the hapless St. Louis Ambush 16-12 (a team in which they outscored by 52 points the previous five games)
- Lost to the Missouri Comets 9-4
The Wave ended the season 16-4, with all four losses to the same Comets team. The Wave was 14-0 against the rest of the league.
So who does the Wave face in their playoff semi-finals? Yup.
I straddle a very thin fence. I am not a journalist, so I am not versed on "interviewing" people, nor am I trained in digging until I get what I am looking for. I am also not a former soccer player, so other than watching the Wave for 30 years and then also outdoor soccer for 15-20 years, I don't have a background in the sport (the perfect example is with pro football; a running back runs into the back of an offensive lineman and we all say "that guy's a bum" without knowing that the play called for a zone block that was foiled when the guard pulled right into the path of the stunting left end, and because the center couldn't hold the block on the nose tackle it left the running back with no lane. Same with me and soccer.)
I am just a fan lucky enough to have an outlet that about a dozen people read.
When I continually discuss the Wave, I don't do so as a shill for the team (though the team's financial success - or lack thereof - has a direct effect on my ability to enjoy the game). Instead, I write these as an outlet to discuss the MISL and the Wave as people might discuss a Packer game on Monday afternoon.
Back to the original point of this blog entry... the Wave is in disarray on the field with no signs of it abating, and they are about to enter a playoff match-up against the only team in the league that has beaten them this season.
For a historical precedent, let's look at the 1988-89 Wave season; the overall record was 26-14, but they were 1-7 against the Chicago Power (and 25-7 against the rest of the then-AISA). When they faced the Power in the playoffs, the Wave was summarily dispatched 2 games to 1.
Does the 2013-14 Wave follow the "can't beat their only nemesis" model of 25 years earlier, or does the team rediscover how they started 15-2 and coast their way to the title?
Let's take the team's temperature from the last three games.
For the game played against the Comets on March 2nd, Munoz was again a scratch.
Prior to those three games, the Wave knew that winning two of the three would clinch home field throughout the playoffs. So why was the player who was second in MISL Rookie of the Year voting last year and fourth leading scorer this season on the bench? And what about Oliviero and Banks?
Oliviero is about 72 years old, so I can see him taking off one of a 2-in-24-hours stretch of games, against the lesser team. Banks? He has had a few injuries, but he had played the previous games and there were no reports of injuries. Is is possible that Banks was benched for two games to "be taught a lesson", and learned his lesson enough to dress on Sunday? Or is it possible the rookie just didn't dress because he was struggling or for strategic reasons.
Munoz is more of a head scratcher, though. No injuries have been reported in Munoz' case either, so we have to go on the assumption of a healthy scratch. He was benched for the first Comets game and played against the Ambush. Maybe his discipline was supposed to be only one game? I hadn't even considered disciplinary reasons, though, until during the Ambush game he got into an on-field argument with Hewerton. They jawed on the field pretty openly as they walked to the bench during a timeout, and a couple of Wavers had to separate them.
Then Munoz doesn't play again the next game.
So there you go... one of the best teams in the league (and possibly the most complete Wave side in years) limping to the finish line beset with healthy scratches and an unbeatable opponent.
Again (in a second disclaimer) I have no inside knowledge of what's going on. Its just not playing in Peoria, this combination of losing games and healthy scratches.
This year's playoff format is similar to last year's in that each team plays a home game, and if the series is tied at one game a piece, a 15-minute mini-game will be played about 10 minutes after the completion of Game 2. Last year, the Wave also played the Comets in the playoffs. The Wave won in Independence, MO and lost at the Arena. The mini-game went down to the last seven seconds, as the Comets Byron Alvarez scored a restart goal to break Wave fans hearts (so even last year's precedence is working against us).
But all we can do is watch to see what happens on Monday, March 10 at the US Cellular Area. I hear that good seats are still available. And let's drink beer on Monday at the game. That might help.