BROOKFIELD – Much looked the same this week during a Milwaukee Wave practice at the Midwest Orthopedic Sports Complex. The shouts for ball movement and defensive assignments echoed as loudly as the thud of the soccer ball off the plexiglass that ringed the field.
Yet much was different and most notably, the man with the whistle.
For the first time in nearly two decades, Keith Tozer was not running practice. Instead it was longtime Wave player Giuliano Oliviero – affectionately known as "Giuls" (pronounced Jules).
"It’s been a transition for sure," said Oliviero, who was a player-coach last year. "Keith Tozer had been here for so many years and did a great job with the team and the organization. It’s definitely and different feel with the players with myself stepping in to kind of fill his shoes and keep this organization heading in the same positive direction."
Ian Bennett, a longtime veteran for the Wave, laughed in agreement. He said he and the other returners began their first training camp practice and immediately began looking around and waiting for the familiar voice from behind the bench.
But he said the transition to Oliviero has been a smooth one.
"I’m not going to lie – Giuls could probably still play. I’ve watched him train and he looks pretty good," Bennett quipped. "But no, he says he wants to be definitely on the coaching side and I think it’s great. I think he’s more about ‘it’s us.’ He’s more about the players and getting them out there and promoting them so that way, after we’re done, we have stuff set up. It’s not just one person. It’s great.
"His demeanor is very good, but he can really get into you. I thought he was going to be a nice guy but he can really lay into you when he’s ready. He’s got the right mix. He knows when to kind of kick you in butt when he needs to and he knows when you need a good stroke and confidence builder."
Second-year player Philip Surprise agreed.
"Even last year for me, yeah he was a (player), he was still a great mentor – the fact that if I didn’t ask Tozer a question, I’d go up to (Oliviero) on the bench and say ‘what do I do here, here or here’ and he would kind of tell you," Surprise said. "He had that coaching mentality, that leadership role. He acts like a coach while he played. He helps you out. Nothing is negative. He’s always there to help you. To have him with the whistle, to me, is just a bigger extension from last year."
Oliviero isn’t all that’s new with the Wave, of course. He played with the Wave from 1995-97 and rejoined the team for good in 2003. He was a part of three championship teams.
"There’s a lot of different things I have to focus on," he said. "Before I focused on myself first and foremost getting myself ready to play. I was the assistant coach but first and foremost I was a player. Now I’m worrying about each and every position, every player, the way we want to play, how we want to play, indoor soccer is a crazy game with power players and shootouts and free kicks and man down – just constant preparation."
The team is now part of the 23-team Major Arena Soccer League, a super league comprised of the former Major Indoor Soccer League and the Premier Arena Soccer League.
The Wave are in the six-team Central Division comprised of St. Louis, Tulsa, Wichita, Missouri and Chicago. The league includes teams from Rochester, N.Y., to San Diego, Calif., to Ontario, Canada and near San Juan, Mexico.
"It’s a little bit of a mystery," Surprise said. "We don’t travel out to Mexico. We don’t know how those teams are going to be until we see them in the playoffs, which we will make. We don’t know how these teams out in California are. We just don’t know. For the players it’s a little bit of a mystery, but at the same time it’s exciting to know that you’ve got to compete with guys that re not even in this country. I think that’s very exciting."
What – rather, who – won’t be a mystery to many in Milwaukee are the five players from Milwaukee and Wave veteran Tenzin Rampa, from Madison.
Surprise is part of that group, as is Tony Walls, Amilcar Herrera, J.C. Banks and Alex Tozer.
"It’s weird. You grow up with these guys," Surprise said. "I played ODP (Olympic Development Program) with all of them and never – when you look back on that – you never think as al ittel kid playing, you never think oh, I’ll be playing professionally with them when we’re older. Now to be with them here, it’s kind of surreal. It’s just a weird feeling, in a good way. It’s a good weird. I love the fact that the Milwaukee Wave have brought in Milwaukee guys. We have so much leverage got bring people into game and everybody in the soccer community knows who we are. I really like that the Milwaukee Wave is finding that Milwaukee identity. I like that a lot."
The Wave begin their season on the road, beginning with a match in St. Louis on Saturday. They then travel to Missouri, Detroit, St. Louis again and Chicago before returning home for the opener on Saturday, Dec. 6 against St. Louis.
Regardless of the difficulty of the schedule, or the challenges a new league presents – or the fact there is a new head coach – the expectation of the season doesn’t change: win a championship.
"I think anyone stepping on to this field in a Wave practice uniform or a jersey has the same expectations that we’ve had in the past," Oliviero said with a slight smile.
"It comes with the territory and it comes with playing for Milwaukee," Bennett added. "It’s what I like. It’s an added bit of pressure but it’s always good."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.