BROOKFIELD – What's old (the Milwaukee Wave in the playoffs) is new again (in the Major Arena Soccer League) and the franchise is searching for a way to meld the two together by winning the organization's seventh indoor soccer championship.
That quest begins tonight as the MASL playoffs begin as the team heads to Hoffman Estates, Ill., to take on the Chicago Mustangs in the first round, best-of-three series.
While much is the same as previous indoor soccer playoffs the Wave have participated in, there is a different approach, and a different feel, to this year.
- They don’t know Chicago as well, having only played the Mustangs twice
- There are two "defending champions" in this league, in Chicago (PASL) and Missouri (MISL)
- The legitimate title contenders in the MASL run five, six deep, as opposed to just a couple in years past
And, perhaps most importantly, there is a dialed-in focus on tonight’s game. While the series shifts to Milwaukee on March 7 for game 2 (and, if needed, a mini-game to determine the series winner), the team has no interest in waiting to turn it on.
"Our focus – our only focus right now – is Chicago, going into Chicago and getting a positive result, getting a win," head coach Giuliano Oliviero said. "That is our sole focus. We’re in the playoffs and the level of intensity goes up a notch. Most of our guys have been there before so we’re really confident heading into (tonight)."
The Wave split their two games with the Mustangs this year, and Oliviero said there has been some roster turnover for their opponent, so there can be letting up, or looking ahead to a potential matchup with the Central Division-winning – and undefeated – Missouri Comets.
"There is now, having been through so many postseasons and being a part of two championship-winning teams, you want to be playing your best from the beginning, from the very first game of the playoffs and not to wait," midfielder/forward Tenzin Rampa added, noting the Wave’s first round exit last year after losing game one.
"If we can kind of set the tone from the first game and just carry the momentum through the playoffs … we’re not overlooking Chicago. We’re doing to come out to win and set the tone early on in the game."
Having won rings in Milwaukee, Oliviero and Rampa agree that the veterans on this team see a connection to those past championship years to this squad – largely due to the fact that a flurry of injuries (including to all three goalkeepers, at one point) forced the team to rely on one another and form a deep bond.
Rampa believes that the team is sharp, and "the best Wave," even though dynamic scorer Ian Bennett is questionable for tonight due to injury and J.C. Banks is in spring training with Minnesota United FC of the North American Soccer League.
"We’ve been working on a lot of things in practice the last few weeks, we’ve been working on them in games, we feel like we’re really hitting our stride here at the right time," midfielder/forward and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee alumnus Andrew Wiedabach said. "We have a couple of injuries, but we’re really deep, so we’ve got a lot of guys that can slide right in and play the system and score goals and defend just like anybody else.
"We feel like we’re hitting our stride and ready to play."
There is confidence, despite the fact that the team went 13-7 and lost all of their games to teams that are currently in the playoffs.
While that could be disconcerting, Oliviero sees the Wave’s schedule – and struggles within in – as experience that can be drawn upon as the team begins its second season.
"We had a very difficult schedule, we’ve had some adversity and we look at the three championships I won with the Wave (as a player) and we went through adversity at some point in the season with all three of those championship teams," the coach said.
"It’s been tough. But, overall, you’ve got to think it’s made you better for the playoffs."
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.