As Milwaukee was wrapping up its 5-0 victory over LC Aris FC on Saturday – a win that clinched the NPSL Midwest Central Conference championship in the squad’s inaugural season – an enthusiastic supporter in the Uihlein Soccer Park stands yelled out, "The Torrent score more than the Brewers!"
Indeed, despite soccer’s low-scoring reputation, the city’s newest professional team is averaging five goals per game to the baseball club’s four runs. Milwaukee has 25 goals in five regular-season matches and has conceded just two, a head-shaking differential – as well as a reminder that this team, one of the few in the league that pays its players, can compete at a higher level. And even though this latest offensive output fell short of the nine-goal eruption in last week’s thrashing of Aris, the reported 888 fans in attendance at Kohler Engines Stadium left happy with the Torrent’s performance.
Their coach, on the other hand, still found some things to work on going into the undefeated Torrent’s two-week layoff before their July 23 season finale at home against the Chicago Mustangs.
"Oh yeah," Andy Davi said after the game when asked if some aspects of his team’s play were unsatisfactory. "Finishing was not good enough. We were too easy to defend when we make our runs straight ahead. Yes, 5-0 is 5-0, but as a coach, I am never happy; there is always something we can improve."
And perhaps Davi wasn’t being too much of a perfectionist. Milwaukee took 26 shots to record its five goals, with numerous chances in the box – especially off crossed-in balls from the wings – squandered. Yet, outside the dressing room and objective, it would seem difficult to be too displeased with the showing. The Torrent had nearly all of the possession and controlled the game, building out of the back, holding in the midfield and frequently springing their three forwards – they changed from their usual 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree formation to a straight 4-3-3 beforehand – with slicing through passes or diagonal balls in from out wide.
Forward Aaron Horvat got the scoring going quickly, recording his first goal of the year in the 6th minute with a neat chip off an assist from fullback Chris Kurth.
In a short stretch from the 23rd minute to the 30th, the Torrent hit the post twice and had another shot miss just wide – producing a few of the numerous instances of Davi jumping out of his chair, arms in the air, incredulous. Throughout the first half, the demanding German owner and head coach beseeched his squad to play faster, exert higher pressure and increase the tempo against the overmatched and undermanned squad – with only 13 players active – from La Crosse.
Davi noted afterward that, particularly during the first half, Torrent players were holding onto the ball too long ("get it off your feet," he and assistant Mark Litton would exclaim) and not playing early-enough services into the middle of the field.
"Sometimes we make the mistake of, we slow down so that we can beat a guy again after we’ve already beaten him," Davi said. "And those runs where you just go straight, that’s just too easy (to defend)."
At one point during a stoppage, center back Drew Ruggles – a dominant defender who frequently delivered 50-yard long balls to teammates on a dime – came over to the sideline to lament the same thing, that the forwards weren’t making useful runs, forcing the backs to play short passes between one another.
In the 35th minute, after more passive and uninspired play, an exasperated Davi told his reserves, "Warm up, all of you. Let’s go, this is ridiculous."
It didn’t take long for the message to be received. In the 40th minute, striker James Weber added to his team-high goals total, finishing a beautiful one-touch cross from fullback Dustin Ashley. Three minutes later, Weber tallied his ninth of the season on a penalty kick to put the Torrent up 3-0, a lead they’d take into halftime.
During the break, Davi expressed his frustration and feeling that his team was merely going through the motions against an opponent it had just beaten 9-1. "They know 50 percent (effort) is enough; it should be 6 or 7-0."
Davi made three substitutions early in the second half, putting on defender Logan Fye for Ashley in the 46th minute, inserting defender Austin Hoecherl for Horvat in the 50th and midfielder Declan Rodriguez for forward Nemanja Medic in the 53rd. Rodriguez quickly injected life into the still not-firing-on-all-cylinders attack, taking on Aris players and serving in dangerous crosses from the right side.
In the 59th minute, a wild scramble in the box resulted in a foul and indirect free kick for Milwaukee near the six-yard line. Amid the chaos and with Aris players complaining to the referee – who was subjected to invective from both benches the entire match – Weber quickly took the restart, passing the ball square to midfielder Ian Bennett, who tapped in the easy goal, his fifth on the year. It was a savvy play that infuriated the Aris coaches but prompted a simple "well done, well done" from Davi.
At the 81st minute mark, Aris won a penalty kick of their own and seemed poised to at least get on the scoreboard. But Torrent goalkeeper Nick Barry guessed right, dived and made a terrific save to preserve his third clean sheet.
And in the final minute of regular time, Milwaukee put on the finishing touch – literally, a beautiful, outside-of-the-foot touch by Tony Patterson to flick in a cross from Rodriguez. It was a goal that elicited a cheer from the crowd and even a smile from Davi, and the Torrent wrapped up their fifth win in five matches and their first conference championship – though, it being a provisional season for their initial year, the team isn’t eligible for the NPSL playoffs.
"The expectation was of course to win (the conference), and with the players that we have, there can’t be any other goal," Davi said. "Obviously, it would have been interesting to see how far we could have gone. But this gives our guys and the fans and everybody something to look forward to next year."
But first, the Mustangs, who will travel up to Milwaukee for the final game of the 2016 season on July 23 at Uihlein. And while the Torrent are a long way from getting Miller Park-level attendance, Davi hopes people come out to watch and support this local team that outscores the Brewers.
"For me, I want that people see good soccer," he said. "I think even though it was 5-0, people see that we play the game of soccer, we just don’t boot the ball. It’s not just pinball. You see there is a system, a structure, possession and there is a goal."
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.