Keith Tozer sat behind his desk inside the Uihlein Soccer Park, a championship ring on one hand, press clippings from another title over his shoulder. In front of him were pages full of hand written notes and statistics, numbers that needed to be crunched – and corrected – in time for the Milwaukee Wave to begin its second straight Major Indoor Soccer League title defense.
Tozer, the Wave’s veteran coach and winner of six MISL championships overall, knows there are elements to fix as the team begins the quest for a three-peat tonight in Missouri.
"Winning multiple championships, whether it’s back-to-back or multiple within a three to four year span is very difficult, especially in modern day sports with free agency and everything else," he said.
"It’s also very difficult because it seems that our society is sometimes not as hard working as it used to be. Human nature is when you become successful you tend not to do the same the following year because the following year you have to do even more because people are after you now."
Tozer does feel this team is trying to improve every day – especially as the roster changed constantly with a variety of injuries – but no coach is ever truly satisfied. That desire to find ways to get better also motivates his team.
"Coach never allows us to be comfortable," midfielder and forward Marcio Leite said with a smile. "We are never comfortable, we are never good enough, so he always tries to make us better, to get better. Regardless if we’re 16-0 he’s still pushing us to get better. We’re never thinking we’re too good. I think that’s one really good point because we’re never comfortable and we always want it more."
A perfect example was the Wave’s franchise-record 16-game winning streak in the middle of this season. Leite did not see a team content with consecutive championships, willing to mail it in with the expectation of "just getting" to the playoffs.
"The last two years we won the championship because we wanted it more," Leite said. "In sports it’s really hard to see a team win two years, and then the third we’re breaking records, winning 16 games in a row. I think that tells a lot about the personality of the players. "
Like their coach, the Wave aren’t satisfied either.
"We could be just ‘Hey, we won the last two years, we don’t want to do anything anymore, we have our name in the history of the Wave,’" Leite said. "No. We want to do more."
That said, the Wave did hit a lull at the end of the year once first place fell out of reach and they played seven games across six different cities in 13 days. With no extra motivation, Tozer did see the mental and physical fatigue begin to set in.
But this is the veteran group, and one that is prepared to open the second season with renewed vigor.
"I feel that the last two, three years the whole team, with our record in the regular season and everything, we feel we can win every year," Leite said. "That’s how we’ve been playing. There’s a lot of pressure, but you know what, they’re the best games to play."
This Wave team is different than the champions of years past. During the first Wave run of titles, goalkeeper Victor Nogueira was impenetrable, carrying the team to victories. After that, the offense was explosive and a strong defense kept clean shots off goal.
This season, keepers Marcel Feenstra and Nick Vorberg have won games for the team as the offensive and defensive units have struggled to find consistency. The defense can be corrected Tozer said, but it’s "The offensive part is the thing that is perplexing," he said.
"We have players who tend to go east and west and not back and we need to forward to score goals," Tozer continued. "Our range is to always keep a team at eight points or less and try to score 10 or 12. That’s been our formula and hopefully that will continue."
The Wave begins its journey for three straight titles tonight in Missouri, a team the Wave has had success against in the regular season and playoffs.
"When teams play the Wave they play with a high intensity. Whether it’s a playoff or not, they always try to beat us," Leite said.
"Now, we’re going to play the same team we’ve beaten the last two years in a row, so hopefully that’s a good sign that we can beat them again. But, I know it’s going to be really hard because they’re going to play with everything they have because they don’t want to lose to us three years in a row."
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.