Wave begins quest for seventh title one step at a time
Keith Tozer motioned up to a whiteboard in his office at the Uihlein Soccer Complex, the left margin drawn in with four groups of "steps." Initials of teams within the Major Indoor Soccer League were under each step, and then the requisite "W" or "L" atop it for the outcome of the game. In a circle at top of the board was "16-4" – the Milwaukee Wave's final regular season record in 2013-14.
"I'm excited and I'm proud," Tozer said. "For a group of guys to get together for four months, nine being new to the team, to get that, I think it's great. I also think we had an extremely tough schedule. We lost to Baltimore for the regular season (title) but they also played Redding (Pennsylvania, which finished 1-19). We played Missouri (14-6) six times. It's no disrespect to Redding or Baltimore, but it's something you've got to look at."
It's step one in a process for the Wave, the six-time league champion and four-time runner-up.
The end goal, of course, is a seventh MISL title.
But as Tozer says, the Wave just has to win one game. Then, the team would move on to another, one step at a time.
"When we put this thing together and we said if we can accomplish that (16-4) then probably we'll be in the playoffs and that's what sports are all about, is getting to the playoffs," said the coach, who is entering his second straight decade of post-season play. "That's where great stories are made and great stories of players are made."
To begin the chase for a seventh championship, the Wave travels to Independence, Mo., this weekend for Game 1 of the best of three series against the Missouri Comets, a team that ended the year on a five-game winning streak – including two wins over the Wave.
In fact, the Comets handed the Wave all four of its losses this season.
"You can talk all you want about match-ups, you can talk all you want about this and that – it's the playoffs –it's a whole different animal, a whole different ballgame," Tozer said. "We look forward to the challenge. I look forward to it."
This will be a new experience for most of the Wave roster – as Tozer said, nine players are new to the organization – but the expectation remains the same. It's a tough balance to maintain, but the team feels its schedule, and the fact that every game is treated like a playoff game when they play it, will help the newcomers adjust to the win or go home intensity of short playoff series.
"Fans have got to understand that – they gotta understand that we're getting older," said veteran Ian Bennett with a smile, who has been a part of two Wave championships.
"I know the Wave has been around a long time but we get new blood in, and they're new to the game. They're expecting us to win every time but we're changing six guys, seven guys every year. That expectation is kind of tough on those young guys because they've got a lot of pressure coming in. It's tough for them, but I think they're handling it well and we've got some good vets that take care of them, too."
Despite the recent losses to Missouri in the regular season, the Wave is confident heading into the playoffs.
It should be, too.
The team had identical home and away records of 8-2, finished second in the league in scoring and in points allowed.
Bennett earned the league's Golden Boot award for scoring the most goals in the season (27 goals, 64 points), Carlos Munoz tied for the league lead in 3-point goals with five, Marcio Leite was second in the league in assists with 22.
Goalkeeper Marcel Feenstra finished second in the league in wins to Missouri's Danny Waltman with 13 and he was third in the league in save percentage (.738).
"Going into the playoffs, it's important that we're positive and ready to play because, honestly, anything can happen," Bennett said. "The fourth place team can make the finals and win it. It's just that with your team, can you feel good into the playoffs and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to fine tune everything and get ourselves ready to go."
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