Harried Potters: Stoke City FC Visits O-Town

The Citrus Bowl’s aging scoreboard.

I should just show myself out for that headline, but I sat through a Stoke pre-season match in muggy swampass heat and you didn’t, so you’ll have to indulge the bad pun. The thing is, Orlando rarely gets to see any Premier League clubs, or any European clubs, for that matter. I think Bolton came here last summer, and you know I wasn’t going to go see that. But when my kid’s local soccer club offered discounted end zone tickets and a chance to get on the pitch, I figured what the hey. A rundown and amateur pix after the jump.

A quick primer for those unfamiliar with soccer in Orlando: we got a USL-Pro club in 2011 when Stoke City board member Phil Rawlins moved the Austin Astex here. The Orlando City Lions quickly won the USL-Pro championship in their inaugural season and have enjoyed above-average attendance at their home games in the cavernous, ancient heap of concrete surrounded by urban blight known as the Florida Citrus Bowl. The squad is managed by Adrian Heath, a former Stoke player and Everton legend from the 80s.

The crowd for Saturday night’s friendly against Stoke was probably the best I’ve seen for soccer at the Citrus Bowl in years. If the attendance was announced over the loudspeakers, I didn’t hear it because the speakers suck and I was sitting one section over from Orlando’s rowdy “tifosi” group. The atmosphere for the game was actually really great.

Not bad for a warm, sweaty night in Orlando.

Before the game, I got to hang out on a corner of the stadium’s astroturf and watch the players warm up. The kids from our club got to meet the players and a few were chosen to be ballboys for the second half. I give Orlando City an A++ for what they do to spark kids’ interest in soccer. They also let everyone out onto the field after the game to run around, and the OC players usually come out to sign autographs and take pictures.

Crouchie makes an appearance in the stands after the match. Whatta guy.

On to the actual match: Stoke looked pretty rusty in the first half and nearly gave up a goal a couple times early on, but they managed to get their act together enough to score the game’s only goal a minute into first half stoppage time. Jon Walters volleyed a shot into the net following a header by Peter Crouch. That would be Crouchie’s only significant contribution to the game.

The second half turned out to be pretty chippy, culminating in a red card for Glenn Whelan. Orlando managed to get a few more chances to tie thanks to the man advantage, but Stoke’s defense, anchored by Huth and Shawcross, used all their old dirty tricks to keep the Orlando forwards rattled.

One thing that surprised me a bit is the size of most of the Stoke players. You just don’t get that watching them on the Deuce at 7 a.m. I mean, I know Crouch is tall, but every one of Stoke’s back four is upwards of 6’2″ I think. I was standing a few feet from backup GK Thomas Sorensen before the game. He’s probably 6’6″. A beast.

All in all, it was a fun night, even if the match lacked some flair and razzle-dazzle. The Orlando players acquitted themselves well and were primarily responsible for keeping the 2nd half interesting. Kenwyne Jones made an appearance late and created a couple chances for Stoke, but the Potters weren’t really out to improve on their first half performance.

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3 responses to “Harried Potters: Stoke City FC Visits O-Town

  1. F**k Stoke! With a bloody, jagged stump of Ryan Shawcross’s leg!

    They play Sporting KC tonight, and I just hope (a) no fans show up so Stoke get no money (b) SKC doesn’t have anyone hurt and (c) we send some reserve team Joe out to give Shawcross and whoever else a big old dose of their own medicine. Peter Vermes punching out Tony Pulis would be icing on the cake, but a guy can dream, eh?

    God, I hate them.

  2. I think it’s wrong in this instance to blame the iunjry on Stoke’s style of play. Incidents like Huth’s punch to another player (I think Upson) earlier in the season can be attributed to the aggressive, physical nature of the side, although no-one at Stoke would ever claim that Huth did not deserve his retrospective punishment for that incident.Ramsey’s iunjry, however, was not the fault of physical or aggressive play. Both players had a right to go for the ball, and both did so, with strength, commitment, and a great deal of speed. The footage has been looked at by professionals, who claim that Ramsey reached the ball 0.015 of a second before Shawcross’ leg reached the same place. The chances are that in that time, Shawcross didn’t even realise that Ramsey had touched the ball, and it certainly wasn’t enough time for him to pull out. Shawcross’ foot (acceptably low, and laces up) collided with Ramsey’s leg, which was planted firmly on the ground and as such not in a position to bend and absorb the shock of the impact. It’s also wrong and extremely blind to believe that Stoke are the only team who are physical or whose play could result in horrible injuries. In yesterday’s game, Arsenal played at least as physically as Stoke did, and for the most part they looked much improved for their increased physicality. However, there were some shocking tackles on their behalf. Fabregas in particular committed several fouls yesterday, including one very hard tackle from behind on Shawcross himself. But the one that stands out for me was near the end of the game, when Fabregas fouled Danny Collins by scraping his studs down the back of his leg. After the foul, Fabregas attempted to goad the Stoke bench, which in my opinion is entirely unacceptable.Ramsey’s iunjry is horrific, and I sincerely hope that he makes a full and swift recovery. But I do not believe that Shawcross was at fault, nor that the incident was some sort of logical result of Stoke’s style of play, nor that Arsenal are completely innocent victims who never commit dangerous fouls.Bad injuries are not necessarily caused by bad, aggressive, malicious play. Look at the incident a couple of years ago, when Stoke’s own Rory Delap suffered a similar iunjry to Ramsey in very similar circumstances. On that occasion, Tony Pulis was emphatic in his insistence that Delap’s iunjry, whilst tragic, was the unfortunate result of a collision, and that the other player (Sunderland’s Robbie Elliott) was in no way to blame.I feel incredibly sorry for Ramsey, but I see no need to demonise Shawcross. The boy was obviously distraught after the incident, and he’s not a dirty player the fact that yesterday’s red card was the first in his career should illustrate that. I hope that the media and public have more sense than to allow this terrible accident to damage the careers of two promising young players. Shawcross deserves his inclusion in the England squad. He’s one of the best centre backs in the country, playing regularly and well in the Premier League. He reads the game well, is excellent in the air, and scores a reasonable number of goals. The fact that his call-up was announced yesterday is unfortunate timing but yesterday’s events do not alter the fact that Ryan Shawcross is a promising young player, and, this season and last, he’s been one of the most impressive centre-backs in the league.

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