So this is it. The end of the season. A season that showed huge growth on the pitch, and increased stability off it. We have come so far, with so much for us to be proud of. And as the curtain falls on this second season, it's a good time to take stock.
I'm sure El Presidente will have his own thoughts on the season, so I don't want to labor this post too long. His thoughts are far more valuable than mine. But there are things I want to say.
Firstly, a huge thank you to the playing and coaching staff. Last season everyone got a free pass, cos none of us knew what we were doing or what to expect. This time round, we did, and the difference was tangible. It was an absolute pleasure to watch this team of young men blend together across the season. From the first open trials, to the invites to existing players, to the first game of the season, to this point, across the pitch they are different players. Outwardly the same, but bigger, braver, more adept, smarter. That improvement has come in equal measure from internal drive and external influences.
There were a couple of off-field distractions that made the start of the season tricky, but the team coped admirably with the disruption, and the net result of all the upheaval was a tighter squad. Young men stepped up to the plate, and proved themselves to be worthy of the adulation from the stands. The coaches did all they could, but squad unity cannot be manufactured or faked. In any workplace, there are friends, and there are colleagues. But everyone works together for a common purpose. We all saw the value of this as the season wore on.
Against a cynical Cedar Rapids team, we were taught a lesson in professionalism, even at this level. And whilst we can claim to be unlucky not to walk away with all three points at home, the one point was perhaps of greater benefit in the bigger picture. And we certainly got our revenge when we made the trip to Iowa.
Our friends from Dubuque provided a familiarly sturdy test both home and away, but it was good to finally get a result against one of the good guys in non-league American soccer.
Meanwhile clubs in Milwaukee provided radically different outcomes. The Croatian Eagles were a disappointment to me, as I expected a much stronger test. The Bavarians however demonstrated what "good" looks like at this level. It was a rude awakening for everyone, and no one can have any complaints at the two defeats we suffered (the ONLY league defeats we suffered this season). This was the benchmark, as their status as National Champs, and continued presence in this season's UPSL playoffs indicates.
That said, which club would I rather be a part of? As a player, of course you want to be involved in successful teams. But as a fan, it isn't even a conversation worth having. What we have at DKCU, in terms of fan base, volunteer numbers, professionalism and community involvement, is something special. It is something that the Bavarians, with all their history and silverware, cannot hold a candle to. Those who made the trip north will know that the setup there is fantastic. Multiple pitches, youth teams, a clubhouse that serves as a social hub and a cash generator. And yet, despite their successes on the pitch, no-one seems to care. Where are the fans, the friends, the families? Maybe DKCU are not a big enough draw to get them off their sofas, who knows?
Personally, the biggest disappointment of the season was the short-lived foray into the Illinois State Cup. Were we guilty of underestimating our opponents? Only the guys who played will know the truth. But I know I as a fan assumed that a Chicago-area league club wouldn't be a match for a cross-state league club. I was wrong. But it gives me great hope for the future of US soccer that I was.
This isn't the place for a systemic review of American soccer. And my thoughts are irrelevant anyway. But there is palpable talent out there, and properly harnessed, there is no reason America cannot develop a functional system.
The other area of disappointment for everyone would be the attendance numbers. But I have to add a caveat to this, because as those who have traveled to away games will testify, we have more fans than most of the other clubs in this league combined. And I have already ranted about the Bavarians!
We have been a little unlucky with the weather, that's for sure. Even now as I type this, the forecast for this Saturday is turning bleaker by the hour. But that shouldn't disguise the fact that we are plateauing in the bleachers. And that is a crying shame, because you all know what a great couple of hours it can be at NIU.
Every week, we put out the cry for friends and neighbors to be dragged along. And we all know people who say "I keep on meaning to make it out" So don't give up on them. During the offseason, wear your merch with pride. Keep reminiscing about the season past. Keep dreaming about the 2020 season. The whole match day experience gets more fun the more of us there are out there.
On a personal note, I have loved seeing, and hearing, the development of a tailgating culture. Lord knows we have the parking lot for it! And the volume, not to mention the numbers, of the Silo Supporters is growing game on game. Huge shout to Ben for being the driving force behind this. I give him some stick on the PA, but that guy is building the energy at games, and we love him for it. Hearing kids starting chants, seeing banners being waved, and smoke bombs being (tentatively) released have all been great advances, and it's a shame the season is drawing to a close just as it feels y'all are finding your feet over there.
To my English sensibilities, the season is far too short. I know there are reasons for that. But it does mean that we have to condense things in to a very narrow time frame, with a huge amount of down time between seasons. That doesn't mean that anyone is resting on their laurels. Just because we aren't congragating at NIU doesn't mean we can't still get totgether. Just because there's no balls being kicked doesn't mean we can't still mess around on Facebook and Twitter.
"Community club" isn't just a catchy tag a garner some tax break. It's heartfelt. DKCU is proud to be a part of DeKalb County. Proud to be a part of your community. And we hope that, in turn, you guys are proud of us.