EAST RIVER —
Against the sideline on Saturday night, a player from the Cincinnati Dutch Lions soccer team and a Southern West Virginia King’s Warriors player slammed into each other trying to win a ball with about 15 minutes left in their Premier Development League match.
The Cincinnati player, Chris Dupont, remained on the turf at East River Soccer Complex, crouched down with his forehead to the turf, holding the back of his head.
In my limited soccer-watching experience, the player getting the better of a collision like that usually runs off from the scene, hoping to avoid being called for a foul or even being shown the dreaded yellow card.
Not this time. The King’s Warrior, whose jersey number I did not record, waved to the opponents’ bench in silent cooperation with a referee yelling for a trainer. The local player then stood close until his opponent got to his feet.
He reached out for a handshake — and the Dutch Lion reciprocated.
Now, not all was violins and roses during the match that ended with a last-minute goal and a 1-1 tie. There were six fouls called on each side in the first half, and the teams combined for 19 in the match.
But the handshake was one visible sign of a mentality of taking responsibility and of doing the right thing on the King’s Warriors sideline. It was, to me, a refreshing sign.
That is in keeping with the mission statement for the club, which early on identifies the effort as “a Christian sports ministry” of The Nehemiah Group, Inc.
The president of that organization, Dr. James Blume Jr., was circulating on the sidelines prior to and during the game — no absentee owner, for sure. From a brief conversation, it was clear that Blume, a native West Virginian, was intimately immersed in the details of the club and its personnel.
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There are always agendas at work within and around a sports team. Often, they are obscured on purpose.
The King’s Warriors include in their mission statement, “With the presence of the PDL (Premier Development League) team, area youth soccer players will see a new level of soccer to which they can aspire.”
Scott Reitnour, in his third year as head coach of the King’s Warriors, must deal with the needs of a group of players who are primarily in college.
He said on Saturday night, “Our goal, ultimately, is to invest in these guys so when they return to their collegiate environments, they’re sharp, they’re crisp.
“And we feel like, if we steward these players well for their college coaches, that’ll create a bit of demand for us. So far, that’s proven true.”
Working with collegians also means adapting to occasional absences. The team has been down four players who have been on a missions trip through their school, Messiah College.
Reitnour seemed especially pleased with the potential of a couple of his athletes — Jorge Mackenna, a forward from Chile who attends Limestone College, and Elijah Upkong, a Lindsey Wilson College student who was born in Nigeria.
“I think for us, getting Elijah back, getting Jorge back, just getting them acclimated to the PDL level is really important, and they’re adjusting very, very well,” he said. “Adding those two guys, I think it really made us a little more dynamic.”
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Having played two games in two weeks, Reitnour said about his team, “I’ve been really pleased with us finding our rhythm. ...”
“It helps us, basically, (to) idealize our work week. We want to train them really hard Monday, Tuesday Wednesday. We’re building into team tactical stuff toward the latter part of the week.
“We usually take a day off on Thursday, do a little activation session on Friday, and then we’re ready to go Saturday. We regenerate on Sunday.”
“We’ve hit that rhythm. We’ve kind of hit our stride. And we’ve got another week to do it.”
“Then the bulk of our work will really be in front of us. We’ll be prepared, and the work will be in front of us.”
The work continues with a match in Charleston on Saturday, playing the West Virginia Chaos, and a home “friendly” match on Monday, June 2, taking on the Charlotte Eagles, who play in another class of the United Soccer Leagues.
Tom Bone is a Daily Telegraph sports writer and cartoonist. Contact him at tbone@ bdtonline.com and on Twitter @BDTBone.