DYKSTRA: NHL PLAYOFFS, EURO CUP ON MY MIND

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Nicklas Lidstrom led the Detroit Red Wings to a 21st consecutive playoff appearance this season.

By Andrew Dykstra

It is that rough time of year for watching sports… for me anyway. I’m not an NBA fan and have never been a baseball fan, and that is all that dominates ESPN these days. ESPN is what is on constantly in the D.C. United locker room. Fortunately, there are a few things that will have my attention and keep me occupied till next football season:

1. The NHL playoffs. The regular season can be tough to watch at times. My team is the Detroit Red Wings. Unless they are playing Chicago, St Louis, Vancouver or maybe a big-time eastern division team, the games can be uninteresting at times. They play so many games during the year, that you can’t expect every game to be live or die. But now we are in the playoffs and I’m thankful. I’m watching the Red Wings series with the Nashville Predators right now.

2. Like the World Cup, during the summer, every four years, the Euro Cup is played between the top European national teams. This year, I believe it will be on ESPN. It’s being played in Poland, unless I’m mistaken. Holland and Germany are my teams to watch. Both are talented teams, with the Germans being one of the best tournament teams in the history of soccer. It’s always interesting to see what England does and Spain is only two years off their World Cup championship.

This is where my attention will be from now through the summer. Then, we can finally return to football. Word is Michigan football opens with Alabama… big test, can’t wait.

Let’s Go Wings!

Andrew Dykstra plays for D.C. United of Major League Soccer. He was a four-year starter in goal for the VCU Men’s Soccer Team from 2005-08 and spent two seasons with the Chicago Fire of the MLS before playing the 2011 season with the Charleston Battery of the USL. For Dykstra’s other blog posts, check here.

DYKSTRA BLOG: DUNKS DON’T IMPRESS ME MUCH

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By Andrew Dykstra

I’m hoping I don’t make enemies with this one, but here it goes.

Why is the basketball slam dunk an ESPN top 10 play… ever? I don’t get it. Basketball players are giants. So the rim height, relative to their own height (plus long arm length) makes the jump for them an easier task than it would be for the average sized person. Secondly, the rules in basketball give full advantage to the offending player because everything is a stupid foul these days. What can a defender do except stand there like a cone, flat footed with his hands in the air?

Watching these highlights, it’s the same thing every time. You see the dribbler drive to the hoop and gain momentum. You see the defender make his stand and the dribbler plow him to the floor, slamming the ball and screaming like he’s done something great. And it really irritates me when after, he gives dirty looks to the poor guy he just ran over, as if there was something the defender could have done about it. It bothers me enough that basketball is not a contact sport, but to try and give credit to a player who has rules and biomechanical advantages on his side is simply ridiculous. My solution, give defenders more help to make the dunk a harder task.

The more impressive play in basketball is the blocked shot. With rules generally against the defender, the block involves ultimate timing and precision. It’s ESPN’s fault for putting the dunk in the top 10 because there are so many harder tasks in many other sports. With hockey as a great example; try balancing on ice while hitting, passing or shooting while using a stick where others use their hands. There are more impressive plays in the world of sports than the basketball dunk.

As an update, I have an official offer from my MLS team but I am waiting to sign. There are other developments going on that may help my situation but I do have a bird in the hand as of now. Could be signing in the next week or two.

Andrew Dykstra was a four-year starter in goal for the VCU Men’s Soccer Team from 2005-08. He spent two seasons with the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer and played the 2011 season with the Charleston Battery of the USL. For Dykstra’s other blog posts, check here.

DYKSTRA: “IT IS NOT THE CRITIC WHO COUNTS”

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By Andrew Dykstra

While I have been on the subject of my trials here and abroad, I am reminded of a line Theodore Roosevelt once gave in his speech, “Citizenship in a Republic”. This was shown to me by my dad a year ago when I left Chicago and began my efforts to find a new future. It reads:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

I think about a few things when I read this quote. First, I remember how much I have dedicated to my profession. I remember two-a-days, lifting, team practices, sprints in my back yard, jogging through the neighborhood and the plyometric exercises in the pipe-stem next to my house (as my neighbors stared in confusion). I have always had my eyes on the horizon and my mind on the goals ahead, so I easily forget the efforts that have put me in the position many would love to have. Recalling the labors I have put in allows me to keep pushing on.

The second thing I think about is criticism. I have been blessed through most of my life with great friends that have supported me in the Prince William County papers and in the VCU sports media department. But, the professional sports media is a new animal. Usually with limited information (because soccer is still a young American sport), these folks can write some biased nonsense with total disregard for your personal life, feelings or how it may affect your job. I learned my lessons the first year playing in the MLS. Then you have avenues for the amateur writers/fans to give their unsolicited opinions. These two groups are the reasons why Roosevelt’s quote means so much to me.

For whatever motivation an individual in the media or any outsider may have to say what they say (or write what they write), it is “the man who is actually in the arena” who deserves the credit in the end. Setbacks may happen, there may be obstacles (media/fans) to overcome, but in the end it’s about the individual striving to achieve something great, “who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Andrew Dykstra was a four-year starter in goal for the VCU Men’s Soccer Team from 2005-08. He spent two seasons with the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer and played the 2011 season with the Charleston Battery of the USL. For Dykstra’s other blog posts, check here.

DYKSTRA BLOG: TRAINING DAZE

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By Andrew Dykstra

I am now down in Sarasota, Fla. and training with my MLS team. I still don’t want to say who I’m with in the event that I am not given a contract or I choose not to sign. My mother has not been able to contain herself, and she has already blabbed to the neighbors about my current team. So if you know her phone number, she has all the details for you!

The weather here is beautiful. It’s sunny, clear skies and there is a refreshing chill at night. I am dreading any potential mid-day heat. I should be grateful that pre-season is not in the summer. Tomorrow we have a team breakfast at 8 a.m., leave for training at 10 a.m., will train for 1 hour and 30 minutes, and back for lunch at 2 p.m. We leave for our second session at 4 p.m., have another full practice and back again to the hotel for dinner at 7 p.m. We typically repeat this routine until the coach decides we need a break. “Breaks” typically mean a weight lifting session to change routine, or maybe limit our practices to one a day.

They now make players wear heart rate monitors to monitor their heart beats during practices. The purpose is to make sure that a player’s heart beat is not above the average. When that happens, it indicates that the athlete’s body is fatigued and trying to compensate. Coaches will pull out single players from practice whose heart rate is too high to allow him to recover. If too many players are above the average, that’s when you see the coaches change the day’s routine to keep us fresh. Unfortunately, goalkeepers don’t have heart monitors, so we still live by the old school methods!! When you puke or pass out, you’ve probably had enough.

I will do what I can to keep my faithful readers (all three of them, ha) up to date with what’s going on. I can’t wait to share some stories. Hopefully an enjoyable pre-season will allow for a few.

Andrew Dykstra was a four-year starter in goal for the VCU Men’s Soccer Team from 2005-08. He spent two seasons with the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer and played the 2011 season with the Charleston Battery of the USL.

DYKSTRA: ‘WE FORCE OUR OWN LUCK’

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Andrew Dykstra has returned to the United States and hopes to play in the MLS this season.

By Andrew Dykstra

I have decided I am done wasting more time. I am now back in the great US of A. The European transfer window closes at the end of January and it appears there is not enough time left for a broken leg or snapped collar bone by some unlucky goalkeeper. It sounds mean, but that’s what realistically had to happen for me to find a good job. I decided not to wish for anyone’s bad luck and I came home.

I am now in pre-season with an MLS club. I wish I could say who it is, but I want to wait until I am officially signed. I was promised a contract, but then again the team that turned me down in Scotland did the same thing. Expect the unexpected!

I’m a little disappointed in not finding a team in Europe but at least my mom is happy… I guess. This summer, I could be traded, sold or loaned out to a team there, so there is a realistic possibility in making my future over there soon enough. I have now made the connections, grabbed some attention and proved to myself/agent/scouts I can make it in Europe. Confidence is everything and I have it coming out the ears at the moment. I am in no way discouraged.

I believe we force our own luck. In the end, hard work and a positive attitude (as cliché as it sounds) will pay off in some way, somehow. My efforts have made me really appreciate what I do as well as value the people who have helped me along the way.

Andrew Dykstra was a four-year starter in goal for the VCU Men’s Soccer Team from 2005-08. He spent two seasons with the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer and played the 2011 season with the Charleston Battery of the USL.

LIFE IN THE PROS HAS ITS CONS

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Andrew Dykstra says most pro athletes don't live glamorously.

By Andrew Dykstra

Please don’t believe that every athlete has it made.

You see the Wayne Rooneys, the Thierry Henrys and the Messis. To put it into an American context, the Jordans, the Bradys, the Gretzkys (last one was for the Canadians). You see these players and you think most athletes have money like they do, find opportunity like they do and live the life they do. Let me tell you, these guys are the “under-5%”. The rest of us have a tough going. There is still maybe another small percentage that gets along easier (“silver spoon effect”), but the majority of athletes work, struggle, train, fight, get let down, stand up, are usually let down again, and have to look in the mirror at every corner turned to analyze themselves and to find the motivation to keep fighting. Often, not only for themselves, but for their children and their family.

Let me also say, it’s not always about ability either. Sport is a business, and often times a cruel, unsympathetic business. Right now I’m in Scotland, where I’ve been training with teams for weeks. I have been impressing team after team with pats on the back the entire way. Three weeks into this I have nothing to show for it; no income, just the conjured motivation to keep pressing on. I have sacrificed Christmas, New Years and my own birthday to be here.

I was turned down by a small club in Glasgow because they could not pay well enough. I was given a shot in the Scottish Premier League (SPL), but the club’s owner is selling the team and refusing to pay its players. Naturally I turned them down. In a small town (to also be left nameless) north of Edinburgh, again in the SPL, I was actually promised a contract with a set price and starting spot. The day I was to be signed, the team had gone, without my (or my agent’s) knowledge, to sign a loaned player in order to save money. I got a handshake.

Don’t get me wrong, please. I’m not looking for sympathy, and I don’t want handouts by anyone or any club. I just want you to know that it’s not always that easy. The sports world is unforgiving, and to do what the majority have to endure requires some long looks in the mirror to search ourselves and find ways to keep moving forward.

I am still in the UK. I have an offer back home (can’t mention the club yet), but I am here; using my own money, seeking motivation where-ever I can find it, to keep doing what I love.

Andrew Dykstra was a four-year starter in goal for the VCU Men’s Soccer Team from 2005-08. He spent two seasons with the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer and played the 2011 season with the Charleston Battery of the USL. He is continuing his professional career abroad.

WHY MICHIGAN WILL WIN THE SUGAR BOWL

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By Andrew Dykstra

Michigan is ranked 13th in the BCS standings, two spots behind Virginia Tech.

I’m no writer, I’m no football expert and I’m no Virginia Tech fan! I want to tell you why Virginia Tech loses to my Michigan Wolverines in the Sugar Bowl (Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m, ESPN).

Michigan’s only legitimate loss this year was to the Michigan State Spartans; a well-coached, balanced team with All-Big Ten caliber players on both sides of the ball. A team that well deserved of a shot at this year’s Big Ten title game. The other Michigan loss came from Iowa. I have already declared “mulligan” on that one. As Forrest Gump told us, “S*** happens.”

Now, looking at Tech, their two losses came from Clemson, who beat the living tar out of the Hokies on both occasions. Clemson was the only worthy team on Tech’s schedule this year – with some credit to Georgia Tech – and the Hokies (11-2) proved nothing to fans on both occasions. Tech’s remaining schedule was played against marshmallows and cupcakes, squeezing by teams like Duke and East Carolina. At least Michigan (10-2) was tested by their weaker half of schedule and came out destroying most of those teams.

I’m going to agree with Todd McShay of ESPN when he said, “Michigan is a motivated team and wants to be there.”

Michigan is a balanced team with a dangerous quarterback, stronger defense (7th in FBS for points against) and a discipline-heavy coach. Tech is an average team and one that does not respond to its own motivational tactic of “proving the critics wrong.” They proved that after the ACC title fiasco (Clemson won 38-10) when they looked to show everyone that their first meeting with Clemson was a mistake. The same situation exists here. The critics are looking down on them, the Wolverines are a good team, and I expect no response from the Hokies. It will only be a runaway game if the Hokies turn the ball over. Otherwise, I expect a sound win by the Wolverines, done always with class and poise.  GO BLUE!

Andrew Dykstra was a four-year starter in goal for the VCU Men’s Soccer Team from 2005-08. He spent two seasons with the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer and played the 2011 season with the Charleston Battery of the USL. He is continuing his professional career abroad. He played wide receiver in high school and turned down several college football offers to play soccer for the Rams. He also attended Virginia Tech football camp in high school, but is an unapologetic University of Michigan fan.

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