"I always feel like anyone who pulls on a Roos jersey becomes like a brother."
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Hello, hello, AP readers! I hope you're ready for today's interview, because it's like a giant American Soccer History bomb. Seriously. You're going find out stuff about soccer in America that you never even knew existed. Hopefully this will be the first of many interviews with teams in the Buffalo District Soccer League. Check it out.
Let's start off simple. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Roos FC.
My name is Michael Schieber. I'm from Buffalo, New York and I'm the current President and Manager of Roos FC, a Premier club in the BDSL. (in the interest of full disclosure I'm also the 2nd VP of the BDSL). Greg Slabyk is the Roos VP and Phil Barrett is our Treasurer.
What got you interested in the sport in general, and actually being involved with the sport on the level of managing a team and working with a league?
Growing up I played hockey and soccer but was generally more interested in hockey. Once I got into high school my core group of friends were mainly all soccer players, so naturally my focused shifted to that.
My first year in the BDSL was back in 2008 with Celtic United. Changed teams after that season to a now defunct club in Tonawanda City. In 2011 I played my first year as a Roo. Those same friends from high school (the a fore mentioned Slabyk and Barrett included) were all on Roos. I didn't join initially as I was a GK and so was Slabyk. But I couldn't be happier being here and getting to build this team with them and all the other Roos on our team.
As far as managing goes I'd guess you can say its sorta in my blood. My father was my hockey coach growing up and eventually was the President of our organization. So it was sorta natural for me to want to be involved behind the scenes. I actually love the management aspect. I'm a Football Manager type of guy not a FIFA guy if that reference means anything to you.
Even though I haven't been able to play Football Manager, I get that reference 100% Some guys are just drawn to the details.
FM is the best. Highly recommend. I could rattle off my 2011 Norwich City team that I managed well into 2030.
That's awesome. What's the story behind Roos FC? How did the team come into being?
Roos FC was started back in 1998. The true history has no doubt been distorted through the generations. The current origin story is the first team was a spin off of an other former BDSL club, known as the D5 Elders. Since that split, Roos has been handed down generation to generation. Fathers to sons, coaches to players, and occasionally a leader was chosen adhoc. Slabyk's father was on the original 1998 side. Other names like Greg Potter, Jack Donner and Andrew Maloney have all led the organization at various points. It's a honor for me to now be in charge of a team with such deep history.
Roos FC has been around for 18 years? That's a long time in American soccer, especially for an amateur side. How have you guys made it so long, especially when there are pro teams that struggle to last that long?
We are certainly very proud of our history within the league. I think as the managers change each of them have taken on the role and responsibility with aplomb in their own ways. While we take our game on the field very seriously even as a 5th tier amateur club, we also know that off the field its important to keep the core values of our organization alive. That means continuing to support each other in all facets of life. Personally I'd like to think that any of my players could turn to me for anything they need on or off the field. Building bonds is the life blood of amateur soccer. We do this for the love of the game, nothing else. In the end its the guys you play with that you share more then just soccer with. I try to make sure my guys understand and believe that.
Let's talk about what you just touched on. The family aspect of a soccer team. How important is that for teams in general, and, from what you've seen, a lower league team in particular?
I think in the amateur ranks you see it a lot both figuratively and literally. Roos had always had a brother or cousins duo element to it But I would also say that I always feel like anyone who pulls on a Roos jersey becomes like a brother, whether it's one season or more. I have plenty of guys I still talk to despite them moving onto another side or what have you. And as a father of a 9 month old, I hope to be able to one day see my son rep Roos, too. The traditions of amateur clubs like Roos and many others have an advantage in that family is often as important as skill in some ways.
In your opinion, what is it about the amateur level that fosters that kind of atmosphere? It's a by product of being amateur, playing in a lower league, or something else entirely?
I think it varies league to league and team to team, but being a amateur side makes the most impact. As no one is locked onto a side with a contract or anything both managers and players are free to find teams or players that have both the ambitions and mind set to match their own.
For me, that's very important. Whether it's winning, playing time, or the players around you you are free to find a side to match what you want and then are more likely to care and stay with that side I think.
Interesting, I hadn't heard about the lower levels functioning like that before, but it makes a lot of sense. Let's talk about the league you play in, the Buffalo District Soccer League. How long has that been around?
The BDSL has been around since the 1920's. Our leagues domestic cup tournament, the Tehel Cup, is one of the oldest amateur cups in North America. This past year was the 91st competition for the cup.
Really? That's an impressive history right there. I had no idea there were any leagues that old still playing in the US. Are all of the teams based in Buffalo, or is there a mix of city and neighborhood teams with some nearby towns thrown in?
Check out @shollander2. He's in archives for the news and you can see articles dating us back that far.
Our league has teams from both the city and teams from the surrounding Erie County. This season we had our biggest year ever as a league with 65 teams across our 5 divisions.
Wow. Are those divisions static, or do you have a promotion and relegation system like the Bay State Soccer League?
Promotion and Relegation is definitely in play. The two teams who make the finals in divisions 3 to championship are automatically promoted while the Premier champs are the kings of all of BDSL, so to speak. Typically one or two the teams move up as other clubs fold as well but it has really created a hyper competitive league across all 5 divisions. In winter teams play indoor together with the aim of prepping for improving their BDSL status. If you play soccer in Western New York the first question is what BDSL team do you play for.
What kind of support do the teams get from their local communities? Are people coming out to watch these games?
For the most part teams fans are family, friends, and other BDSL members. Our bigger events, Tehel Cup games and playoffs, draw typically 100 or so while championship weekend and Tehel Cup final is 250 plus. Considering the size of our city coupled with the fact there are 65 teams in our league to support I'll take that. BDSL soccer over the last 5 years has grown by 30 plus teams, has taken our first steps towards Region I cups and has even begun receiving local media coverage. Some areas of our city (the town of Lakawanna for example with FC Yemen and Yemen Elite) draw crowds each and every game. Though we have been around since the 1920's our popularity has varied but it's at a high currently.
Is there a large community of people from Yemen in Lakawanna?
Yes, Lakawanna is a heavy populated immigrant community. Their home field on Leigh St. is infamous for its crowd that comes. If your a visiting side it's as close to a Euro environment as you'll get. It's nicknamed the Cage ad it's slightly smaller and surrounded on 3 sides by a tall metal cage. Their fans surround you and heckle you all game long. It's fun if you know what your in for but intimidating if you are a rookie.
What is the atmosphere like when FC Yemen and Yemen Elite play each other?
It's friendlier then expected. Generally Elite is seen as the bigger side of the two so FCY sees it more of a rivalry then Elite. The two managers are friends so it's more of a family event then a local derby battle.
Okay. Lots of people, lots of cheering, but no fighting, more playful ribbing kind of thing?
Yeah, that's exactly it. Certainly an event but no bad blood to speak of. FCY just completed their first year in Premier, too, so the teams haven't played vs each other that much either.
So FCY are the new guys, and Yemen Elite are, well, the elite?
It was sorta an A and B team set up initially so there are a few players that player for both sides but FC Yemen won two promotions and eventually found themselves in the Premier. Last season FCY won both the Tehel and Championship divison (right below premier). So with both sides in Premier now it's no longer A and B. Elite is a bit older and more respected while FCY are young and bit more fiery.
What kind of trophies has Roos FC won in it's history?
In our 1998 inaugural season we won the Tehel Cup for our club's first and only trophy. When I came into the team in 2010, RFC was a middling Championship division team. We then made 3 straight playoff semifinals, just missing out on promotion to Premier along with 2 more Tehel Cup quarterfinals. Finally in 2014 we got the job done winning in the semis but ultimately falling in the Championship game. Our first two years in Premier have been challenging but this year after fighting against relegation for 2 months we made some roster moves in July and finished the year undefeated and 1 spot out off the playoffs. We ended trending up and hope to carry that momentum into next year.
Nice! Would say that the threat of relegation pushes you to try harder when the team is struggling?
Oh absolutely. No one wants that especially in Premier. If your relegated out of the top often times teams players are picked apart by other teams either just promoted, looking to improve, or looking for promotion in another division. It very similar to the pros in that respect. Everyone wants to be as close to the top as possible. So keeping hold of Premier status is a huge advantage in both recruiting and team prestige. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried at times this year but we did a lot in the transfer window to get the job done.
How motivating is the possibility of promotion for the team, especially when you're playing in the lower levels?
It's pretty huge as you move up. For Roos it was our primary goal, to get into the Premier. I think the league has grown so much because the level of play has grown so much. And with that comes more players wanting to be on the best teams in the best divisions. Most teams recruit and play together in winter to prep for the summer season. I would say if you asked all the teams in the Championship down to D3 90% would say the club's goal is promotion at this point. It has to be too if you want to keep your best players.
If this is making such a difference at the local level, why do you think no one has put promotion and relegation together at a more regional level?
You know it's funny to me that Promotion and Relegation isn't in America at the regional and pro levels in any sport. It's really the most capitalist system and we are the capitalist center one could argue. I'd say their are a lot of reasons it doesn't exist. Collage sports, travel and the root of all issues, money, are the biggest 3 obstacles to me. Without radical wholesale changes to our sports landscape though I don't think it will ever exist and that's a shame. It's a larger issue we should be clamoring for across all athletics here in America. Not just soccer. That's at least how I feel.
It would help make other sports more interesting if the perpetual underachievers were getting punished instead of rewarded. Looking at you, 76ers. I mean, imagine if the Lakers would have been at risk of relegation last year? Would have changed how they were interacting with Kobe ages ago. But I digress. I'm curious about the Tehel Cup you've mentioned. What exactly is it, and what's the story behind the name?
The Tehel Cup is our leagues domestic Cup, and one of the oldest Amateur Cups in North America. A piece of it is supposedly in the US Soccer Hall of Fame. The format has changed a lot over the years. We used to have two Cups. One for higher division teams and one for lower. Now it's currently just the Tehel Cup with all 65 teams competing in a NCAA style bracket tournament. The winner of that reps the league as our submission for the Western New York Soccer bid in the Region I Open Cup. Our Premier Champions earn the bid for the Region I Amateur Cup.
So the Tehel Cup is like the FA Cup, just for the BDSL?
That's a fair comparison.
Who typically winds up winning the Cup? Is it all over the place, or do the top flight teams tend to win it a lot?
Most winners reside in the top two divisions. We just recently had a run where the last 3 Tehel Cup winners were all Championship sides that also won promotion to Premier that same year. That ended this season when premier side Clarence won their second Tehel Cup. BSC Raiders is the current active leader in all time Cup wins with 6 since 2003 including 4 in a row from 03 to 06. They last won in 2012. A full list of winners dating back 1979 is available in our Tehel cup league history page at http://bdsl.org . Before that I'm working to find and add the full list of cup winners.
One thing I forgot in a question before was how the cup was named. It's actually named after a referee who played in and then reffed our league in the 1920's.
A Cup named after a referee? They must have really liked the guy. Don't hear that about refs very often.
Doubtful that would happen now a days. A different time back then I suppose.
For sure. What are you hoping to accomplish as a team this upcoming season? Basically, what needs to happen for you to consider the season a success?
In 2017 the goal will definitely be playoffs for us. It's been two years sorting ourselves as a top flight team and I think if we can keep the roster we had to end the year together with some minor
changes, we'll be able to do just that. We'll be trying some new things by doing more prep in fall and winter this year to make that a reality. I think recruiting wise we'll be a more attractive destination then others so hopefully that works in our favor as well. The talent in our league has never been deeper so while that goal is a jump up its something I believe we can accomplish with the right play and commitment.
Good goal. Maybe throw a championship trophy in there, too. Ready for some more rapid fire questions to start wrapping up?
A Premier or Tehel cup title would be a dream for sure. Fire away.
What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
English Premier and Norwich City FC aside from Roos FC of course.
Who are your favorite players, one past, one present?
Philip Lahm and Stuart Holden.
Really? I forget about how good Holden was back in the day. What 3 books, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend?
Holden was the man. A huge loss for a US Soccer with his knee. If I'm honest I'm not a big book reader. I liked Matt Christopher sports books as a kid along with Encyclopedia Brown and other super nerdy book series. The last book I read was Halo: Ghosts of Onyx if that tells you anything.
To be fair, I actually own Ghosts of Onyx, and it's pretty good. Would you rather attend a World Cup, Euro's, or Asian Championship?
Wow...I think it matters more where it's being played for World Cup. Like I'd never go to Qatar but would have gone to, say, South Africa. So I guess I would say Euros to play it safe.
Fair point. Toilet paper, over or under?
I'm an over guy.
What would you like to say to the people reading this about why they should support their local teams, regardless of the level of play?
Supporting local soccer to me is extremely important because more often then not these are your friends and family who grew up with you playing the sport they love for only that love. For 99% of us this is as high as it gets. So every game, win and championship means a lot more as that's all we have. There is no paycheck waiting. Just the glory of heading back to the bar, swapping stories and hoping your body holds up for one more year. Building anything beyond that at the local level is a huge success and that means support locally. The BDSL is extremely lucky to have that support. We'll go as far as that goes.
That's a great close. Michael, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the content I'm putting out, I'd encourage you to click here to Follow me on Twitter, or here to Like the page on Facebook. And if you'd like to read these interviews before everyone else, and make sure you aren't missing anything, click here and sign up for the newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road. Make sure to spread the word by sharing these interviews, telling friends about the blog, those kind of things. I can't accomplish my goal of maximum exposure for all levels of the American Soccer Pyramid without YOU. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.