Everywhere you looked during the Madison 56ers' season opener Wednesday, there seemingly was something new – from the turf pitch at Breese Stevens Field to the Cap City Supporters group and the team's uniforms to the players wearing them.
First-half goals by newcomers Tim Rogers and Tony Amolo and a second-half strike by Josh Thiermann (Stoughton/UW) – back with the team for the first time since 2011 – gave the 56ers a 3-2 victory over a Bavarian SC side in a friendly.
"It was a good dry run," Madison coach Jim Launder said after giving 24 players a run out in the team's lone warmup before Saturday's National Premier Soccer League Midwest Region opener against the St. Paul Twin Stars in Minnetrista, Minn.
"It wasn't pretty, but what was really good about it was seeing what we need to do. It was a game that doesn't count, but it was a real atmosphere, where the guys were under pressure and see what guys can do."
The makeshift Bavarians team was a combination of players from the club's Under-19 team, which is preparing for the Wisconsin State Championships over Memorial Day weekend, along with players from their Wisconsin Soccer Leagues Under-23 and Majors teams, two former players and several Madison-area players.
"For us, a lot of the kids tonight, we wanted to take a look at – just like Jim wants to do with his guys – to see who can compete at a higher level," said Bavarians coach Pat Hodgins, who also coaches the club's Majors and First Division teams.
Mike Unwin gave the visitors the lead in the 3rd minute – the powerful English forward, a former Buffalo athlete who played for the Bavarians Majors last fall but transferred to North Shore United this spring, was a handful for the 56ers all night.
Rogers, a Minnesota native and one of three players on the 56ers' roster from reigning NCCAA Division II national champion Maranatha Baptist in Watertown, pulled Madison level minutes later. Amolo, a Nigerian who plays at NCAA Division III Keynon (Ohio), was one of the first players Launder brought off the bench and scored on a header to put the 56ers in front 10 minutes before halftime.
Marquette's Driton Zyteja (Sun Prairie), normally a midfielder, started at right back for Madison with his college coach, Louis Bennett, in the stands.
"We really don't have a right back," Launder said. "It was kind of an experimental thing out there tonight. Driton did OK."
Spaniard Miguel Izquierdo, another midfielder, played the second half at right back hours after arriving in Madison. Launder said Brian Bultman (UW) could end up joining the 56ers but isn't available Saturday due to prior obligations – he played for the Madison Fire on Wednesday night in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match.
Englishman Callum Glen, who started at center back alongside Jack Hagstrom (Middleton), is another possible option for the position against the Twin Stars.
"He likes to run with the ball and has the look of an outside back, the way he is built," Launder said of Glen. "I thought he might be a good answer."
Thiermann, who was on the inaugural 56ers NPSL team back in 2005 as a high school sophomore, extended the home side's lead in the 72nd.
Gideon Asante slipped a ball in for Thiermann on the left side, and when the 26-year-old cut the ball back to his right, University of Wisconsin defender Bayley Scholz (Kimberly) slipped on the turf, leaving Thiermann open for the shot. He finished to the far side against Marquette goalkeeper Kyle Gress.
"(Asante is) crafty. He's really good at those little through balls," Thiermann said. "I'm really excited, because the center mids we have this year are so gifted, with just seeing those little slips. Those are the balls that I love, because I don't have to run that hard for them, don't have run long for it, it's just a quick little cut and it's there.
"From there, the finishing practice kind of comes back to you and you're like, 'OK, far corner.' Look up, went in, we're good."
The Bavarians pulled one back just 3 minutes later. Madison keeper Noah Heim saved a header by Landon Bulluck-McSwain (Shorewood) off a corner kick, but the 56ers couldn't clear and Bulluck-McSwain made no mistake when he got a second chance, rifling a shot from the right side of the box past Heim to the left side.
Heim, who is finishing up his junior year at Cambridge High School, made a great save on a blast by Unwin from the right side in the 82nd. Gress, meanwhile, did the same to tip a shot by Venezuelan Carlos Rodriguez over the crossbar in the 85th.
Launder praised the play of his team's center backs, especially Brazilian Felipe Mattar – "He's very good at reading where the play is going to break and gets there beforehand a lot," the coach said. He also was encouraged by the pace he saw from the 56ers on the flanks, lauding Thiermann, UW-Whitewater's Sam Novak (Milton) and UW-Parkside's Ryan Shogren (Madison La Follette) for getting in behind the Bavarians backline, and the play of keepers Joe White and Heim.
On the other hand, Launder saw things to work on, too – such as switching the ball in the midfield instead of playing it straight ahead, and having the center forwards hold space up the field and check back. Jed Hohlbein (Middleton/UW) came on in the second half and did that, playing ahead of Asante, but Launder said the 56ers' all-time leading scorer isn't available to play with the team full-time this season.
"When Jed went on, it made a huge difference," Launder said. "We just won't have Jed all the time; he's going to be a part-time player. But we have video of it, so I can use him to show the guys."
May 13, 2015 Friendly at Breese Stevens Field, Madison
Bavarian SC – Mike Unwin 3
Madison 56ers – Tim Rogers 12
Madison 56ers – Tony Amolo 35
Madison 56ers – Josh Thiermann (Gideon Asante) 72
Bavarian SC – Landon Bulluck-McSwain 75
MADISON 56ERS: Joe White; Sam Della Monica, Callum Glen, Jack Hagstrom, Driton Zyteja; Jacob Scotte-Hatherly, Keenan Newallo, Johnnie Longmore; Sam Novak, Wira Wama, Tim Rogers. Substitutes: Noah Heim (GK), Felipe Mattar, Ryan Shogren, Carlos Rodriguez, Tony Amolo, Gideon Asante, Ian Sagstetter, David Martinez, Felipe Lillo, Jed Hohlbein, Taylor Pill, Josh Thiermann, Kyler Mowery.
BAVARIAN SC: Kyle Gress; Danny Jarosz, Adam Hermsen, Jackson Weiss, Bayley Scholz; Alex Masbruch, Stuart Grable, Jake Taylor, Mark Ciszewski; Mike Unwin, Andre Francois. Substitutes: Eric Wilde, Ravi Rajani, Kevin Crombie, Landon Bulluck-McSwain, Nick Gasser.
Shots: M 8, B 9. Fouls: M 9, B 6. Corner kicks: M 3, B 6. Saves: M 3, B 4. Offsides: M 1, B 1. Discipline: None.