Seven straight league wins to start the season. A goals-scored-to-goals-allowed ratio of 12 (best in the league) to 2 (second-best in the league). First place in Serie C2/A with 21 points. The Silvio Piola is a happy place these days: in just seven matches, we’ve already picked up 70% of our win total from last season.
Not totally botching the summer transfer window turns out to be a smart approach (if only I’d known that last season), and switching to a slower, narrower, Italianate tactical system has done wonders. Here’s a quick rundown of our results.
- at Rodengo (W 2-1) : A hard-fought season opener against the pandas, played without Cognoni, who went down with a damaged foot in the Serie C Cup. We took the lead through a penalty in the 20th minute, then gave it away on a ruthless counterattack early in the second half. As time got scarce we started pressing forward, and Ibáñez finally netted the winner on an 80th-minute, pinpoint-accurate goal kick from Van Dijk.
- vs. Legnano (W 2-1) : Another tough match, this one against a recently relegated team picked to finish second in the league (we were picked 10th). We surrendered a goal in the 12th minute after getting battered for most of the first 10 minutes, then went right on getting battered until halftime, only narrowly managing not to concede a second. After my inspiring team talk (“You are Pro Vercelli!”) we turned the tables in the second half, and finally equalized after another Mengoni penalty kick, this one after a brutal foul on Croce in the box. We kept pressing, and finally stole a thrilling winner in stoppage time when Carlo Saba headed in Ibáñez’s brilliant ball.
- at Bellaria (W 2-0) : No offense to all the Bellaria fans out there, but your team didn’t put up much of a fight. Saba got the first early on by thumping in a ball everyone else lost on a corner, and Darío Farina scored a murderous goal from outside the area to give us the final margin.
- vs. Ivrea (W 2-0) : Not as close as the scoreline. We had eight shots on target to their zero, and only the fact that their goalkeeper has a private force shield emanating from the moon of Endor kept us from winning by four or five. Ibáñez and Mengoni got the goals.
- at Lecco (W 1-0) : One of our biggest games of the season, away to the team unanimously picked to win the league. They were the better team, frankly, but we kept them out through some desperate defending. I was playing for a draw, but Sefa took a direct ball from Van Dijk and slid it into the net in the 71st minute. It was one of only two shots we had on goal all game.
- vs. Bassano (W 1-0) : I think we had a hangover from our shock win at Lecco, because we slapped Bassano around like a minor Dirty Harry villain for 90 minutes, but couldn’t manage to score until Ibáñez’s leaping header on a cross from Croce as the referee was raising his whistle to his lips before halftime.
- at Alessandra (W 2-0) : Another strong performance. Alessandria couldn’t get a shot on goal all game, and Pieter Oosting made them pay, first by setting up Cognoni’s 61st-minute goal with a cross, then by chipping the keeper to score himself five minutes later. It’s especially encouraging to see Cognoni get on the books. He was sensational in our early friendlies, but for one reason or another he’s been playing nervously since coming back from his injury, and I’m hoping scoring the winning goal here will help him find his feet.
Another piece of good news: The team has reacted beautifully to my naming Gustavo captain, and I think his influence has helped to transform Paolo Mengoni. Gone is the reckless, lunging, Rooney-like little fury who ate red cards like candy last year; in its place is a steady defender who wins his tackles without confusing his opponent’s head for the ball. It’s been good to see.
Now…let’s talk about our next game. It’s our derby match against our fiercest rivals, Biellese, from the foothills of the Alps in the nearby town of Biella. Here’s Piedmont marked in red on a map of Italy from 1920:
And here are Vercelli and Biella within Piedmont:
Like Pro Belvedere, Biellese were promoted into our division last season and now think they ought to be regarded as the pre-eminent club in the region. Like Pro Belvedere, they must be crushed. This is the match that our fans have circled on their calendars.
Of course, if you look closely at the league table above, you’ll see that our fans have reasons to be happy at the bottom of the table as well as at the top. We’re planning to give them one more after Biellese comes to visit tomorrow.