Rooks on the road

No caviar or champagne dreams for these guys

ROOKS ROCK Chris Wondolowski (above, No. 12) was the Rooks’ leading scorer this year with 17 goals.

ROOKS ROCK Chris Wondolowski (above, No. 12) was the Rooks’ leading scorer this year with 17 goals.

Courtesy Of Chico Rooks

Formed in 1993, the Rooks are Chico’s only professional sports team. It has now been around long enough to see its only local professional competition, the Chico Heat baseball club, come and go. This year, the Rooks enjoyed their best season with a 20-5-1 record. The team lost its semi-final game for the league championship but still qualified for the national United States Adult Soccer Association National Cup Championship, which it won Aug. 7 in Orlando, Fla. Assistant Coach Tim Milhorn wrote following about life on the road with the Rooks. Incredibly, the team went 14-0 on the road during the regular season.

At a glance, you might think that life on the road with the Rooks is a carefree, enjoyable little jaunt every other weekend or so to an exotic locale where the players go to just play a game and the coaches are along for the ride. As my high-school students say: NOT! Road trips are often difficult ventures where the primary goal is keep players mentally ready to play and physically rested when they get there.

The fact is, folks, we’re not leisurely cruising out to the Chico airport, boarding a charter plane and jetting our way around the West Coast while munching on hors d’oeuvres and sipping champagne till we land and are chauffeured to a luxury hotel. It’s just a little bit different.

Here’s an example of one of the toughest road trips we took this season. It proves that players need to be physically and mentally prepared and that coaches and support personnel carry a lot of responsibility in making sure everyone arrives to the field safely. The example is the “Reno/Salinas Fourth of July Weekend.”

Callum Robertson attempts to score against the Sacramento Knights in the United States Adult Soccer Association Western Regional (USASA) championship game. The Rooks won on penalty kicks after overtime.

Courtesy Of Chico Rooks

It’s 2:15 p.m. Friday. We meet at Off the Wall Soccer and load up in vans to drive to Reno. We arrive at Golden Valley High School at 5:30 to prepare for a 7 p.m. game. In the locker room Coach Dave Stahl and myself tape players and pass out uniforms, and Dave then gives a pre-game talk. We go to the stadium at 6:15 to the tumultuous roar of the fans (actually, Rooks fans almost outnumber Aces fans). We beat Reno 3-1 on a windy night and on a thick, football crowned field.

At 9:30 p.m. we arrive at our hotel in downtown Reno, the “sumptuous” Speakeasy Hotel. However, the sign on the 12th floor is missing a letter and reads “Spea easy.” The players, knowing we have a very important game Sunday, hit the town for a little while but get back to the hotel early.

At 7 a.m. I take last night’s uniforms to the laundry room to wash and dry. Incidentally, the laundry room only has one washing machine. I have to go to two different floors to wash the uniforms. The laundry rooms are cement block cubicles where the humidity reaches about 120 percent. I’m as damp as the clothes I take out of the washer when I’m finished. It came to be a preview of the weather in Orlando, Fla.

The team meets at 10:30 a.m., and we begin our trek to Salinas. The highlight of the trip (besides the wind over Pacheco Pass, which threatens to blow the 12-passenger van into the next lane and mow down one of the one thousand or so Harleys we saw on the road) was when we stopped at a fruit stand outside of Gilroy and Jorge Fernandez bought some dried mango covered with chili powder. He gave some to Joao Macedo, whose mouth soon felt like one of those dragons in Reign of Fire. Unfortunately, no one had any water (or at least said they didn’t). Even his painful moans sounded funny in Portuguese. Apparently, food in Brazil is not very spicy.

We finally made our way into Salinas at 5:30 p.m. We checked in, and some of the players engaged themselves in a small game of soccer in the grass courtyard, trying to avoid careening the ball off one of the custom-made Harleys outside the rooms. It was the Hollister Harley weekend, a famous motorcycle event put on the map of history by Marlon Brando’s The Wild Ones. I knew no one hit any of the “hogs” because I didn’t hear any gunshots from my room on the second floor.

About midnight a few members of a U17 softball team began yelling in the hallway. Soon a short, squat bearded biker across from my room stepped in the hall and screamed at the kids to “shut the #%&@ up.” Soon, parents of the players were screaming at him. I opened my door and yelled that the manager had just called the police. Fortuitously, at that moment a siren blared just down the street. Lucky me.

The next day we drove to CSU, Monterey Bay and beat the Salinas Valley Samba 2-0 on a wonderful field during a bright, blustery day with the wind gusting off the Pacific to keep things cool. The dilapidated remnants of old tan and brown Fort Ord barracks tottered nearby.

We headed back to Chico at 5:30 and got into town around 10. I was fortunate enough to listen to rap music from Vallejo to Dayton Road. I really learned how to kick it old school with Slick Rick and Outkast. When I got done unloading the van at Off the Wall, dropping off the laundry, refilling the gas, and getting back to Budget, it was 10:45 p.m. We booked a little over 800 miles in three days.