'Being able to do what we love feels like a win': The champion Wave is back with new players and many questions

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Daniel Mattos passes in front of Ian Bennett  during Milwaukee Wave practice at the Brookfield Sports Complex.
Daniel Mattos passes in front of Ian Bennett during Milwaukee Wave practice at the Brookfield Sports Complex.

BROOKFIELD – Ian Bennett and Giuliano Oliviero offered entirely different answers and both fit perfectly.

What can fans expect this season from the Milwaukee Wave?

The team won the MASL championship in 2019, saw its title defense stopped prematurely because of the COVID-19 pandemic and then went on hiatus for a year. So there’s a gap in history and a massive turnover on the roster, plus the calendar has continued to flip for the Wave’s aging stars.

“Honestly man … that’s a great question,” said Bennett, the 38-year-old forward who was the league MVP last season while playing on loan to the Florida Tropics.

One answer came last weekend, when the Wave returned to play with a 6-5 overtime loss to the Baltimore Blast. Another will come Saturday, when Milwaukee hosts Baltimore at 4:05 p.m. at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

More: For two beloved Wave stars, this season couldn't start soon enough. But how many more openers will they have?

“First and foremost we’re just excited to be back,” said Oliviero, a former player who became the Wave’s head coach in 2014. “Coming out of the pandemic and just being able to do what we love feels like a win right out of the gate.

“What the fans can expect is a team that is excited to get playing again.”

Giuliano Oliviero is dealing with an unusual amount of roster turnover as he begins his seventh season as head coach of the Wave.
Giuliano Oliviero is dealing with an unusual amount of roster turnover as he begins his seventh season as head coach of the Wave.

The team includes its two most familiar faces, Bennett, who joined the Wave in 2009, and 37-year-old defender Marcio Leite, who arrived in 2006. Also back are big, veteran forward Andre Hayne and Englishman Alex Bradley, who came to Milwaukee in time for the championship season,

But players such as Max Ferdinand, Chad Vandergriffe and both goalkeepers from the title team are gone.

“I think we’ve got enough talent, but it’s going to be a while before all the pieces jell, the new players understand the way the Wave plays and our system, our style of play,” Leite said.

The Wave has traditionally been a disciplined, blue-collar team that focuses on possession rather than attacking willy-nilly, Leite explained. Teams in the Western Division – such as the San Diego Sockers, with whom Leite won the MASL title last season while the Wave sat idle – tend to be more free-flowing.

“It’s going to be a little rough at the beginning. Hopefully not. Hopefully we get a good start. The Wave usually starts strong," Letie said. "But I believe as the season goes on and the new, young guys really get and understand the system, I think these guys have a lot of potential.”

Gordy Gurson, a 29-year-old from Buffalo Grove, Illinois, joined the Wave this season after playing with the Sockers. He’s among the newcomers Leite expects to have an impact.

“He’s a true goal-scorer and that’s what he does for a living, and that’s going to help,” Leite said. “Just get another guy besides Ian Bennett scoring goals for the team.”

Forward Andre Hayne is one of the familiar players back with the Wave.
Forward Andre Hayne is one of the familiar players back with the Wave.

He also pointed to Derek Huffman, who played for the Wave during the coronavirus-shortened season, and 23-year-old newcomer Javier Steinwascher.

Oliviero tipped his hat to 25-year-old defender Tyler Turner, who played on U.S. national teams at various levels and got hooked up with the Wave through Huffman.

“I’m really just taking in everything like a sponge,” said Turner, whose previous indoor experience was limited to four games with the Orlando SeaWolves in 2018. “This is all a new game to me. I’m an outdoor player – everybody knows that – but I’m finding the indoor game very fun and I’m taking to it a lot.”

Wisconsin is again represented on the roster by Mequon’s Andrew Wiedabach and Neenah’s Stuart Grable, as well as Mikey Herrera, who joined the team for 2019-20 fresh out of Marquette High School.

“It’s going to be good for some of the local talent to get in,” Bennett said. “You’re going to see some of the Wisconsin local talent shine this year, which is good for them.”

With the Wave not playing last season, some players found short-term opportunities elsewhere, while others scrambled to play in rec leagues. Consequently, the opening of training camp Nov. 15 was ragged. More time was spent on fitness than normally would.

“But other than that, it’s soccer at the end of the day,” Gurson said. “You can adapt and the guys that can adapt are the ones that are most successful.”

How quickly that happens is part of what makes this season so unpredictable.

“Just being idle for 20 months, it doesn’t help, the mental side, the physical side and even myself as a coach,” Oliviero said. “It’s reintroducing some things and going through your notes from the past to kind of get back to where we were as quickly as we can.

“It’s probably going to go through a learning curve early in the season and just get better as the season goes on.”

The Wave’s year idle meant players who already have been in the league for a long time are that much closer to the end of their careers, a point not lost on Bennett.

But he had no problem putting a positive spin on the team’s age and experience spectrum.

“There’s a new crop coming in, which is good to see,” said Bennett, who scored four of the five goals in the season opener. “Because when Troy Dusosky, ‘Kinger’ (Michael King), ‘Guils’ were there, we were kind of looking at them as the old guys and we were the new guys coming in. Roles have changed now. We’re the old guys and these new guys are coming in. It’s kind of cool to see.

“Honestly I think we’re going to have a nice mix of veterans, all-stars and rookies.”

And questions, at least for a while.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Wave resumes play after MASL title, COVID stall and hiatus

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