When Owls freshman midfielder Joonas Jokinen made his way onto the field against Central Florida Wednesday afternoon, he was greeted by a longtime friend in UCF freshman midfielder Matias Pyysalo, whom he has spent a lot of time playing soccer with back in their hometown of Helsinki, Finland.
“Matias and I first met playing for the national team in Finland and we became very good friends,” Jokinen said. “The both of us were called for every single game and we got to know each other well … I lived abroad so whenever I came back to Helsinki we would meet up and hang out.”
For Jokinen, the exchanges they had on the field helped their bond grow stronger.
“We had played in a couple games together at regionals,” Jokinen said. “There was some healthy banter going on during the games because we knew each other beforehand … so it was like a competition in a way.”
Living more than 900 miles away from each other, keeping in touch may be hard, but Jokinen said they make sure to check in with each other on occasion.
“Pretty much [through] Facebook,” Jokinen said. “We always talk about when we go back to Helsinki how we are going to meet up and what we are going to do … it’s very difficult to see him with all of the distance between us and with not a significant amount of time to fly, it’s hard.”
After a few minutes into the game, Jokinen reinjured his already tender hamstring, causing him to sit out for the rest of the game. Pyysalo said it was tough to see.
“I felt compassion for him,” Pyysalo said. “I was sorry for him … because I know him and I knew he has had some problems with his legs in the past.”
Pyysalo said soccer connected him with Jokinen, and they have a close friendship as a result.
“Yes, ever since we began playing soccer together we have been very close friends,” Pyysalo said.
Pyysalo tallied the lone goal for the Black Knights at the end of the first half on a play which the Owls defense allowed him to break through and score, which at the time was the go-ahead goal, before the Owls tied it up in the 87th minute en route to a 1-1 draw.
For Temple coach David MacWilliams, the goal was an important part of how the game would eventually turn out.
“It’s a big goal,” coach MacWilliams said. “It’s a momentum crusher because it was right before the half and you never want to give up goals before the half … the guys came in at half with their heads down and I told them that we needed to keep fighting, which is what we did to score that goal late in the second half.”
But, for Pyysalo and Jokinen, this was a special day that only comes around once in awhile, and competing against each other for even the slightest amount of time was important.
“It was nice to compete with him today,” Jokinen said. “And, it was very nice to see him off the field as well.”
Dalton Balthaser can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @DaltonBalthaser.