The spring soccer season is underway and my team is living up to its reputation as a tough team to beat, even though we almost didn’t have a team this year. A couple of players are out on maternity leave, several have competing commitments and will miss some games, others have faded out to the periphery, remaining on the email list out of habit and nostalgia. Our organizer and team captain asked for a break this year, so I took on her duties. Even with the prospect of playing short sides for some of our games, we decided against shelving the team for a season. We were all too aware that we’d probably lose players forever if we went that route.
I’ve been playing women’s recreational soccer in this area since 1988, when I was a fresh-faced newbie of 24. Even though I’ve only played under two different team names, I’ve played on countless teams based on configuration of players. Over all, I’ve been very fortunate in the seasonal shuffle of people in and out of my teams, I’ve been on winners much more often than losers.
Yesterday was another cold morning, but with promises of sunshine. Our game was at 9 am at the nearby middle school field, so I rode my bike. When I arrived at the pitch, the opposing side was there in force, with more than a full side warming up together 15 minutes ahead of a game. I was feeling a bit daunted. I knew we were going to be missing at least 3 people due to prior commitments and I never knew who would actually show up until the game started. Every week, we’ve got a slightly different team. I was hoping for 11 players and wishing a few would be up to playing defense, since I knew 2 key defenders weren’t going to make it.
My players arrived shortly before the game, as usual. Not much time for warming up together, we got some semblance of a line-up figured out before jogging out to our positions on the pitch. I stood in front of the net, watching as they settled out into our usual pattern, 3-4-3. We had two new team mates, new to us but not new to the game. One took up a fullback position, the other a forward spot. I looked at the opposition, loads of new faces along with the familiar ones, and glanced at their 6 substitutes hanging casually on the sideline. My hope was that we could score early and often in the first half, since one of our best goal makers would be leaving sometime early in the second. My hope was that we’d make a good showing despite being so
I needn’t have been so pessimistic. I didn’t touch the ball until well into the first half, though it was a good touch. My center full flubbed a stop right in front of the goal and the ball bounced back to the opposing forward. All she had to do was touch it around my player and there she was, maybe four feet away. I was ready, but she could have had the net if she’d put it to the left or the right. Lucky for me, she seemed as shocked as I was to be right in front of the goal, one on one with the keeper. She popped it up, right above me, where I easily stopped and caught it. That was the most serious threat they posed the entire game.
For most of the game, I stood and watched. Well, I didn’t just stand. I paced, jogged to and fro, stretched and collected stray balls to give the fullbacks a break. And, as always, I kept up a nearly constant play-by-play patter of encouragement and praise for the excellent game my team was having. We felt loose enough to joke amongst ourselves. We did a lot of switching around, giving everyone a chance to play up on offense. Some of the substitute fullbacks weren’t as familiar with the position so I gave them this helpful direction:
“Your job is to keep me out of a job.”
And for the most part, that’s what they did. What was the other team doing with all those players? They moved the ball, but not as well as we did. They didn’t connect on their passes as well. They seemed to be putting out plenty of effort, but not getting much for it. Recall that they had 6 subs, so they could afford to push hard and get a breather now and then. But even though they were swapping out for subs faster than condoms at an orgy, they still didn’t muster any coherent or threatening offensive attack. They came down to our end a few times in the second half, but we quickly regained possession and transitioned back to offense each time.
It was a fun game to watch, from my perspective. My team, even with it’s semi-random assortment of players, gelled quickly and demonstrated why we’ve won quite a few championship t-shirts in the past several years. When we play our game, it’s a game of passing, possession and pressure. Most of the game was played on the offensive side of the field, which is to say, in front of their goal. That means their defense never gets a break, and that wears on a player mentally. It also means we retain possession of the ball, and regain it quickly if we lose possession. That makes the offensive players crazy, because they can’t settle into their game. Momentum us ours through the accumulated minutes of controlling the ball, hence the game.
We walked off the field with a 6 or 7 – 0 victory. I don’t know how the rest of the season will go, but this group of athletes has proven to me, countless times, that no matter what the odds look like from the outside, it’s up to us to decide our fate. They had 17 people lined up to defeat our 11 and we still game out on top. Control, team work, communication and confidence won the day for us. Good thing to remember when the next seemingly unwinnable life situation presents itself.
I pedaled myself home, and was submerged once more in the milieu of my household. I had a Peanut-butter and honey sandwich for lunch, followed by a much needed hot shower and my traditional post-game nap. The sun was out, the daffodils are blooming and soccer has begun. Welcome back, spring.
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