Last soccer post for the foreseeable future.
Our season ended yesterday, as we lost our semi-final game against the #1 team in our division. And I am content. Our opponent had not only beat every team they faced this year (including several strong, playoff teams), they had demolished them, scoring 5+ goals in five of their eight games (including their quarter-final playoff). I was more anxious leading up to that game then any other game we'd played this season. Hell, it was the most anxious I can remember feeling prior to ANY sporting event since the 2012 Super Bowl (when I actually had to go to a gym beforehand to work off the stress/nerves). It wasn't because I was hyped to win...we knew it would be a tall order. I was afraid we'd be embarrassed. Frankly, I was afraid we might show ourselves to be frauds...a team that had a puffed up record based on weak opponents, who didn't really deserve to be in the same conversation with the "class" of our league.
Instead, we gave them their toughest match of the season. We played our game (using all our players, good and bad) with equal playing time and held them scoreless for 55 minutes, frustrating and stifling their vaunted offense with our ragtag misfits...who played spectacularly out-of-their minds. Kids who had a hard time just getting a foot on the ball this season (often swinging and whiffing) were taking on players with twice their skill and athleticism and winning...winning possessions, clearing shots, doing their damn jobs out there.
It was glorious.
When the other team DID score, it was in the last ten minutes when we (the coaches) had subbed in our best players for a last push...and here we made a tactical error. In an effort to put all our best players on the field we moved a kid who'd been playing center back for nearly the whole season to right back...and he couldn't help himself drifting to the center. He lost a very good shooter on the right side who was able to take a pass and put in a goal (many "soccer parents" on our side complained afterwards that the kid was off-sides but Diego, playing left back, assured me that it was on). We then started pressing to get the equalizer and an unlucky bounce gave their other striker a wide-open shot in the box that he smoked. The final score was 2-0...the fewest goals our opponent scored all season.
[after the second goal, with three minutes remaining, we subbed out our stronger players to give other kids more play time]
Thing is, we had multiple chances in both halves to put the game away. Our offense just failed to get it done. After the first goal was scored, Diego was able to win a ball, juked a guy, and got a perfect pass to up to our most skilled player. Miles has blazing speed, amazing footwork, and plays striker for the same premier club as my son...but he plays a team up in a tougher bracket. With nothing but green grass and the goal in front of him, he dribbled all the way to the goalie box, and from three yards out he bricked the ball off the post.
It was unfortunate...mainly because the kid, a showboat who refuses to pass the ball (and, frankly, looks down on this "school league" stuff as beneath him) had the chance to make good with all his big talk. After the game, my son was in angry tears..."Three yards out! Easier than a PK!" But we had an even easier chance in the first half when the goalie lost the ball in the penalty area and Bastien, with NOBODY in front of him and the ball on his foot, failed to put the ball on-target.
Fact is, we could have won the game but for a couple of bounces. Fact is, we put some fear in this team...a team that came to the field with F'ing WARPAINT on their faces, chanting and singing fight songs and shit. They had rolled everyone they faced...they did not roll over us.
I was...I am...immensely proud. And we did it without chippy-ness, without fouling, without complaining to the two referees (who had a great game). In our quarter-final, we played a team who drew three yellow cards, gave us multiple direct and indirect kicks, three PKs (in regular time!), and talked smack the whole game. That game should never have gone to overtime, but it did, and we won in a shootout at the end, and several of the opposing players refused even to shake hands at the end of the match. Our team, on the other hand, was able to hold our heads up and keep both our dignity and sportsmanship.
Which is important! As I told my kid afterwards:
- We don't play the game to have fun...there are lots of ways to have fun (most not involving so much effort).
- We don't play the game to exercise...there are lots of ways (better ways) to stay in shape without risking injury.
- We don't play the game to win...the joy of victory is as fleeting as the sting of losing.
We play the game because we want to play soccer. Because we love the sport. It's the same reason we play Dungeons & Dragons, instead of something easier or more accessible or more popular. There are LOTs of ways to have fun and play with friends and be active. There are lots of sports (and games!) that test your mettle, your resolve, your mind and body. We made a choice to do this one...because we want to do this one. And it doesn't matter whether we are taking home a trophy or not...we are fortunate to be able to play. A lot of kids who want to don't get to.
My son, to his credit, understands and agrees (though he still prefers winning to losing). After the game was done, we drove home so that he could change into his training jersey, and then we drove to his club practice to work out with his premier teammates. That practice went from 6:45-8pm (I had a beer at a nearby pizza place while watching some Monday Night Football). He was smiling and in good spirits by the time practice was over and we were driving home for our usual, late night dinner...laughing about the game and how we frustrated our opponents, gushing about the fantastic play from our "lesser teammates," bemoaning the inability of our offensive players to get a cross in to a wide open man.
Our usual debrief.
Diego has club soccer practices Wednesday, Thursday, and (for the next three weeks) a special Friday session. Saturday he has a game against PacNW soccer (they play out of the Sounders Starfire facility in Tukwila); just one more game in a looong season.
Today, however, he has the day off...because the school season is over. We've already decided we will be playing Dungeons & Dragons tonight. We're both looking forward to it.