So I've been playing in this winter soccer league
. Our record was good enough to get us into the playoffs--there are eight teams in this league and we were tied for third place. We played our quarterfinal last week
and won! We were supposed to play the semi-final immediately following that game but they had made a mistake somehow and our semi-final was rescheduled for yesterday.
We'd had practice on Saturday which went very well--we had a pickup game against a really good team who was coached by this older guy, in his late 50s at least. The guy was AMAZING. We want him to coach us! He was not only an incredible player who embarrassed the hell out of all of us younger players on the field, he also offered great commentary. I actually played a decent amount in the scrimmage and took a couple of head balls--I landed badly on one (the knee is still a little shaky) and went down and popped up immediately. He was praising me to the other players, saying "that was textbook perfect." The knee was a little weird--if I twisted it at all, it would hurt like hell, but eventually the pain would go away. I had (FINALLY) the MRI later that day, so hopefully that will shed light on the problem. Anyway the game came down to penalty kicks
--I took one and got it in! The thing with penalty shots on goal is that if executed properly, you have an excellent chance of getting it in. For the goalie to have any shot of blocking it, s/he has to commit him/herself beforehand (they can't see where the ball is going and then react--there's not enough time). So they just have to decide to which side they're going to dive beforehand and hope the shooter goes to that side. So you have a 50/50 chance of getting it in if you shoot for the side (proper technique). And if you shoot for the top corner they have even less chance of blocking it. Penalty shots are as close to a sure thing as you can get--they're like foul shots in basketball.
So, back to yesterday morning's game, the semi-final. The winner of that game would go on to play the finals later in the afternoon. We played the red team whom we'd played in the regular season. Now there are some teams we don't like--primarily the red and green teams. Red has a couple of players who are way too aggressive. They're pretty rough for what is supposed to be a social team (I mean, really
rough--one guy took out several of our players, I'm kind of surprised he didn't get a yellow card
), and most irritatingly they try to call the games. (This is a tactic wherein as soon as something happens--say, the ball is kicked out, a handball, etc.--they will "call" it (i.e., for them) which is, hello, the referee's job
!). They do it to try to influence the ref. One of my teammates on my select team in HS used to do this. Since I didn't play that much (the knee is still a little shaky), I saw a LOT of this and I was openly calling them out for it. "Hey, we already have a ref, why don't you just play and stop trying to call it?" They also argue with the ref a lot which REALLY should be yellow carded, it's annoying as hell. Anyway, we beat their aggressive asses 3-1, haha! So now we're in the finals. I played a little bit and not only did the knee NOT hurt, but I was actually showing skills I'd never shown before. In HS I was not this fancy-shmnacy dribbler. I scored a lot because I was very fast, and had very quick reflexes. I could get past the defenders, but I didn't do cool things like fakes and misdirects, and passing through their legs. I just ran! (And kicked.) Well, some of the players in this league are pretty incredible, including several on our teams--they can dribble the hell out of the ball. One way of improving yourself (in almost anything physical, including dance) is to watch those who are better. I've been doing a lot of this, studying the better players, and something must have rubbed off because honest to God, I was doing some of that yesterday. I actually got past several players dribbling the ball, and heard the surprised voice of one of my teammates (Pete, a Totally Hot British Dude, oh my God, he is completely hotttt) saying "there you go!" And this makes me VERY HAPPY because I've been worried, especially after hurting my knee, that I have lost my skills. I played very good soccer for ten years and I want that back, dammit! Peter (THBD) complimented me after the games, saying "you had an excellent run there."
Anyway, after our first game (before the final), there was another game, for third place. Red was now in that game, and the green team were their opponents. The green team is another disliked team--until two weeks ago they were undefeated, and then they lost their last game. They were given a bye
into the semis--and they lost. Very surprising. We never played them in the regular season but we've run into them at the bar--they never socialized with the rest of us (any of the teams). The team captain was quoted as saying he didn't want them to socialize because he felt it would inhibit their competitive drive. Guess that didn't work out too well for you! He also tries to recruit players from other teams and apparently they've been together as a team for awhile. In general they had this huge "we're the best team" attitude that turned off everyone. Dudes, it's a social
league. Get the stick out of your ass. Anyway they played their game--green won (so they were the third place winners) --and then it was time for the finals. Us vs. the yellow team. We'd played the yellow in our very first game, in the snow, and they'd beaten us handily, 6-3.
They seemed nice enough before the game, chatting with us, but apparently they were THE hated team, which I didn't know, I didn't figure this out until I saw both the red AND green teams--and other teams--standing next to us, cheering for us! WTF?! They were actually quite nice to us, so uh, okay, thanks for the support! At halftime we were down by one goal. We huddled together and everyone said something--I said "we are not out of this yet. Keep your heads in the game. Look for opportunities and play smart. Never let up, keep the pressure on." As a smaller athlete, one of my guiding principles is that a smart player is the best kind of player. You can overcome all sorts of disadvantages if you're playing smart--if you are constantly looking and hungry and alert to opportunities. This is especially important when you're down, because momentum is a HUGE thing in sports. That's why so many Super Bowls turn into blow outs--the team that starts winning, ends up winning. Not today!
We scored a goal fairly quickly into the second half, so now we're tied. Then we scored FOUR MORE. One was kind of a fluke--the goal had the ball and decided to go WAY out of the goal area, dribbling the ball. Well, he got caught behind enemy lines and one of our players took a well-aimed shot from the half which went in. I felt bad for him but dude, you're the goalie. You can't leave your post.
They never scored again--and so we ended up league champions! We got medals and everything. It was awesome! We also got a $100 bar tab. (I begged our captain to buy at least one pitcher of Guinness, as opposed to disgusting watery Bud Light, but she said they didn't have Guinness on tap. A horrified me responded "that's outrageous! What kind of an Irish bar doesn't serve Guinness?!") At the bar the green team came over to (somewhat creepily) kiss the hands of our captain and ask for her number so he could set up a "friendly" game between us. He also drunkenly confessed to all of us "deep down we consider ourselves to be the best team." (Uh, no. By definition in a league that has playoffs, the best team is the team that wins when it counts
. The tournament is not a coronation.) We ALSO found out that he'd bought trophies for his team--these had to have been bought before yesterday so what was the point if he didn't know in which place they would end up? And seriously--trophies for your third place team? You got the third place medal, why would you buy trophies when even the champions (US!!! :) didn't get them? It just seemed pathetic, like one of those participation trophies. Those are fine for kids, whom you're trying to teach good sportsmanship values, but for a die-hard competitive team such as them, it just seems as though they're trying to insinuate that, as he said, they were the REAL winners. Dude, you came in third! Accept it. I will say, he admitted "no one could stop you guys today."
Anyway, so so so happy! I draped my medal over the trophy I won last fall
for the softball tournament, next to my trophy for Least Embarrassing Player
. And I'm so proud of our team. We won not because we were the most talented (although we have some fierce players) but because 1) we have incredible team spirit (we also won the Spirit Award) and 2) we WORK. We practice every week. Hard work is almost always the deciding factor in who wins. As a team we have signed up for the spring league, where we'll be playing on Sunday evenings. This will conflict a bit with softball but I'll find a way to make it work. And at least the bar will be better! We'll be at Slainte, which is where we hung out many times after various Planet Connections shows. THEY have Guinness on tap!