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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A soccer game on a steamy spring afternoon in Houston

The drizzle earlier in the afternoon hadn't been enough to wash the high-count grass and tree pollen out of the air. With brilliant shafts of late afternoon spring sunshine now wandering across the soccer field, this was definitely a "two coats of sunscreen" day, and you you could almost, but not quite, see the clouds of humidity just above the grass. Of course, no one who really knows Houston would have mistaken today for August, but the conditions were still far from ideal. And when the other team's bus driver took them to the wrong middle school, the prospect of a win by forfeit for the home-team Johnston Greyhounds grew more attractive, at least to the adult fans present.

Still, the other team wanted to play, and this was already a make-up game for one rained out earlier in the season. Anyway, the seventh and eighth grade girls on the Greyhounds hadn't signed up for varsity soccer just to compile a record. They wanted to play too. And so they cheered when the other team's bus finally hove into view.

The littlest Greyhound had already renewed her generous coat of sunscreen. She demonstrated once again for her dad how well she'd learned (from him, or at least with his encouragement) to rinse her mouth with a huge gulp of tepid water. She gargled, and then spat it onto the ground with such forceful defiance as to mock the very idea that boys, or men, might also try to play this game from time to time.

During the first minute, the Greyhounds squelched an offensive threat from their opponents just in front of the home goal, and the visitors had all turned tail to trot back onto defense. Except somehow, the ball was still on the ground, rolling uncontrolled and fairly slowly. Rolling right into the Greyhounds' goal. Visitors 1, Home 0.

The next five minutes of the first half featured several sharp battles for control at midfield, during three or maybe four of which the littlest Greyhound, a defensive mid-fielder, charged into a clump of taller, heavier girls sprinting with the ball toward the Greyhounds' end of the field. Each such encounter ended with the littlest Greyhound sprawled or sitting on the ground, sometimes with and sometimes without an opponent there too, but always with the ball safely diverted way upfield. The visitors began to look at her like she might be slightly crazy, maybe dangerous, certainly fierce and fearless — even though one good, strong breeze would have seemed likely to blow this seventh-grader (who could easily pass for a fourth-grader) off-field like a dandelion puff.

It was still 1/0 at the half, despite most of the first half having been played near the Visitors' goal and in their end of the field. After that flukey first score, the Greyhound's goalie had only touched the ball about three times total. But in the second half, I don't think she touched it at all; the Visitors never had a serious shot on goal.

Roughly four minutes into the second half, the Greyhounds had a corner kick-in. The Greyhounds' strongest kicker boomed a line drive just about six feet above the ground, but with a wicked spin that brought the ball arcing back slightly toward the far corner of the goal. In a split-second, instinctive reaction, one of the Greyhounds' eighth grade captains leaped into the air and executed a perfect header, sending the ball slightly up but at a sharper angle — directly into the top back corner of the Visitors' goal. The whole play took less than a second, and if we'd caught it on video, it would be climbing up the YouTube popularity ratings tonight.

That electrified the Greyhounds — and indeed, it was their most exciting goal so far this entire season — and also unnerved the Visitors. The Greyhounds' next two (and final) goals followed within the next three minutes; each was on a perfectly executed set play, culminating in a deft pass from the center forward to a trailing wing with an unimpeded shot at the goal.

The Visitors had more raw athletic ability, and they were bigger and about as fast. But they lacked both finesse and fundamentals, and more importantly, they lacked teamwork. After the Greyhounds' all-stars highlight-film (if only we'd had video!) first goal, though, you could see the Greyhounds' confidence grow with every successive minute. Their faces reflected new confidence that yes, these techniques can work! and yes, we're a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts!

The final score was Visitors 1, Greyhounds 3. And overall, it was an entirely typical girls' soccer game, pretty much like hundreds of others played around the country and the world today.

My own voice is gone tonight and will be hoarse tomorrow, though, and I wish I had even a photo or two of the Greyhounds in their new, deep-purple jerseys, black shorts, and purple socks. If you haven't guessed, the littlest Greyhound — the one whose size-smallest jersey reaches almost to her knees and whose butt was covered in mud and dust by halftime — is my youngest, Molly (age 13).

Molly's other news of the day was that she had received the results of her class' most recent Stanford Achievement Tests. She'd been frustrated by this test for the last couple of years, because in each of those years she'd had one subject or another (a different one each year) in which her scores didn't quite reach the PHS ("post-high school") level. This year, though, Molly had all PHS scores. (Q: "So, kid, are you ready to just skip high school?" A: "Naw, high school will be too much fun to miss it, Dad.") That, plus some good defensive play and a team win, made today a good day for her, which in turn helped make it a good day for me, too.

Posted by Beldar at 10:48 PM in Family, Sports | Permalink


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(1) David Harmer made the following comment | Apr 2, 2008 12:27:07 PM | Permalink

Kudos to the littlest Greyhound, and to her justifiably proud daddy too.

(2) drewski made the following comment | Apr 2, 2008 2:18:53 PM | Permalink

Your post brought back a great many wonderful memories of days spent watching my eldest daughter play school and travel soccer. She's 25 years old now, and probably couldn't do 1/2 of the things she was capable of then, but she still remembers the half-dozen or so times when all the training and discipline paid off.

I was the coach for many of those travel seasons, and witnessed both the best of their play (State Cup finalists two years running), and the worst (stuck in a flight that was 4 years older than most of our U12s just to "round out" the field), but those moments when the light bulb finally went off in their collective minds were worth every bit of heartache along the way.

Girls' soccer can be *very* competitive, but it never seems to rise to the level of actual combat that similarly-aged boys seem to get to. I've reffed games at all levels up through U20 (both boys and girls), and I still enjor the girls' games more. Probably because they play to win, but they also play because they like it. The boys just seem to want to pound the ball through the Goalkeeper, or through the defender, or through *something* just to show off how tough they are; but the girls can recognize a fine play, and respect the opponent who makes one. I've never seen a girls' team run up a score like I have with the boys, yet they seem to derive more fun from winning in the end than the boys do.

Best of luck to your little Greyhound - please make sure that she never loses her love of the game, nor her lack of fear in going into the "scrum" to push the ball out of harm's way. You'll have a front-row seat to watch her mature, and have something to talk about with her later. These are the "bonding moments" that Dads like I wish I had taken more advantage of while my own little Greyhound (actually, she was a Lightning) was becoming my pride and joy.

(3) EHeavenlyGads made the following comment | Apr 2, 2008 3:42:18 PM | Permalink

Absolutely lovely post, sir, and I also thank you for taking me back to cherished memories.

Get that camera out and hermetically seal it to your side. They grow so quickly and, darn it, one day walk into the independence and success we so carefully cultivated as parents. And then those photo-ops come much, much less frequently.

Mom of two former soccer stars here, with both sons now in college. And proud owner of a four-drawer lateral jam-packed with organized files of photos (painstakingly and tearfully organized in the first year of my youngest's Freshman year at UT.)

Congratulations to both of you!

(4) hunter made the following comment | Apr 3, 2008 7:22:26 PM | Permalink

Nice post. Your story brings back lots of nice memories.I enjoyed watching my daughter playing at Carnegie VHS. My son played a lot at Bayland, over on Bissonnet, btw.
Now they are out getting their lives going. Time really flies. Good memories make time soar. You have written a good memory.

(5) DRJ made the following comment | Apr 5, 2008 1:43:39 AM | Permalink

Congratulations to the great minds at your house and the great soccer player, too.

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