A view from my side.
We are a young team. We are an inexperienced team. We are an inconsistent team. Our bench is pretty thin and that hurts from time to time. Last night all of those things came in to play and we dropped an Area match. A match against a team in our “area.” It is the Area match record that determines who moves on to Post Season play. We haven’t lost an Area match in 5 years.
The biggest problem with a young, inexperienced team can be their inability to lock a match down. We were up, 2-0, and should have been able to close the door on our opponent. But you’ve got to know how. You’ve got to have the experience to play through the pain, through the exhaustion, through the mental barrier that starts to break a player down late in a match. You’ve got to be able to hold off an assault from a team desperately trying to wear you down and steal the result.
We were missing our 2nd leader scorer last night. And, a starting center midfielder went down with a knee injury that will keep him out at least a week. That meant two players off a very thin bench got a lot of field time. That shouldn’t matter. That shouldn’t make a difference. That should actually work to motivate the team to rally around themselves and work harder to maintain the lead.
Some teams will “pack back” with a 2-0 lead and work to fend off the attack. They will drop player defensively and try to clear every ball up field, push their players up and start all over. They take away what should be their most effective weapon…their offense. We are not such a team. We play our game, whistle to whistle, and make teams beat us while we are attacking their goal.
We gave up the first goal late in the 2nd half. We fail to win a header at the top of the box and let the ball bounce free. Confusion ensues and both teams are trying to put a foot on the ball. We fail to clear and they succeed in scoring. 2-1. The second goal came late in the match as a defender stabbed at the ball, giving the striker an opening to shoot. He did and the keeper stepped in the way, the ball hitting him squarely in the chest. But he failed to wrap it up and it fell to the ground. Their man was there to tap in the goal, 2-2.
We go through 2 “Golden Goal” overtime periods scoreless. We head to “Kicks From the Mark.” We’ve been here before. We are confident. We are ready. The best of 5 wins the match. We are even at 2 kicks each when we make our third. Their man steps up to kick and hits it wide to the right. The AR’s flag goes up, however, as our keeper stepped up off his line before the kick. It has to be re-taken and he scores, even at 3-3.
Our next player steps up. A striker with a good record on PKs. He places the ball, the whistle blows and he hits it solidly over the net. We’ve dropped a kick. They step up and make theirs. It is 3-4. We must make our next kick to even stay alive. Our man places the ball and hits it. Directly at the keeper’s feet. He smothers the ball and they win. It takes them a moment to realize it, but they swarm their keeper, swarm the goal and their fans swarm the field. Our boys look on in disbelief and our fans are stunned.
When a team is young and inexperienced like ours, this type of thing happens from time to time. A 2-0 score in soccer is considered the most dangerous score sports. Goals are usually hard to come by in our sport and 2 can give a team a false sense of security. An inexperienced team has a tendency to dial it back a notch with a 2-0 lead. But it is close enough for the opposing team to still have the match within their reach. They will work harder to get the first one. Once they do, they work even harder to tie it up. That is what happened to us last night. They simply wanted it more than we did and they had enough in the tank to take it.
When you have the history our team has of late, opposing teams “gun” for you. They train to beat you. Some teams measure their season based on how the play against you. I once had a team that outscored its opponents 103-4 over the course of our season. Everyone feared playing us, but they measured their season by how well they played against us.
We are such a team. It doesn’t matter to our opponents that we are young and starting 7 players that had never even played in a varsity level match before this year. What matters to our opponents is that they beat us. They beat a team with a storied history and they did it on our pitch. They beat us at home. They celebrated, they cheered and they relished their victory. Their team stood in our goal when it was over and took a team photo. That’s how important the victory was to them.
Their boys had heart, drive, and determination. They played hard, they played fair, and they played to win. I have nothing but respect for that group of young men and I tip my cap to them.
We stood and watched. We talked about this very thing. We talked about why beating us was so special to that team. We talked about heart and we talked about how it feels to lose at home. We told the boys to remember the feeling the next time we are playing at home. We told them to remember how horrible it feels to watch a team celebrate on our field, taking pictures in our goal. We told them to use that feeling as motivation to help them dig deeper every time we play at home.
We have this same team, again on our home field on Wednesday. Let’s see if we can make them drop one.