A goal and the existence of God

About five years ago, I had to stop playing soccer.  I’d re-aggravated an old leg injury and while I could run without trouble, I couldn’t kick the ball with any force with my better foot.  Two years ago, I was invited to join another veterans team, one that competed at a lower level than the Elite Promoted team with whom I’d been playing, (and with whom there was no way I would be able to play for after so much time away from the game), and since I thought I could use the exercise, I thought I’d give it a try.

It went pretty well, as we won the league championship both years, and I was able to contribute six goals to the effort last year despite being the fifth option at striker.  Like most veterans teams, we were injury-plagued and so I ended up starting a few games last year.  This year, we began the season in such collectively bad condition that I’ve been starting most of the games, and indeed, have even had to play entire games without being substituted.  I’m not the worst player on the team, but I’m easily and unquestionably the least technically-skilled of the starters.  But, if nothing else, it’s really an excellent workout.

However, I’ve finally understood the nature of my role on the team – about which more another time, as it’s a lesson in teamwork – so the coach has decided that I’m the ideal complement for the best striker and usually starts me in preference to two of our better strikers even when they are available.  That’s because I am the only one fast enough to keep pace with S, the aforementioned striker, and can therefore prevent the defense from committing two or even three defenders to him when we’re attacking.  We don’t need me to score in order to win, only to make enough runs and create enough dangerous opportunities to make the defense nervous and give S room to work.  In an ideal game, I get two or three shots, S scores three goals, our midfielders add two more, and we win 5-2 or thereabouts.

I knew the guys were a bit nervous this weekend, though, since our number 10 told me that I would have to score two goals if we were going to win.  The problem was that as good as our attack is, the other team’s is better.  They were ahead of us in the league table and had scored almost twice as many goals as us thanks to their star player, a retired professional named D.  We simply couldn’t count on S scoring enough to keep pace with him. 

We got off to a really good start, however, when about five minutes into the game, I broke for the center and our left wing sent a cross towards me.  It was too low to head, too high to kick, and I had a defender right on me so I couldn’t try to control it either.  So, I concentrated on getting my right knee up as high as I could, and managed to redirect the ball past the keeper from just inside the box.  It wasn’t perfectly placed or anything, but the cross was whipping across so fast that he never had a chance at blocking the deflection.  1-0.

It was a good goal, maybe even mildly impressive, but it was the sort of instinctive goal I still score from time to time.  I was very pleased, of course, but we didn’t get too carried away since we knew they could score too and D was proving to be an absolute freaking handful for our midfielders and defenders.  He didn’t really play a proper position, he just sort of roamed free and created havoc anywhere he wanted despite our attempts to double- and triple-team him every time he touched the ball.  Our number 10 set me up with a nice pass, but I blew the pass to S when I should have probably just run in straight on the right side of goal.  Still, we were keeping up the pressure when D went past three of our guys before being knocked off the ball… and our last defender whiffed on the clearance.  Their other striker pounced on his miss and put a hard, low shot into the corner that our goalie couldn’t possibly stop.  1-1.

We were dominating possession, though, and before too long, S drew a free kick just outside the box, then whipped the kick over the wall and into the upper right corner.  I don’t think the keeper even saw it until it was too late.  2-1.

It was just before halftime when the left wing tried the same cross with which we’d scored earlier, only he hit it too hard.  It not only went over my head, and my marker’s head, but also beyond the left defender.  I realized the ball was going high early and had already cut right before it passed overhead, so I managed to get to it first, about halfway between right corner of the box and the sideline.  I knew S, the number 10, and the left wing were all breaking to the middle, so without slowing down, I leaped, twisted my body and hit it as hard as I could with my right foot without looking.  That spun me in a circle, which stopped just in time for me to see the ball fly right into the very upper left corner of the net.  3-1.

It was as ludicrous as it was spectacular.  You just don’t see many goals like that, not even in a league where there is enough skill that guys not infrequently score from 35 yards out.  Our defensive captain, who gets frustrated with me on pretty much a weekly basis, (and for good reason), actually got down on one knee and kissed my shoe as if it were the Pope’s ring.  The goal completely demoralized the other team. 

In the second half, we missed a penalty, but lanes started opening up, their defense mostly stopped trying to run with us, and if it weren’t for some poor touches and foolish offsides, we would have added more than the one additional goal scored by S.  The game finished 4-1, and when I complimented D afterwards for being such an incredibly massive pain in our collective posterior, he was kind enough to say that he was pretty impressed with my second goal himself. 

Right after the game, about six of my teammates surrounded me and demanded to know if I had been actually trying to take such an improbable shot, or if it was merely an attempt to cross gone fortunately awry.  I told them the truth, which was that I was only trying to send the ball in S’s general direction, so it must have been “la grazia di Dio” that put it in the net.  That made them all laugh, and one midfielder, a skilled player who has a keen sense of my technical limitations, commented that as far as he was concerned, it was definitive proof of the existence of God.

There have been a handful of games I can still clearly remember throughout the course of my soccer-playing career.  A 13-0 demolition of Breck in junior high.  Beating the Lagos brothers for the conference championship in high school, then downing our archrivals in the first round of the state championship.  This game will most definitely be one of them.