So, my unexpectedly extended run as a starter has finally come to an end. The veterans were in desperate need of reinforcements this season, and we received them in the form of a new keeper, defender, midfielder, and attacker. This has come in handy, as we’ve given up ZERO goals in three of our first four games.
However, this week’s game was against the three-time league champions and we had an almost-full squad with only our starting sweeper being out, so I found myself on the bench at the start for the first time this year. I couldn’t complain, as the new attacker is much better than me, so is the new midfielder, and the other midfielder is for all intents and purposes my equal, only he didn’t give up a penalty to cost us two points last week.
(The call was 100 percent incorrect and the penalty was not awardable, but regardless, it was still on me.)
So, I didn’t disagree with the captain’s call at all. In fact, his starting lineup was precisely what I would have set if I was in charge. Not only that, but when I went in halfway through the first half at left midfield, I found myself entirely outmatched by the Red team’s extremely aggressive right mid. I only gave up the ball twice, but one turnover was an exceptionally stupid pass in a situation when I found myself surrounded by four opposing players, and I think I only managed to get up across midfield to help the attack once.
I did do a decent job of helping out the defense, but it wasn’t exactly a surprise to find myself back on the bench after halftime. Somehow, we were ahead 1-0 thanks to a goal by the captain that was completely against the run of play, but of the 10 field positions, we might have had the advantage of two of them. Fortunately, they kept trying to attack up the middle, where our best player, the defensive midfielder, was more than equal to their number 10 and repeatedly stifled their attacks.
They started to flag a little in the second half, and we actually managed a decent attack or three, but neither team looked particularly like scoring until the referee gave our defensive midfielder a yellow card. In our veteran’s league, that’s a 10-minute penalty benching, but a substitution is allowed. I was called in for him and sent over to the left, while the left mid I replaced moved into the now-empty defensive slot.
Somewhat to the surprise of both teams, they weren’t able to exploit our best player’s absence, and once, after picking up a blocked shot, I managed to beat not one, not two, but three of their players on a long 60-meter run up the left side. I actually got the ball past a fourth and last defender, the sweeper, as well, but he took me down hard to give us a free kick and give me three sprained fingers on my right hand which I can still feel as I type this.
We didn’t get anything out of that, but a few minutes later, we got another free kick on the right. Our number 10 tried to put it on the heads of our two tallest players at the top center of the box, but he hit it a little too hard. As I saw it coming, I thought the second of the two defenders to my right would manage to deflect the ball, but it just skimmed the top of his head, so I ran onto it, brought it perfectly to the ground with my left foot, took three steps, then hit it with my left foot without even looking at the goal.
When I looked up, I saw the ball had cleared the keeper, but it looked like it might be going a little wide right. Fortunately, the right post got in the way and the ball banked cleanly in. 2-0! The captain was the first to congratulate me, then pointed towards the bench as the 10 penalty minutes were up and our defensive midfielder was eligible to come back in. “Supersub!” he shouted and we exchanged a high ten as he came onto the field. My work was done.
“If we need any more goals, let me know. I’ll be right here,” I told the rest of the guys on the bench. They laughed and promptly christened my left foot “the magic left”. You see, I have an exceptionally feeble shot by their standards, and that’s with my RIGHT foot, so the idea that I could possibly score against anyone, let alone the champions, with my left struck them as intrinsically hysterical. Despite the other team’s best efforts, our defense stoned them again and again, and we held on for a 2-0 victory. It was a really good win.
The lesson is this: even when you are playing poorly, even when you’re overmatched, even when it’s clearly not your night, keep trying. Keep fighting. You never know what will happen. Replay that free kick 100 times and I might touch the ball five times, and maybe I score again once or twice at most. More likely, the defender heads the ball away, my first touch is too hard, or I miss the ball entirely. But you never know, so don’t give up. Of the 30 players on both teams who played that night, I was the second-oldest and almost certainly the worst player on the field. But you never know….