Soccer has started up again at the higher levels. Last night Ender’s team scrimmaged the first team on the main field while we veterans held a normal practice on the practice field. We ended early enough for me to catch the last quarter of the game; Ender played the second half and did pretty well. He only let in two goals, one of which should have been called for offsides, and while he was a bit shaky with the offseason rust, he did better than the starting goalie, who let in three, one of which was a disaster. Needs some work on his goal kicks and distributions, but the punting was good.
I’m rusty myself. Six shots, and all but one wide by inches. Everything is going a little to the right, so I need to adjust for that. The ball control is better than I’d expected, and while all my offseason running and stretching has helped – I can actually walk today, contra SB’s expectations – there is no substitute for the actual sprint-and-stop of gameplay.
It’s clear that Ender isn’t going to take over for the starter this season, he’s a good guy who is three years older and has earned his place. At this point, Ender is better off playing spot duty and second halves when the game is under control than dealing with all the pressure from still-immature players who blame the goalie for permitting scores after complete defensive breakdowns.
The first team won 5-1, and they did so without breaking a sweat. It was clearly humiliating to the cocky younger guys, who are of American high school varsity age and all seemed to be three inches taller than they were when the fall season started. Ender did not take it at all well when I mildly observed that when we veterans played the first team last fall, we beat them by three goals.
It’s rather amusing. The juniors tend to instinctively treat the veterans as if we’re old and past it until they notice that the first team players, who are all in their 20s, tend to regard us as older comrades. The kids don’t know that most of of the first-teamers have played with us from time to time because when we’re short; we’re allowed to field up to two younger players when we have less than 14 men.
The one thing the young guys never seem to figure out is that if you’re still playing soccer 25 years after you started playing at the first team level, you were probably pretty damn good at it back in the day. Our entire team is probably as talented as the average of the best four junior players, we’re just older, fatter, balder, and slower than they are. Technically, I’m one of the worst players on my team and there isn’t a defender on the juniors team that could shut me down. Combine that with the fact that we’re more experienced, more muscular, and some of our players have been playing together for 30 years, and they don’t have a chance. But they never put two and two together until they go up against the old men on the field.
It was the same at my old club, which competed at a higher level. When the club held a tournament of champions for its 75th Anniversary, and invited back all the teams that had ever won promotion for a 7-on-7 tournament, the team that won was not either of the two most recently promoted first teams, but my veteran’s team that had won two successive promotions the previous two years. For me, though, the most memorable thing was seeing a first team from 40 years before, and the frail, white-haired, white-bearded goalie who at 65 was still better than Ender or the starting junior’s goalie. I wasn’t surprised to hear that after playing for our first team, he’d gone on to play a few years for a championship team at the professional level.
It’s all part of the process, the circle of soccer. The juniors are growing up, some of them at different rates than others. The exposure to the first team at the end of last year was important, because it made it clear to them that all their idiotic pecking order games are over. At the first team level, nobody gives a damn about much except how well you play and what you have to contribute to the team. The kid who attacked and exchanged bloody noses with Ender in the first practice last fall is now polite and respectful, and as Ender noted, almost salutes when I address him. He and Ender aren’t friends, but they play well together, the kid is a solid defender who takes his job of protecting his goalie seriously. Conflict isn’t always a bad thing.
There are still some problem children. The tall and arrogant sweeper took the ball last night despite Ender calling for it as he came out, then told Ender that he didn’t give a fuck when Ender chewed him out for it. Their coach, who is a first team player and the first good coach most of these kids have had in their entire careers, shrugged and told Ender to simply go for the ball and take the sweeper out the next time he doesn’t listen. He’s one of those big, athletic kids who needs to be taken down a few times before he’s able to pay attention; I’m going to suggest to our captain that we scrimmage the juniors for just that purpose. The kid has three inches on me, but I’ve got 30 pounds of muscle on him; I figure that after I blow by him a few times, score a couple of goals, and put him down on the ground once or twice, he’ll be in more of a mood to listen.