then we scored, then they scored, then we scored, and finally…
(click for bigger pics)
Saturday we had our third game. Our opponent came all the way down from Kalispell, and they are our first that is also a co-ed team- 3 girls. Kalispell managed a 6-1 defeat of our Monday opponent, whom we beat 5-1. With that in mind, and after two lopsided games, we were hoping now for a good, close one. And that’s exactly how it turned out.
Judging by the stature and general skill level of the Kalispell team in pre-game warm-ups, I figured we had a pretty good chance today to make it respectable, if not put another win on the ledger. Two minutes into the game, I had my doubts. We couldn’t manage two consecutive passes, and Kalispell came down, fooled our defense to get close to the goal, then back-passed to #11, their center-midfielder blonde-braids girl with a booming shot, for an easy goal. 0-1. Maybe the lads (and lasses) just needed a kick in the pants, because they shaped up after that and made some crisp passes and good runs to get open. Only two minutes after that low point, Owen took a standard shot from right center at 18 yards and netted one in the corner. 1-1.
From then it was about 15 minutes of back and forth until Kalispell came back and blonde-braids almost netted another, if not for James, who ran to cut her off and force a wide shot. Still, Kalispell, the bigger, stronger and faster team, kept pressuring us on our end and managed to go ahead at about 22 minutes. Then it was our turn to put on the full-pitch press and force an unwise, rushed pass from one of their outside defenders toward the middle. Owen sensed that one coming and rushed to cut off the pass and drill in the easy equalizer. (Later O said, “My legs were hurting so much then, I almost let that one go, but something told me to go for it.”)
Another Kalispell goal required another answer from the Hawks. This one was the sweetest. There are two boys playing defense for Kalispell that look like they should be in the rugby, or football league. And one of them looks about 28 yrs. old, with his big limbs and full beard. I called him the lumberjack. The other, without the beard, was equally big, and very fast- easily faster than Owen, who is no slowpoke himself. After Owen’s second goal, I thought that the opposing coach should have put No-beard (we’ll call him Fred) on Owen, and permanently mark him, but Kalispell kept their original defensive set-up. Fortunately for Owen, he often found himself one-on-one with a chubby, weaker defender. However, whenever O passed Fatty, Fred swooped in to take over. More than a couple times Owen had a chance for a solo run, but Fred raced in to cut off the shot. So when Owen got a sharp, difficult cross from our right winger Michael, and Fred was on him like glue, it was glorious to see O trap the ball on his chest and fight Fred for a stretched-out toe punch for the hat trick. 3-3 at the half!
Amid all this scoring, I should mention that James was holding things together as usual in the backfield. Kalispell may have had managed 3 points in only a half, but they had far more opportunities than that, and many more than our offense, but James spoiled their chances with regularity. Speed is so important for a defender; James can allow himself to come up and approach the midfield and be a playmaker, rather than sit back on the line, because he’s so quick to get back when needed. Here James saves us when an ill-timed pass goes right to the opponent, in what should have been a good shot opportunity, if not an easy goal: https://youtu.be/uYsYM_03JBc
The second half began and Owen was substituted for the first time. I thought, hmm, maybe our coaches (a new guy with lots of experience joined last Monday) had a plan to mix things up against the Kalispell defense, then put Owen in to throw them off. It turns out that O had requested the rest- he was exhausted.
Right after O came in, Kalispell’s big striker got one step ahead of James and blasted a low, left-footer into the net. Again, Owen answered with an equalizer- this time he passed one defender on a deft move, then raced the next defender just enough to get a decent angle on a shot he set himself up for, unrushed and well placed. 4-4.
Two minutes to go and Kalispell put their best players, big defender and all, up front for maximum pressure and scoring opportunity. If we could just work it up to our forward line they’d be super-vulnerable- Owen wouldn’t have to deal with Freddy Wheels or The Lumberjack!
Alas, the gamble worked for Kalispell and they scored, netting the go-ahead with just over a minute to go.
Naturally, the Kalispell coach brought his big boys back to the defense to shut down our forward line and run the clock out. Nevertheless, Owen got one more good chance! In a carbon copy of his 4th goal, he sped by his defender and raced down the right side. Again, he didn’t rush things and waited for the good shot. This time the defense was pressuring and covering all angles, so O attempted to lift it over the keeper. It just grazed the crossbar and missed high.
Final score, Kalispell 5, Bitterroot 4.
After the 反省会 (post-game wrap-up meeting) I patted O on the back for a job well done.
-Hey. You got subbed after the half today. Were the coaches planning something special? (I’d noticed that Joe, our new assistant coach, had been sitting the whole time with Owen talking to him.)
-No, I asked for that rest!
-Yes. You know, I think I need about 3 days off, because every time I play, if I play hard, my muscles in my leg and back start to hurt. Today the back of my right leg was killing me.
-And what was coach Joe telling you?
-That I didn’t have to beat that defender (Fred) with pure speed. If I could get in front of him I could block him instead.
-Yes, and force him to foul you. Well, tomorrow you don’t have to play if you don’t want (It’s pick-up soccer at the high school with the big boys.) Take a rest.
“I was thinking,” said O, “I was playing a bit lazy the first fifteen minutes, because our breakfast was too heavy.” (We’re back at the Hollingsworths, and this morning we had an all-American pancakes/eggs/bacon breakfast.) “I was thinking I would say that excuse to you, but then I thought it wasn’t a good one. Then my legs started to really hurt, and I knew I had a good excuse for not playing my best.”
-But you still played well.
-I think I made those goals because I didn’t have the energy today. If I had full energy, I would have missed more shots, because of nerves. Instead, I didn’t care enough to worry about it.
And I think of my days in youth soccer- I was pretty good, but a terrible finisher. Passing, positioning and defense was my forte, but put me in front of the goal, on a breakaway, just me verses the keeper, and the adrenaline and nerves caused me to shank all my shots!