I can understand why many Americans don’t appreciate soccer. With the minimal scoring and the lack of replay angles, they just don’t get it—but how someone can’t respect the emotion that dictates the game is beyond me. And yesterday’s final match certainly wasn’t starved for emotional swings.
The game had a significantly different feel as Izler opted to give her younger players the start and the majority of the play time, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect our mindset entering the match. This entire trip has been a bit of a mystery until it has unfolded, so we tried not to underestimate this opponent—but as a team, I don’t think we were ready to play (the fact that the game started 30 minutes earlier than we had been told, preventing a respectable warm-up, also didn’t help). What’s more, Izler and Stacey decided that Lydia would be sidelined and stick to her coaching role in an effort to level the playing field. To say I’m an emotional player would be a severe understatement. And to say I play for myself would be an even bigger misconception. So our lack of preparation combined with the disappointment that I wouldn’t be playing beside a good friend and tremendous player set my emotional tone early—but the show must go on.
The onslaught of scoring in the match makes it difficult to recall, but I believe we got on the board first. I served in a corner, which found its way into the back of the net thanks to strong pressure from a WWC attacker and the unfortunate heel of a USVI player. Then, thanks to the consistently shocking refereeing (more on that later), USVI evened the score on another PK (their 3rd in 3 matches). From there, USVI went ahead on a quick transition and pretty side-net finish by Blair Clark (Blair is a Greensboro native and friend of mine from Asheville. She’s taking a break from mountain living to try the island life for a few months, and Izler snatched her up for the final two matches). Finding ourselves down to a younger, less experienced team kickstarted the high emotions of the rest of the match. I took the subsequent kickoff and struck a shot on goal, which the USVI keeper punched off the crossbar and apparently out. Man, what I would’ve done for an instant replay or a challenge flag on that one! I got another chance a few minutes later on a free kick from about 25 out. I sent a ball on frame and over the USVI keeper’s head. 2-2 at half! (Sidenote: Don’t get me wrong—I love scoring. But I’m not completely oblivious to the weaknesses in the USVI’s goalkeepers’ air game. Their two young goalkeeepers have a great deal of potential, but it’s certainly an area we [I, in particular] exploited).
Emotions continued to flare in the second half with USVI going ahead again on an impressive top shelf finish by one of the younger USVI attackers. To maintain the PG rating on my blog for the younger crowd, I’ll just say that I wasn’t happy. As a group, we weren’t communicating effectively or positively, and I felt like the game was spiraling out of control. Stacey and Lydia’s frustration on the sideline was tangible—and rightfully so, but as I’m well aware, there’s so little coaches can control from the sideline. Soccer is a player’s game, and I knew we had to retake control on the field. I did my best to stay in the ear of the center midfielder playing beside me (Reilly), trying to keep her positive and help her keep her head—and it seemed to pay off. A few minutes later, I served a free kick over the USVI back line, which Reilly timed perfectly and flicked over the USVI goalkeeper’s head. 3-3! You could tell this goal knocked the wind out of USVI’s island sails, and we finally settled in and started to create some quality possession. Kristen Tekell (a Georgia native and another friend from Asheville who joined us as a guest player) and I combined at the edge of the attacking third, leading to Kristen slipping me through the backline on a perfectly weighted ball and the go-ahead goal. WWC capped off the scoring late in the game when another free kick hit the crossbar and bounced in front of the goal and in front of 3 crashing WWC attackers. Kristen tucked away the rebound for the final score of the match. Unfortunately, USVI’s players took to frustration, turning a game that was for all intents and purposes over into a game of retaliation. (HFC players: close your eyes for this comment) Normally, I would take physical play into my own hands, especially when the referee is doing nothing to control it and especially when I watch my teammates take knock after knock, but trying to be mindful of the “friendly” nature of this event, I swallowed my Jersey pride and just continued to play. My Jersey mouth, unfortunately, missed the memo, earning me a yellow card late in the game. It was inevitable. Thankfully, the game came to an end uneventfully, with a 5-3 win for Warren Wilson.
In the spirit of the game, the WWC and USVI players and coaches united at our hotel bar later that night to watch the NFL playoffs, “oohing” and “ahhing” over every score and every angle on every replay.