The final day of group play holds special excitement as both games are played simultaneously on adjacent fields. We led the group on Sunday with four points, and controlled our own destiny….win and we are on to the semi-final. There were even some scenarios whereby a draw would put us through, specifically if Seacoast from Maine beat or drew with Southern Soccer Academy from Georgia. Immediately though we had to contend with Chelsea Match Fit from New Jersey and their 6′ 4″ striker, and “the Captain”, a player with the hair of Carles Puyol, and the tactical freedom of Clarence Seedorf on a day of high personal growth.
The match started tight. Any corner, deep throw or free kick that had a chance to put the ball on the head of the Chelsea Match Fit Giant caused great concern to our team, and more so our parents. On the other end we slapped a free kick off the cross bar. Midway through the half, Match Fit Chelsea was awarded a penalty, but keeper Justin Bauer guessed right and denied them the lead. By the end of the first half both group games were nil-nil, and the consensus was two evenly matched teams were at war. If results held, we would go through.
Early in the second half, Southern Soccer took a 1-0 lead, but Seacoast rallied with three goals so we would only need to hold on to a draw to win the group. The battled swayed back and forth and we nearly sealed it when Landen Haig was sent through and had his shot stray just wide of the far post. Midway through the half, we received a red card, and had to play the final fifteen minutes down a man. We shuffled our tactics and continued to play on.
With less than ten minutes to play, Bryson tracked his man into the deep corner and won the ball. He laid it of to a teammate, and much like the day before, time stood still, but this time not in our favor. The sequence of events remain a blur, but the ball ended up at the near post amidst a scrum of players, at varying points it appeared to be under the control of our keeper, cleared off the line by a defender and finally and most fatally in our net. We trailed 1-0. For the remaining, time we scrambled and fought even having a goal disallowed as the ball was adjudged out of bounds before being crossed and put in the net.
The final whistle blew as we were pushing the ball upfield in attack. The sickening knot in our collective stomachs tightened around the realization that this was not our time. It is a hollow empty feeling flashing back to moments that could have been different, but ultimately weren’t. When got home after our 2-1 consolation game victory, Camden asked me about the weekend, and I told him about this game. His response, “there’s always next time.” While fair and ringing with larger truth, sometimes there is no next time, but only the precious present.