Ten and a half hours. That’s the travel time between Winter Springs, Florida and Midlothian, Virginia. Bryson and I left the house at 9am Friday, and picked up Zues Rodriguez in Deland at 9;30. For the next ten hours, we rode through the South to play in the Jefferson Cup. Our FC America team would not be at full strength. Two of our original players have left the team, a starting winger would not be making the trip and captain Mikey Lynch was unavailable due to illness. The traveling party included fourteen players, which I felt would not be without some benefits.
We reached the hotel at 7:30, and found piled snow in the parking lot between the La Quinta and Hooters, our de facto base of operations for the weekend. I pelted Bryson and Zues with snowballs gaining a quick upper hand until Bryson bull-rushed me into the snow pile. We met keeper Josh Suarez and his family in Hooters, and hung out until the rest of the team arrived at 11:30pm.
On Saturday morning, our first game was at 11am against a team from Ohio. On the way to the game, Bryson and Zues were quiet as we drove through Richmond to Williamsburg. I couldn’t help, but think of how this had become the routine of our life. A soccer bag, a suitcase, a different locale, but the same game. What would the fields be like? How good are teams in Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvannia, etc?
We played the Ohio team on a rubberized turf field, similar to other fields we have played on with little or no success. The first half was miserable. We could barely string three passes together, but the score was nil-nil. I sensed if we could nab a goal, we could still the game despite playing poorly. Midway through the second half, we did just that. Our play improved and it appeared the win was ours. Late in the half, however, a mistake led to a penalty, and the game ended 1-1. It was extremely disappointing as we would now need results beyond our control to go in our favor.
We ate as a team at the New York Deli, a great find, by Mike Kemp. Replenished, we faced a Maryland team in our second game that did not belong in our bracket. They lost their opening game 5-3, and within minutes the collective thought on the sideline was how did this team score three goals on anyone? We dominated from the kick-off, but didn’t score until just before the half. The flood gates opened in the second, and we won 5-0, but lost Randall Congreaves to a foot injury reducing our playing staff to thirteen. Our third opponent did us the favor of winning so our destiny was back in our own hands. Win Sunday morning and we are in the final.
We retired to Hooters. On the way over, I saw the mischevious Eric Brody holding a large chunk of snow. I waved him over with the intent of pushing the snow in his face, but used excessive force as it were, and sent Eric tumbling on to his back on the sidewalk. No harm. No foul. At Hooters, we ate and drank with Coach Alan Hough. The highlights included Francis Montiero eating over 30 hot wings, and claiming he was still hungry, and half the team taking pics with Hooter’s girls and posting them immediately to instagram.
In the morning, we learned management had been called to one of the player rooms to quell a disturbance. Spirits were high as we left for the field. The kids pounced on our opponent. We controlled this must win game in every facet winning 3-1. It was extremely satisfying to deliver a performance like this as in all of our biggest tournaments we had developed a habit of winning one, losing one and tying one. No progress.
The final was an excellent game. We conceded and early goal, but dominated the play pulling things level early in the first half. Unfortunately, we gave up a second goal within five minutes. For the remainder of the game we pressed, possessed and create chances, but could not find the net. We fell 2-1, but there was satisfaction with how we played, and more specifically how each member of our team contributed to the whole. We could bemoan our lack of finishing, our missing starters, but it would be without purpose. The team that played this weekend produced a high level of soccer for three and half games, and came up just short. There is no shame in that, only pride and memories of another great soccer weekend.