We won our group in the first round of State Cup this weekend. It wasn’t easy, nothing after the month of August has been for this eclectic group, but now we are in the final sixteen and by the end of May, we might just be state champions.
Our weekend was symbolic of our season. We opened against a tough Florida Fire team at 8am. Our starting line up was unpredictable, our substitutions inexplicable, and our result, a nil-nil draw, unsatisfying. To be fair, a draw against a quality opponent in the Fire was a decent result, but the manner in which it came about was the issue. We played without a plan intermittently passing and punting to no avail.
Our second game was a horrific mismatch against a team ill-equipped to compete at the State Cup. We won 6-0, but resolved nothing of ourselves. The Fire beat Weston 2-1 in the other game meaning a draw would send us through, and a shutout win, or win of any kind by two or more goals would win us the group.
I watched nearby as our players warmed up, and there was no energy. I read into the casual movements the wear and tear of a long season, the frustration of unmet goals, undefined roles and uncertainty over the future, individual and collective. Kevin Lynch and other parents tried to prod the boys to greater effort with little effect. It crossed my mind more than once that I could not coach a team like this, mainly because I would not allow this to happen. Some season long joke, impromptu comment or even physical assault in the form of a random tackle would break this monotony. From outside their circle I could only watch….and hope.
The game started well. We pressed, kept the ball in their end and were duly rewarded with a goal. Nonetheless there was a counter current of bad, and by bad I mean over-sensitive officiating, pushing against our progress. Assyed Sanchez picked up a yellow card for a late rush on the ball, and five minutes later a second yellow followed by a red for a challenge on the Weston keeper. We would have to survive 45 minutes a man down.
There was shouting, anger, and another yellow to Randall Congreaves for dissent, but then there was focus and unified support. The parents got loud and supportive, every bit of hustle and fight welcomed with applause and a call for more. The players settled in and worked their asses off closing down spaces, winning tackles, connecting passes and posing just enough threat on Weston’s goal to stay on the front foot. We rotated our lone striker through the second half to stay fresh, and behind him stood a fortified, but active block of eight. Weston never threatened us, and we won the group with a 1-0 win.
I alluded earlier to the uncertainty of the future, and it is palpable as the season winds down. All teams are temporary. This group as presently constituted will play together as long as they last in the State Cup. After that, there will be change, perhaps negligible potentially massive, but it will never again be as it is now. It is at this time of year with my teams that I look in the eyes of each of my players and let that sit and resonate, and hopefully fuel each one of them to some greater level of purpose and play to respect and honor the time they have spent together in the entity of team.