Month: May 2015

State Cup Champs

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52 weeks ago, Leg A-Z played in the State Cup Final and lost 6-0. Reaching the final is an accomplishment of no small signficance which makes the opportunity to win such a game that much more precious, and to lose it so badly, all the more devastating. Losing 6-0 resonates much differently that a one goal or shootout loss, where you can endlessly replay moments of the game that could have turned the result. It is an endlessly hollow, hazy recollection of an event that feels more like something you witnessed than actually participated in, and that’s undoubtedly a defense mechanism to distance one’s recollection from the reality of such a profound failure.

Bryson joined the team in December, scarred not by the 6-0 Final’s loss, but by having served half a season in something resembling soccer hell. The culture of his former team was an odd mix of detached, dispassionate coaching and tactical/sporting indiscipline that wore on his passion for the game, and my will to live.

Leg A-Z is different. It is a small club in Gainesville, Florida coached by Darnell Bernier. Darnell cares about his craft, this team and having lost the State Cup Final 6-0. The nucleus of the team is from Gainesville and Ocala, but we travel from Orlando, our goalie from Stuart, a midfielder from Spring Hill and our striker from Fort Walton Beach. Bryson now plays with 5 of his state of Florida ODP teammates, who have traveled across the country and to Europe together.

The team showed well at the Disney Showcase in December placing third in their flight, and rolled through the Weston Cup in February winning all five games, but it has been clear throughout that the State Cup was the prize.

Our opening game was in Tallahasse against the Gulf Coast Texans. Our striker, Nelson Hunsinger, used to play for the Texans, and scored our first two goals in a comfortable 5-1 romp.

Our final two games of group play were in Miami the following weekend. We beat Lakeland FC 2-0 to advance to the sweet 16, but lost to Coral Gables 0-1 in our final group game assuring that we would be a second seed from the group. The Coral Gables game was distressing. We conceded a soft goal midway through the first half, and struggled to generate any meaningful chances. It seemed to suggest a blueprint for beating us, and asked questions of our capacity to play from behind.

Our sweet 16 game was against IMG, who won a difficult group. IMG was physical and took the game to us for much of the day, but could not score despite hitting the crossbar well into the second half. As regulation time would down, it was evident that this would be a one goal game, and may end in a penalty shoot out, but with 7 minutes left, Trey Jackson struck a wonderful dipping free kick that baffled the IMG keeper before hitting the post and finding the back of the net. On the whole, we were probably on the back foot more than the front foot, and it felt like an escape. The following day, we beat overmatched Ponte Vedra 3-1 to reach the final four.

In the semifinal, we played Plantation FC. We kicked off, but seemed unusually shaky through a series of back passes before turning the ball over for a goal. Plantation led 1-0 45 seconds into the match, and it seemed possible another 6-0 disaster could be underway. We wobbled about for the next ten minutes before finding our footing. Chris Fregley put away a cross to the tie the game, and a few minutes later Daniel Wear earned a penalty that was converted by TC Anderson for a 2-1 advantage. We were denied a penalty a few minutes later, but led 2-1 at the half and had established control over the game. Midway through the half, Trey Jackson found Wear on a free kick for our third unanswered goal. Plantation pulled a goal back with about ten minutes to play, but Jackson responded with a volley making it 4-2.

Back to the final, and the weight of last year’s failure reached critical mass. From the opening minute, this match against FKK had the feel of a tight, tactical game that would be decided by a mistake. Both teams were well-versed in each other’s strengths, and the first 80 minutes produced very little in the way of clear chances. With extra time seeming increasingly likely, the decisive mistake came. A misplayed ball in the back sent Daniel Wear through and he slid the ball inside the far post.

Jubilation, ten minutes of defending, and more definitive jubilation followed.

Leg A-Z is Florida State Cup Champions!

I did not play any minutes, assist or score any goals, but I am so happy and proud. I am obviously proud of my son for his contribution to the success of the team, but very much for the whole group.

I do not generally emote very well particularly when the emotion requires more than four letter words so for me there is always a bit of awkwardness to balancing the celebration with my feelings. I was compelled to seek out Darnell after the podium ceremony. He had taken several pictures and was sitting in the grass a few feet away from anyone else. I approached and shook his hand thanking him for his work with Bryson and this team. He responded politely and then looking out into the distance said more to himself than to me, “it’s been a long journey.” Though I had only been a peripheral part of the journey for a few months, it is a credit to his sincerity and transparency that in that moment it felt I had been along for much longer.

Spurs

I love my family…couldn't ask for a better group #spurforlife

A post shared by Danny Green (@greenranger14) on

I was scrolling through Instagram this morning when I came upon this picture posted by Danny Green.  I do not know when the picture was taken or to the extent it was posed, but I could not stop looking at it.  It was everything Spurs.

There is Tony Parker sidled up next to the only female in the shot, assistant coach Becky Hammond, raising interesting carnal questions. 

Manu on the periphery with his arm around a staff member framing the photo and speaking to the inclusive yet exclusive nature of the Spurs culture.

Kawhi is in the back literally out of view, but present in his unassuming way.

Boris is smug as always.

George Hill makes a cameo, but doesn’t  look out of place which made me think of a Bill Simmons anecdote about Pop inviting Avery Johnson to a midseason team dinner as though he were still an active member of the team.

In the center, poetically, are Pop and Tim.  Pop extending an arm to touch Tim, and Tim front and center, yet bending over to simultaneously accommodate the group.

They are obviously not in uniform, and Green’s caption mentions family.  It is fitting.  Their longevity, their titles and their losses have made them one.  I hope with all that makes me a sports fan, and all that makes me human we see them compete again.

I Am Glad You Asked…

Last night at soccer practice, I was asked, “What are your thoughts on Baltimore?”  

Since that question was posed, six law enforcement officers have been indicted in the death of Freddie Gray, a 25 year old black male, with a lengthy criminal record predominately littered with drug-related charges. Gray apparently made “eye-contact” with an officer and, for reasons known and buried with him, began to flee. He was pursued by at least three officers and taken into custody. To be charitable, there are conflicting accounts of what happened next, and I have less than zero confidence that the justice system as it were will ever determine exactly what happened. What is inescapable is that Gray suffered a severed spine and died while in the custody of law enforcement. Gray was buried Monday, and the City of Baltimore erupted in protest and rioting, which it must be noted are two distinguishable acts.

These events unfolded in the larger context of Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner and the rancid video of a black man in South Carolina being shot in the back as he ran away from a law enforcement officer. In Ferguson and in Eric Garner, law enforcement were exonorated from criminal culpability. South Carolina and Baltimore are still in the process of making a determination.

Police encounters are fraught with tension on both sides, and this is undoubtedly heightened when the encounter involves a black man and a white officer. This is not right, but it is true a significant percentage of the time. There are precious few black men that have not at some point in their lives been profiled by the color of their skin, and questioned or been otherwise treated in a less than honorable manner by a law enforcement officer, and even fewer that do not know a relative or friend that has as well. There is a line of thought that says, “do what the officer says, and things will work out for everyone”, which is probably a good idea, if you have not already been in a situation where things have not worked out for you, or your friend or your relative in the past. This prior behavior contaminates the encounter because there is no trust that a certain behavior will bring about a certain (safe) outcome. There is uncertainty, fear and an understandable desire for self-preservation on the part of the black man in this unpredictable circumstance.

As to the law enforcement officer, and particularly those that patrol high crime, high violence areas, there is a corresponding uncertainty to the encounter. The officer is often said to live by the credo “just get home tonight”, and this has a tangible impact on behavior. He is armed, and in moments of uncertainty, a show of force (not necessarily actual violence) often seems the safest way to “get home tonight”. The inexperienced officer is burdened by his lack of experience, and desire to prove his worth to more experienced officers, and even the experienced officer is burden by his own experience…moments where he was naive or simply deceived in a dangerous or potentially dangerous encounter.

In this tension-filled environment, mistakes and misjudgment will occur. While there is certainly advice and training that could mitigate and minimize the liklihood that these encounters end violently, we as people are too flawed to eradicate this problem. This is not to excuse the behavior, but to acknowledge its inevitability, and to advocate that when things go wrong, their must be accountability. This is the sting of BLACKLIVESMATTER. Too often in white police, black male encounters, there has been no accountablility for the officer’s contribution to the death, even second degree murder or manslaughter. As the indictments came down today, there exists in many, a festering distrust that actual convictions will follow. This mistrust, at its best leaves a residue of cynicism, and at its worst sucks dry the life blood of hope.

It is important to note that our justice system is not designed to find the truth. It is designed to obscure it. We have an adversarial system. The State prosecutor will fashion a one-sided story pounding its strengths and concealing its weaknesses to convince a jury to convict, while the criminal defense team will do everything possible, as it is their job to do, to cast light upon the weaknesses, explain away the strengths and ultimately create a doubt, reasonable or not. Death cases are particularly difficult where there is any degree of dispute regarding the facts because dead men tell no tales, and but for a few pictures will have little to no presence with the jury. By contrast, the accused will be before the jury everyday, their anxiety palpable, their love and affection with family and supporters tangible and their presence real. This has a way of making things difficult for jurors against the convuluted reasonable doubt standard, and contributes to some incomprehensible verdicts.

I would like to return to the life blood of hope. When the blood of hope flows, there is a sense that the individual and more specifically the actions of the individual matter. It is hope that drives peaceful protest. A hope that by turning up in the street in the wake of crisis, a voice will be heard, and eyes will watch what follows. Peaceful protest says that what is happening now matters, and by protesting, I believe I can positively impact the outcome.

Rioting is the result of hopelessness. My actions do not matter. My voice will not be heard. I will see only what serves me in the immediate moment. Rioting is reprehensible and undeniably wrong. It should be prosecuted and punished. It should also be considered in the societal sense that what has gone wrong in this community that has taken away hope in such great measure.

People are not born racist or born with any concern for the color of one’s skin, and they are not born without hope. Life teaches that color matters, and life takes hope away. It is only through honest reflection, and unbiased analysis that we can recognize the factors, policies and behaviors that contribute most to racism in our society and loss of hope. And as we will unlikely eradicate tragic encounters between law enforcement and black men, we will not eradicate racism and preserve hope for all, but we can behave in ways that mitigate and minimize its impact on our relationships.